Full Face Snorkel Mask Deaths – Should You Be Worried?

Some people are claiming full face snorkel masks aren’t safe.

Apparently you’re more likely to die when wearing one. It’s a shame because it’s causing casual snorkelers to panic. They don’t know which snorkel mask to use when on holiday.

Maybe you’re feeling a little cautious too, so we’ll discuss whether or not they’re safe to wear when snorkeling.

Full Face Snorkel Mask Deaths – Are You Safe?

Yes, snorkeling with a full face mask is safe. If you’re wearing a great mask and sticking to the unwritten rules of snorkeling you won’t have anything to worry about. There is some truth to what critics say, but the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

Why People Think Full Face Snorkel Masks Are Dangerous

There is one big reason why some people think full face snorkel masks are dangerous, which does make sense when you think about it. Everyone should know humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Any kind of activity means your body requires more oxygen.

Your breathing becomes faster and shallower too. Those who hate the masks say you don’t exhale strongly enough to push the contaminated air out of your snorkel. So you’re essentially breathing in more carbon dioxide and it gets worse and worse as time goes on.

Breathing in CO2 can lead to headaches, dizziness, and eventually unconsciousness. It’s what supposedly causes full face snorkel mask deaths.

Why Full Face Snorkel Masks Are Actually Safe

Flying involves being stuck in a metal tube around 30,000 feet in the air. Even though it sounds scary it’s pretty safe, do don’t let all the horror stories scare you. There are a few big reasons why full face snorkel masks are okay. Let’s take a look at each one in more detail below:

  • Well-designed and tested
  • Mouth and nose sealed off
  • Optimum snorkel length

Well-designed and tested – This next part is essential so please don’t skip over it. Legitimate companies spend years designing and testing the perfect masks. They carry out so many tests they know exactly how much contaminated air is inside masks when you’re snorkeling.

But there are so many cheap knockoff companies popping up and they don’t test anything. They don’t even care how well designed masks are and will use cheaper materials in a heartbeat in order to save a few bucks. Stick with trusted brands like Wildhorn and Subea.

Please Note: If you choose a cheap knockoff brand that uses subpar materials the risks of something going wrong will increase.

Mouth and nose sealed off – A full face snorkel mask might fit over your entire face, but the best models are split into two separate parts. The top part is where your eyes sit, whereas your nose and mouth sit in the bottom part. Try to imagine three separate chambers inside the snorkel.

We’ll run through exactly what happens step by step when you breathe in and out of full face snorkel masks:

Step 1 – Fresh air comes through the middle chamber of the snorkel and sits in the top part of the mask.

Step 2 – When you breathe in you’re breathing oxygenated air from the part where your eyes are.

Step 3 – Once you breathe out carbon dioxide is expelled through separate channels and leaves the snorkel through the side chambers.

So you’ll always be breathing in fresh air and carbon dioxide will be expelled before you breathe any new air coming in. If this process didn’t happen carbon dioxide inhalation would be a huge problem.

Optimum snorkel length – In a perfect world the snorkel length would be a few meters long. You would be able to dive much deeper without coming up for air. But it’s the optimum length for a reason. When you exhale deeply it’s short enough to expel the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Can You Blame Full Face Snorkel Masks?

Full face snorkel masks came under the spotlight when 11 people died in Hawaii, somewhere known for its underwater beauty. But it feels like the masks were thrown under the bus because people didn’t understand them. Take a look at how the people actually died:

  • 10 drowning victims were men over 50
  • 3 were using traditional snorkel masks
  • 2 were using full face snorkel masks
  • 2 were scuba diving
  • 2 were swimming
  • 1 was fishing from a jetty

Deaths are absolutely tragic and should be investigated thoroughly, but there were only 2 snorkelers using full face masks.

It’s easy to get useful information from Hawaii because it’s a hugely popular place to go snorkeling. Unfortunately, it’s also a place where roughly 17 people die on a yearly basis. Statistical data published on the Hawaii Department of Health website stated:

Up to 80 percent of snorkel-related drowning deaths in Hawaii involve men over the age of 50. Around 58 percent of these are thought to be from circulatory diseases (respiratory, pulmonary, heart disease).

Inexperienced Snorkelers Are A Bigger Problem

If you look closer into more Hawaiian snorkeling deaths a few startling things pop out. Most of the people who die are tourists as opposed to natives. Those living in Hawaii probably have a lot more chances to go snorkeling, so the tourists are much less experienced.

For example, everyone knows you shouldn’t go snorkeling without a buddy. A large percentage of deaths occur when people are in the water on their own, so it’s hard to blame deaths on a mask considering you don’t know the circumstances in which they died.

Here are a couple of reasons that have nothing to do with inhaling too much carbon dioxide:

  • Strong sea currents
  • Panicking too much
  • Diving too deep

Strong sea currents – Anyone who goes into the sea in Hawaii without checking the sea conditions is playing with fire. You never know when a current is going to sweep you away. There won’t be anything you’ll be able to do about it, especially if you’re an inexperienced snorkeler.

Panicking too much – CO2 is the number one problem people have with full face snorkel masks. Tight straps is the other one. Apparently when you’re panicking in the water it’s hard to take off your mask. It does make sense because it’s not as easy as a traditional mask.

But if you don’t have much experience you should practice taking off your mask before going in the water. You shouldn’t attempt anything too tough until you’ve recorded more time in shallow waters. Everyone should be able to take their mask off when they get into trouble.

Diving too deep – Full face snorkel masks are designed for surface snorkeling. You’re not supposed to wear them to snorkel too deep, which inexperienced snorkelers often ignore. Stay close to the surface and there isn’t a lot of things that can go wrong.

Please Note: master the basics before you go snorkeling no matter where you are, whether you’re wearing a full face snorkel mask or not. It’s more likely people die from the reasons we’ve just talked about unless it’s due to natural causes. That doesn’t mean the CO2 myth isn’t true.

Everyone Should Always Wear Snorkeling Fins

Do you know what the aforementioned dangers have in common? They would be a lot less dangerous if you were wearing the best snorkeling flippers on your feet. Think about how easy it would be to escape danger when you can swim like a ninja mermaid.

Snorkeling vests and floatation devices would help too. Do whatever it takes to avoid becoming another statistic. The best way to do that is by going with a snorkeling buddy, especially a great swimmer if you’re not good in the water.

Watch Out For The Signs Of Carbon Dioxide

Let’s just assume carbon dioxide does turn out to be a bigger problem than we thought. It will help to know the signs when something is going wrong. After all, you won’t just suddenly lose consciousness in the water when you’re feeling absolutely fine.

Watch out for these early warning signs:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilating
  • Impaired consciousness

Should You Worry About Full Face Snorkel Mask Deaths?

Of course, you should definitely worry about full face snorkel mask deaths. They occur on a more regular basis than we’d like to think. But there is no real evidence to blame the masks just yet. It’s more important to concentrate on everything else we’ve talked about today.