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The Importance of Breathing underwater without a mask

By Jose

scuba diver underwater with no mask

How would you feel if you lost your mask while diving?  How about if your mask strap broke, or your regulator free-flowed, would it just be a minor nuisance or would be a major catastrophe?  

I really hope you answered that it would be a minor nuisance! 

While you can’t “learn” to be comfortable overnight, there are many skills you can practice in the water that will help you feel more comfortable in the event that an uncomfortable situation should arise.

One of the most important things in scuba diving, especially when you are a beginning diver, is being completely comfortable with no mask on while underwater.

Even though it is a really basic skill, knowing that, should your mask fall off, you’ll be totally fine is important. It’s also important to be completely comfortable with the fact that, at some point, the seal on your mask will go and you will need to clear that water from your mask, but that’s another post.

It is very common, especially in the beginning to have some apprehension about water entering your mask, or even losing the mask altogether. The best way to lose the apprehension is to face the concern head on and practice actually taking the mask off underwater while continuing to breathe.

Fortunately, we don’t even need a scuba unit in order to practice this. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could even do this in your bath tub. Granted you’ll look a little silly, and if someone catches you doing this, they might have questions about your sanity, but who cares? It’s all in the name of being a better diver!

In any case, all that is needed in order to become comfortable with breathing without a mask on is a body of water and a mask with a snorkel. The “drill” if you want to call it that, is to turn your mask around and to breathe through the snorkel without pinching your nose. 
See the video below of how I demonstrate this skill

For most, this is a pretty simple skill, however for some, breathing while their face is in the water and nothing covers their nose presents a challenge. The challenge is that many people have been breathing simultaneously through their nose and mouth for all their lives. Because breathing through only your mouth while your face is in the water is not something we normally need to do, it may be challenging. The best way to determine this is to actually do it.

What to do if you have problems only breathing through your nose:

If you happen to be one of the people who breathe through your nose and mouth at the same time, there are a few things you can do to train yourself to only breathe through your mouth so you can be comfortable underwater without a mask on.  These are some of the steps I’ve recommended to students in my open water course who have had this problem over the years:

  1. Start with your mask on backward while breathing through the snorkel and pinching off your nose. Notice how you are breathing. Continue breathing while slowly un-pinching your nose. Do this several times to see if you can successfully breathe through only your mouth.
  2. If the above exercise doesn’t work, focus on where your tongue is in your mouth. Focus on what the muscles in your throat are doing. In order to only breathe through your mouth, your tongue will actually rise a little and your throat muscles will “tighten up a bit” to close off that airway. Because you’ve probably never focused on this, it may be difficult to be aware of this at first, but experiment with moving the back of your tongue towards the back top of your mouth to help close off the airspace from your nose.
  3. Get in the pool or even a bathtub and practice, practice, practice. Like riding a bike, you may not get this skill the first time, but once you do, you will always remember it. This is a fundamental skill in scuba diving that, once you mastered, will help you with your comfort and confidence.

I’m curious to know, did you practice breathing with no mask on when you did your scuba diver course?  How easy or hard is this skill for you? Let me know in the comments below.