Looking Glass

By Tec Clark

Mask clearing is one of the most challenging skills to master in dive training. Even seasoned divers may need a refresher if they haven’t been diving in a while. Here are a few pointers to help keep your confidence high when clearing your mask underwater.

Know Your Mask

You may have the most state-of-the-art mask, complete with double-sealed skirts, a purge valve and fancy mask strap, but if it’s new and unfamiliar, you may have to relearn how to clear it. If your mask comes with a purge valve, check the valve for tears, folds or sand that could allow water in. Remember, the larger the mask volume, the more air it takes to displace the water. So, if you have a large-volume mask, it may take more than one breath to clear it.

Loosen The Strap

Another common problem is wearing the mask too tightly. Although it may create a stronger seal on your face, if your mask strap is too tight, clearing your mask will be much more difficult to accomplish. With a tighter fitting mask, more force is required to loosen the mask from your face, which causes a stronger vacuum effect and water rushes in more quickly. Also, when trying to reseal a tight mask, water remaining in the nose pocket may have no escape other than up your nose. Finally, your mask should not cause you pain when the strap is adjusted to fit in a comfortable, yet snug, fashion.

Get Wet First

Your face is very sensitive to stimuli, especially temperature. When wearing a mask underwater, the air inside the mask is warmed by body temperature. When performing a mask clearing, cold water affects the nerve sensors around the eyes, thereby resulting in physiological changes such as fluctuations in heart rate and respiration. Prior to putting your mask on, splash some water on your face. This way your body is already acclimated to the water temperature if flooding occurs and clearing your mask becomes necessary.

Use Gravity

There are various ways to clear your mask. Whether you prefer to only press firmly against the top of the mask or also use your thumb to lift the bottom edge of the mask away from your face, it is advisable to use one hand to accomplish a mask clearing. This frees the other hand to hold a safety-stop line, or anchor line or keep you stabilized. It is a common practice to tilt one’s head back while exhaling through the nose to clear the mask. However, it is also possible to continue swimming horizontally, either on your stomach or side, by pressing against the topmost part of the mask and simply exhaling to push the water through the downward edge of the mask. Like all skills, quick, easy, safe and efficient mask clearing takes practice, whatever your technique.