How to Fit a Snorkel or Scuba Mask

Mask Advice from Bruce Bowker

How many times have you gone into a dive store, tried a mask that seemed to fit just great, got on an airplane to halfway around the world, jumped into the water and the mask leaked? There seems to be a nearly universal way to try a mask, which unfortunately happens to be the wrong way. Put the mask on, inhale through your nose and guess what? The mask fits. Right? Wrong!

The big mistake is that no one dives or snorkels with a vacuum in their mask or shouldn’t be if they are. By inhaling through the nose, an unnatural seal is created. Some divers have tried on masks that don’t even come close to fitting but as soon as they inhale, a tight seal is created. While diving though, they are not constantly trying to inhale through their nose (which is what the store clerk told them to do) and now the mask leaks.

Someone told a tale of a dive store that displays all masks without straps. The idea apparently is to check that a really good vacuum makes a really good fit. Once again, no one dives trying to inhale through their nose constantly and without a strap no less.

Insuring a Good Scuba Mask Fit

Almost all modern masks have an outer seal and a narrower inner seal. This inside seal covers everywhere except just under the nose. If both of these seals touch the face than the odds of that mask fitting and not leaking are very good. This is done by putting the mask on with the strap loose, but in place, and then tightening it to what would be normal if you were diving. Some divers who have had very bad masks are in the habit of over tightening the strap on a new mask in hopes of a better seal. Don’t do that especially while trying masks for fit.

The next step takes a second person or a mirror. Look around the entire inside of the mask checking to see that the inner seal touches everywhere. It is very important not to inhale through the nose which forces the mask seals to touch if they didn’t naturally. Next check the outside seal the same way.

If the inner seal is not touching the face, especially next to the side of the eyes, it is likely the mask won’t work well. But do check everywhere around the inside. The outer seal might keep water from dripping in but not as well as if both seals touch. Make sure the seals do not cut across any hairline or eyebrows. Also that the side seals are not right at the edge of the eye.

What if my Scuba Mask Leaks Under the Nose?

One other problem can occur when someone laughs, smiles or even squints. This motion creates lines or wrinkles next to the nose. Sometimes this makes a passage where water pours in. Almost every mask will leak when this happens. So don’t laugh! Occasionally, depending on the person, these wrinkles may remain even after they stop laughing. In this case it may be necessary to straighten the face by pulling down or sideways on the cheeks. Again this is not necessarily a mask problem. So don’t run out and buy a new mask.

If absolutely necessary, to keep everyone happy, you can now inhale slightly to check any unseen leaks. Sometimes a mask leaks around the glass. This is very unusual and is a one off problem, not the design of the mask. You can check this by holding the mask with the face plate parallel to the floor and putting water in the mask. If the face plate seal is faulty, drops of water will appear on the outside.

Don’t be fooled by the size of a mask’s frame and lenses. This has little if anything to do with how a masks fits. People will look for what seems like a narrow or wide mask, depending, but what counts is the size of the skirt where your face is actually touching the mask. An exaggerated example but if the lens of a mask is 1 foot wide but the skirt is only 4 inches, this would fit a rather narrow face but the mask looks huge.

With literally tens of dozens of masks on the market, there is one that will fit. It may take awhile to find but it is out there.

Bruce Bowker