Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get to try out a full face mask when Ocean Technology Systems visited Maui and we co-hosted a test dive event for local divers. The day before the test dive, a bunch of local dive pros gathered in our shop to learn about the Guardian Full Face Masks. We learned how to put them on, adjust them, equalize, tips for communicating, how far apart they work underwater, and more. And finally, we got to go dive them!
Off to Ulua Beach we went, and from the get-go, a couple of us were chatting away, while others seemed shocked by the talking and were non responsive to the point that we wondered if their units were working. Not all full face masks come with communication devices built in, so having a full face mask doesn’t mean that you HAVE to talk, but once you get started…(if you clicked that link, notice how clear we sound!)
On my first dive with the Guardian, I dived for about an hour. I chatted periodically, mostly to test out how well I could hear and be heard, and from how far away. I remember some of my first impressions as follows. Before submerging, I felt a little claustrophobic. Was I getting enough air? Can anyone hear me? Once I submerged, these concerns vanished. I remember my breathing seeming extra loud and I kept giving hand signals instead of talking. I couldn’t always hear or understand the other divers very well, and on that dive, I definitely went through my air faster than I was used to.
Still, one thing I know about myself is that it always takes me a while to get used to new gear, and I was interested, very interested, in the potential of using these masks, mostly because of the communication capabilities.
The next morning, I led a couple of groups on test dives from the boat, so I had further opportunities to become accustomed to how these masks feel and perform underwater. I still went through my air faster than usual, but I attribute this to the “learning curve” and to the fact that I was paying a lot of attention to my fellow divers, trying to make sure everyone was okay. During these dives, I became more comfortable but still didn’t feel completely “natural” with this new equipment.
About a month later, I was finally able to dive the Guardian again, and this time with my husband, for his first full face mask dives. Since it was just the two of us, we practiced our communication and discussed what was going on as we fine-tuned our experience. One of the important things to remember when communicating in these masks is that when you’re using the “push to talk” feature, you need to push the button a second or two before you start speaking or else the beginning of what you say gets cut off. The other thing is to speak slowly and enunciate well. Since my husband and I are used to each other’s normal speaking patterns, I heard and understood him better than I had any of my other dive buddies so far. Oh, and on this dive, everything just seemed to come together. I was totally comfortable and at ease, my air consumption was the same as it is with a regular mask, and I experienced zero claustrophobia at the surface.
On our second dive together, we were on the Carthaginian. I had my back to him, aiming my camera at some small critter, when I suddenly heard, “Rachel, there’s an eagle ray right behind you!” I turned around in a heartbeat, with plenty of time to see it glide by. That was the moment I knew I absolutely loved diving the Guardian Full Face Mask! Yep, from then on, I was totally sold, and I’ll tell you why.
Normal Scenario: Dive buddy sees something cool, but I have my back to them, taking a photo of something. Dive buddy uses noise maker to get my attention. If I’m in a group, I don’t necessarily turn around right away for several reasons (maybe it’s not me they’re calling, maybe it’s just an eel but I’ve got a frogfish, etc.). Once I do turn around, I have to find the person making the noise. Next, that person points. I look around and don’t see what they’re pointing at. Is it big, is it small? Finally, they make a hand signal so I know what I’m looking for and THEN I get to see the tail end of the spotted eagle ray as it glides out of sight.
Full Face Mask Scenario: “Rachel, there’s an eagle ray right behind you!” BAM! Turn around, see eagle ray, feel thrilled! No time wasted and I got to see the cool critter. I recently saw an OTS ad that read, “Don’t wait to communicate”. Yep, that’s what it’s all about for me!
After that, I wore the Guardian for my next 30-40 dives, and so did my husband. We were extra thrilled with them the first time we took them night diving. Vis was terrible and simply being able to say, “Hey, I’m not feeling this. Can we just head back in?” was another one of those wow-this-is-so-much-easier moments. The non-full-face-mask method might have required a note on a slate or some hand signals for let’s turn around that, while understood, could still leave my buddy wondering if I was having some kind of problem I just couldn’t describe with hand signals.
More recently, we took the full face masks on a dive trip to Belize with us. While we used them most of the time, we also let one of our regular dive buddies, David, try a couple of dives with one. He said that while he enjoyed having the experience, he also felt a little claustrophobic at times and didn’t enjoy it as much as he’d expected.
On the flip side, two of our shop regulars, Aaron and Sarah, just got them. He’s been certified for a few years and she’s a very new diver. He bought them as an early Christmas gift and I got to take them on their first dive too. Afterwards, Aaron said that they both loved them, they were easy to use, and they worked perfectly and made his dive buddy much more comfortable underwater since she could communicate more easily with him. This was just what he’d been hoping for. I was excited to hear this too since, as you’ve already read, it took me a little longer to get the hang of things.
Okay, now for the promised “pros and cons”. I want to preface this by saying that some of the items on the “cons” list are based on divers’ perceptions.
Learning Curve: There is a little learning curve to getting the hang of these (how to adjust it, how to communicate). While this isn’t necessarily a “con”, some people may view it as such. If you’ve only dived traditional scuba equipment so far, this will be new to you, so it stands to reason that you’ll have to learn to use it.
Surface Communication: If you put your full face mask on before you get in the water (like I do), you will have to yell to be heard through your mask. The communications don’t work until you’re submerged. If you’ve jumped into the water and need to speak to the boat captain or something, you simply need to remove your mask to do it.
Mask Removal: If you have an out of air situation, you must remove your mask (which also contains your regulator) to secure your buddy’s alternate air source. You should also carry a spare mask with you in the unlikely event that you have a low/out of air situation. Again, this is something that full face mask divers should learn how to do.
Too Much Talking: I hear this one over and over, “the reason I like to dive is that it’s quiet down there”. I agree. That said, how much you actually talk is totally up to you and your buddy. My buddy and I are not typically down there having a gab fest; we mainly chat to share what we’re looking at or to communicate air.
Communication: I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating. If my buddy wants to tell me how much air he has left, he doesn’t have to interrupt me from my picture-taking to tell me. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and look around; I simply have to listen.
No Fog: That’s right, this mask is never going to fog on you!
No Jaw Fatigue: There is no regulator to hold in your mouth. No reg, no jaw fatigue. You can also swallow, lick your lips, whatever. So, it’s safe to say that you don’t really get dry mouth in these things either.
Fits Most Faces: I’ve seen this mask tried on a variety of faces so far. Unless you have an unusually tiny face, this mask will fit you without leaking. For my husband who is always complaining that his nose is too big to fit in normal mask nose pockets, the full face mask offered him the added bonus of plenty of nose room! If you dive in colder water than we do here in Hawaii, diving a full face mask will mean that more of you stays dry… and warm!
So, that’s the scoop for part one of the Full Face Mask blog. The next one will cover equalization, emergency procedures, maintenance, they “listen only” unit, and anything else you ask me about before then. If you’ve got a question or comment, please share it and if you’d like to try a full face mask dive, I’d be happy to take you on one!