Why We No Longer Support Full-Faced Snorkel Masks

We recently updated our policy to no longer allow the use of full-faced snorkel masks, on our snorkel excursions, to Lanai and Molokini. While there is still much-needed research to be done on these trendy masks, we are not comfortable allowing the use of them, on our boats, at this time.

If you are not familiar with the full-faced masks, rather than having a traditional mask, which is composed of two separate parts: the mask (that covers your eyes and nose) and snorkel (tube that clips, on the side, of the mask to deliver oxygen orally from above the water) combination, a full-faced mask covers your entire face with a fixed tube that extends out from the forehead-area for breathing. In theory, these full-faced masks create a wider viewing area, and are easier to operate as a person can breathe “normally,” with both nose and mouth, without needing to get accustomed to using a snorkel. However, we believe the dangers of full-faced masks far outweigh the benefits.

In January, 2018, nine people passed away while snorkeling, and diving, in Maui’s waters. It is important to note that, in Hawaii, the majority of snorkeling fatalities are visitors, who are inexperienced snorkelers,* and there are many factors to take into consideration, such as age and physical ability. However, at least two of the eight snorkelers (the ninth man was a scuba diver) died while wearing full-faced snorkel masks; a percentage, us locals, find to be alarming.

Fire Services Chief Ed Taomoto told the Maui News: “Recently, we have noticed that a number of snorkel-related drownings, or, near- drownings have involved these new one-piece masks, but it is too early to make any sort of connection to the use of this equipment and drownings. We’re not sure if the increase in incidents involving these new full-face type masks is related to a problem with this design or if there is just more people using this type over the traditional two-piece snorkel set.” Although there is an undeniable correlation, experts are still working on determining the exact causation.

As reported by Hawaii Civil Beat, Dr. Philip Foti, an Oahu physician who specializes in pulmonary and internal medicine, addressed a conference, regarding drowning prevention, in 2017, and stated this about full-faced masks: “…there is dead space ventilation in the device that seems greater than in the standard snorkel tube. That dead space can cause carbon dioxide buildup.” This CO2 buildup could cause a person to become disoriented, or, even lose consciousness.

Another issue with the full-faced masks is that they appear to be prone to leaking and fogging up. Rather than creating a tight seal using silicone, around just the eye area, like a standard mask, many (not all) of these masks use lower-quality PVC to create the seal around the mask. As the PVC must cover the entire face, rather than just the eye area, the number of potential failure points is dramatically increased. Some have reported the simple act of squinting may cause leakage.** Because the masks cover the full face, once they fill with water, the user, literally, cannot breathe. Whereas, with a standard mask and snorkel, if the mask fills with water, you can still breath through the snorkel. To compound the matter, with straps that go completely around the head, removing the masks can be difficult. In a panic situation, remembering the steps to remove a full-faced mask may be forgotten.

While full-faced masks continue to sell well on Amazon (and get generally good reviews), and there are activity companies on Maui that will rent them, until further research is done on the full-faced masks, we are not allowing our guests to use them. If you bring one on-board, rest assured, you can still go out using the gear that we provide.

Finally, as an aside, in all nine water deaths, the men were swimming alone. We highly recommend snorkeling with a buddy, whether you’re entering the ocean from the beach, or, out on a snorkeling tour with a licensed operator.

Please let us know your experiences with full-faced masks, and tell us what you think of our policy update in the comments below.

*As cited by deeperblue.com: data shows that tourists are 10 times more likely to drown than residents, and that the drowning rate on the islands is 13 times the national average.

**From Hawaii News Now

Comment List

  • Mark 02 / 03 / 2018

    I would be interested in speaking with your company and how we can share data with you about our studies of full face masks. We are one of the top 2-3 brands selling them. We believe it’s important to collaborate and share information.

    • HOPEditor 07 / 03 / 2018

      Thanks Mark, we’ll be in touch.

      • Justin 01 / 08 / 2018

        Almost drowned today in Turks and Caicos wearing one. Love snorkeling. Been 100s of times. Never a problem. Tried it this trip (first time with regular mask and snorkel) and then today with full face. I started to not be able to breath after maybe 15 minutes. Just less and less oxygen to take in. Began to panic then started to panic. Couldn’t get back to shore. Without my friend being 20 feet away and another guy I didn’t know nearby to drag me back to shore I would be dead.

        • Huh 12 / 08 / 2018

          Couldn’t you just have taken the mask off? Seems a little dramatic.

    • Penny 11 / 05 / 2018

      Hi Mark,
      My name is Penny and I’m going to have a trip on Perhentian Island. I want to purchase the snorkel mask with your brand but also worry about the security.
      Could you please also share the data with me before I made the decision?

    • Ivory 12 / 07 / 2018

      Hi Mark, I would love to receive some of your research and details about these masks. I have created videos about them because I like them, but I have gotten a lot of questions. I would really like to inform them of the facts because I think there is a lot of misinformation out there. Would you be able to reach out to me to let me know how I could learn more? Find me on YouTube,Facebook or blog by name Little Birdie Travel. Thanks.o

  • Randy Reider 31 / 03 / 2018

    Aloha! The issue is with the knock-off masks. Ocean Reef is the company that actually invented the first full-face snorkel mask in 2007. They currently make 3 masks, Tribord, Aria, and Head Sport. Aria is their top of the line version, and I am an exclusive dealer for Aria’s for the Island of Kauai. I have been renting and selling Aria’s for 3 years, and have not had a single issue with the thousands of Aria’s I’ve experienced. The problem lies in the cheap knock off masks that have no idea what they are doing. They are attempting to copy a design and are failing. Ocean Reef is a dive company that has been in business over 60yrs. They invented the first full-face scuba mask in 1996, and invented the first full-face snorkel mask called Tribord in 2007. Ocean Reef is also the only company to provide their research and test data to the Ocean Safety research board in Hawaii. Aria’s do not experience any Co2 or carbon dioxide buildup, nor do they leak and they enjoy zero fogging. If you would like to test one out for yourself I would be happy to send you one.
    Randy Reider
    Kauai Snorkel

    • Dinaleah 29 / 05 / 2018

      I just bought a Head Sport from Costco and I’m considering returning it due to all the controversy. I’m not able to see any reviews of the Head Sport. I know it is made by Ocean Reef, so I assumed it , too, was tested for the CO2 safety level. Any opinion? I leave for Kauai and Maui next week.

    • Sam 30 / 07 / 2018

      Tribord is not a product of Ocean Reef, it is the name of a French sub-brand of Decathlon, the French company that drastically changed sporting goods in Europe. Thanks to Decathlon, you can buy a Tribord Easybreath mask for $25 in Europe, while you need at least $50 in the US to reach the same quality. Nota: Tribord-diving has changed its name and is now called SUBEA. They are still an amazing French company. They are a sub-brand of Tribord, which is a sub-brand of Decathlon.

    • Maui Girl 02 / 08 / 2018

      You posted this comment quite some time ago. Just curious, do you have a way to keep track of the people using your mask from purchase till the day they return their rental mask or fly home? Have you been able to document outcomes with your masks at all? Thanks in advance for any help in my quest for info.
      Maui Girl

  • Lyndon 16 / 05 / 2018

    I’ve used a (what I believe is a) proper good fitting quality snorkel mask from a Dutch sports store (Decathlon) and I’ve never gotten none of these serious issues you discribe. I’ve even thought myself and my gf how to get the water out that may leak in sometimes by pressing mask with my hand and exhaling hard with my mouth. This makes the little buildup water escape out of the bottom valve.

    • Sam 30 / 07 / 2018

      Nota: Decathlon is French. It is so amazing that they now have stores in all European countries, such as the Netherlands, but it is French.

  • Jess 31 / 05 / 2018

    I got Tribord one 2 years ago, I love snorkel but not a good swimmer. At first I practiced in the pool to get use to my gear, I also got Scubapro Cruiser snorkeling vest. So I feel more safe in the ocean. I had been using those few trips to Hawaii. Some news said those full face mask causes death lately, I tried on old traditional mask before, but full face mask can see nicely, anti-fog and breath easy. I think one of the reason makes people forgot how dangerous the ocean is(since our head is in the water). It happened to me last November at Maluaka Beach, Maui, water supposes to drain out when it got into the mask, but the wave was too quick and big, it over me and I swallow water inside my mask and couldn’t breath well, thought I might die. Be cautious of all the risks.
    Please snorkel with a partner. Do not think full face mask is 100% safe, please do not save a little money to get those after-market bad quality masks. Also I believe those rental places might not carry the good brands for customers, nor warn or tell any dangers might happened.
    SeaView 180 is doing a new project called SV2, it says better than those old full face mask, I had pre-order one, hope will have a nice snorkel for my next trip.

  • Bill 07 / 07 / 2018

    We bought some Tribord masks for our trip to Maui a couple years ago. My wife likes hers and swears by it. I could never get mine to fit/seal properly and was constantly struggling with the adjustments. Once water enters, it fogs up fast. Also, I felt that breathing was a bit more restrictive and difficult at times. Unlike a traditional setup, it’s very difficult to remove and/or readjust it without getting out of the water completely. Personally, I’m much happier with a traditional snorkel setup, but I do see their attraction for new/inexperienced users. On a side note, we also purchased a no-name brand mask from Costco while we were in Maui (looking for a better fit). It was horrible compared to the Triboard. The water valve would randomly get stuck, and it had difficulties expelling the CO2 gasses (which made me nauseous and light headed). I returned it once we got back to the main land.

  • Marsha 08 / 07 / 2018

    Does anyone have any experience using the Aqualung Smart Mask? Is it considered a knockoff?

  • Rob 08 / 07 / 2018

    I used the Head version on a Napoli Coast tour. I am a great swimmer and have used snorkel gear since I was a kid. I found the mask very hard to draw air in and this caused me to feel extremely fatigued ina few minutes. I had to pull it off and go back to the boat. I grabbed regular gear and went back out with no problems.

  • Mike Horn 20 / 07 / 2018

    I’ve been using a HEAD full face mask for two years. I’ve snorkeled in the Florida Keys, The Galapagos Islands and the British Virgin Islands. I’ve not had a bad experience. The mask is more comfortable that conventional mask and snorkel, the viewing area is greater and there is less fogging. My HEAD cost $99 and I’ve seen knock-offs for as little as $29. In this case you get what you pay for. Nothing but great comments for this mask.

  • Steven 20 / 07 / 2018

    Caution is good and I have snorkeled & scba dived for over 50 years with a traditional mask and snorkel however, I don’t get (understand) your conclusion from the math presented. 2 of the 9 divers or 22% drowned while wearing a full face mask. So that means that 7 (seven) of the 9 drowned while wearing a regular mask & snorkel. That’s 78% of the total population. Not saying that there are not special or different risks but basically 8 out of 10 drowned while wearying a regular mask & snorkel. So, why the “extra” caution for the full face mask? Why would they be banned as more dangerous? Just trying to figure out the logic…. Just that it may present more difficulties or a problem that an inexperienced diver may not be able to overcome? Thanks

  • Mark 23 / 07 / 2018

    Wait! Where did you study statistics? TWO of the eight snorkerlers died while wearing the fill faced masks, meaning (stay with me here) SIX wore traditional two piece masks, and you see a disturbing statistical trend for the full face masks???

    My Advanced Stats professor would be rolling over in his grave, except that he’s still alive.

    The last time I saw Bad Science come out of Hawaii it was in false claims GMO foods were dangerous (they aren’t). Now this. Are you guys trying to break some type of pseudoscience record over there?

    — Mark Alsip
    Author, Bad Science Debunked

    • admin 24 / 07 / 2018

      Point taken. Thank you for replying. The fact is that our operators are not trained with the full-faced masks. We provide standard masks/snorkels free of charge to everyone on our boat. We swap out this equipment often and are confident in the safety of it. We hate to lose customers to other tour boats, but we pride ourselves on the safety of our boats. By controlling the gear used, we feel we provide a safer snorkel environment.

      (If you look at the number of the full-faced masks worn vs. standard masks worn, you’ll find that 25% of deaths occurred is actually quite large.)

  • Kort 23 / 07 / 2018

    I recently tested out the AirGo Full Face Snorkel Mask (from Amazon). I could not get used to it and left a 2 star review relating my experience. It wasn’t cheap, but I guess it is what could be considered a knock-off. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air while wearing it. Field of vision was great, and it was “easy”, but not easy in a way that I could truly use it and be comfortable. My wife felt the same way. For now, I think I’ll stick with the traditional 2-part mask and snorkel system.

  • Angie 24 / 07 / 2018

    We just returned from a vacation to Maui. I had purchased a full face snorkeling mask to try as our two teenage boys enjoy snorkeling and have been scuba diving numerous times. We tried one of the masks in our pool prior to the trip to test the product. All seemed fine. While on black beach my son wanted to try the mask for the first time on the trip. I am so thankful he realized that there was a serious problem and approached the shore before before anything serious occurred. He explained that he started feeling really tired while snorkeling and started having the sensation that he wasn’t getting enough air. He realized that something may be wrong. He was exhausted and didn’t feel well, took a lot of effort to walk up the beach. A very fit football player, wrestler was not feeling well and wanted to leave after this experience. I am so thankful he knew something wasn’t right and his experience didn’t end a different way. I hope sharing this story helps someone else. I never would have thought to tell my kids “If you start feeling tired you need to stop immediately and get the mask off.” Which is difficult to do while treading water.

    • Emba 30 / 08 / 2018

      Please let us know the brand of FF mask that your son used which may save people live for not using the bad products.

  • Mave 25 / 07 / 2018

    I am a 52 year old female who rented a Tribord full face mask while on vacation in Maui May 2018. I can’t swim but always wanted to snorkel. I borrowed a noodle to help me float and went in the ocean with my husband who does know how to swim. I absolutely loved it. I had no leaks, dizziness or fogging therefore, I will consider purchasing a full face Tribord mask. However, I purchased the traditional snorkeling gear back in 2012 and I tried to use it on a Hawaii trip in 2012, but I couldn’t get the hang of it, so I never learned to use it. Based on reviews I think bad mask are based on the quality and brand of the mask. You also have to be careful and purchase the right size for your face, and there is a warning saying you can’t go below I think 3 feet with full face mask?

  • Shannon M 29 / 07 / 2018

    I have a full face snorkel, it’s the Ocean Reef Tribord and I absolutley love it. I have had mine for about three years now and have used it in the Atlantic ocean in Florida, in the Mediterranean off Mallorca and in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida. In the Gulf I use it for scalloping and will be in the water for an entire day. I have never experienced any issues breathing or with fogging but my jaw will hurt by the end of a scallop day. I am also a good swimmer and I never swim alone. The mask is easy to get off and when I scallop I tend to take it off every 20 minutes or so when taking a break. This could be why I haven’t had issues. I am buying another brand wildhorn because it has a go pro mount and the tribord doesnt. I have already used the wildhorn and know this one works as well as my tribord. As with anything you have to be aware of what you are using and the conditions you are using it in.

  • Maui girl 30 / 07 / 2018

    The issue is with all full face masks. There has not been enough testing done to show that any of these masks are truly safe. Because the state of Hawaii has only begun documenting the equipment being worn after a drowning has occurred here in Hawaii since late 2017 and early 2018 nobody can comment on whether or not any of the Full Face masks were the cause of the many drownings we have had in this state, especially Maui. Prior to this, there is no evidence to show which mask was worn when the person drown. It could have been the full face mask made by Head or one of the traditional 2 piece masks since there are a large number of places offering tourists both masks. Two of the drownings on Maui this February were wearing the Head full face snorkel mask when the bodies were pulled and one man in particular named Brian Beyers whom drowned at Kamaole 3, had his mask filled with water when his body was pulled. Until all full face masks are tested for both the dangers as well as proven safe, in my opinion, they should all be taken off of the market. For every story of a drowning with these masks, there are far more near drownings that were not reported. I am an almost daily water woman and I frequent some very popular snorkel spots and have personally witnessed many tourists and locals alike who have had near drowning or close call experiences while wearing the full face masks. Three close friends bought the Head full face mask from Costco Maui and had near drowning experiences within a very short time of using them. These are three very experienced surfers, swimmers and divers.
    As Kama Aina, it is our kuleana to protect our tourists and I commend any company who puts safety in front of its profits. Kudos Hawaii Ocean Project and mahalo for leading the way for safer snorkeling and ocean safety education. It is in educating our tourists, ocean novices and snorkelers coming to our islands to experience this beautiful paradise that will help them go home safe, with incredible memories to share with their loved ones. I will be recommending your company to the many guests who stay at my vacation rental.
    Maui girl

  • Guy Cooper 30 / 07 / 2018

    My wife was probably the first known fatality using a full face mask. I say “known” because prior to her death and my bringing up the issue with Hawaii ocean safety officials no one bothered recording the equipment used in snorkeling deaths. So there is that statistical omission. Also, keep in mind we rarely hear of incidents where people get into trouble but manage to survive. Except for the occasional anecdotal report, there is no data base collecting these incidents. We see just the tip of the iceberg.
    I’ve seen the Head testing data. First off, there are no industry standards and no independent testing and certification of snorkeling equipment. I have to sayHead started marketing their masks first, tested them later. And their product came out on top. What a surprise. Incidentally, COSTCO in Maui just pulled the full face masks from their shelves.

    As regards knockoffs and Amazon reviews, there are genuine issues. My wife bought an Azorro brand mask from Amazon. Amazon either can’t or won’t release contact info for the manufacturer. There is widespread manipulation of reviews and ratings. Regarding the Azorro mask, my own review reporting my wife’s death was repeatedly taken down as were many other negative reviews. Many of the positive reviews are fake and the reviewers have been compensated for their efforts. Try this. Click on the name of the reviewer and you’ll be able to see all the Amazon reviews that individual posted. Read through them. See if you see a pattern, sometimes identically worded reviews for varied products. There is a fake review mill out there. Buyer beware.

  • Allison 01 / 08 / 2018

    There is absolutely no logic in saying that 2 out of 9 deaths involved full faced masks so it must be the masks. What about the 7 who died with traditional masks? It seems to me that traditional masks would be more dangerous using this logic. I disagree with banning these. They make snorkeling much more enjoyable.

    • admin 01 / 08 / 2018

      Thank you for you comment. We appreciate you taking the time to reach out to us. One thing to consider is the ratio of “standard masks” to full-face masks. A recent outing to a popular snorkeling area (Ahihi Kinau Natural Reserve) showed two people with full-masks and the rest (at least 50 people) with standard masks. The owner of full-face masks said she loved it, but her daughter had issues with it and they were going to rent her a standard mask for the next day.

      Many people do enjoy full-faced masks. However, we are small, family-owned business and are not trained to use them, thus if someone has issues with them and we can’t help them, we may be found liable. It’s not a risk we can take. There are larger boat companies on Maui who do accommodate riders with full-face masks. So when you come to Maui, you will be taken care of! Mahalo!

    • Maui Girl 02 / 08 / 2018

      Those numbers are just what Hawaii Dept of Health concluded after the state decided to start documenting the equipment worn when a drowning occurred.

      It’s great that you have enjoyed your full face mask but if you research deeper, you will find many, many people who weren’t so fortunate and even more who experienced near drownings with these masks on. Far more than with traditional snorkel masks.

      The key that everyone seems to be missing is that because the state is still in the infancy stages of documenting deaths due to full face masks, the ones that have been documented are 30-50 % !

      That means there are almost 50% more possible drownings that will happen as a result of people using the full face mask without knowing any of the possible dangers. Still think there shouldn’t be a ban on them? You were one of the fortunate ones. Thankfully.

  • Guy Cooper 02 / 08 / 2018

    Maybe I can help to clear up this statistics issue a little bit. The question is what percentage of full face mask users get into trouble? How does that number compare to the percentage of conventional snorkel equipment users that encounter problems? They are separate measurements. Could it be that full face masks are more dangerous? Do we know? Manufacturers of full face masks claim there is no evidence their products are inherently more dangerous and they are correct. There is no evidence because until just recently no one bothered to collect any data regarding the gear involved in snorkeling incidents. So no one knows. Are some full face masks better than others. Again, no one knows. There are no industry wide standards, no independent laboratory testing, no comparative ratings. There are snorkeling experts that have called into question the whole full face design. There are many anecdotal reports of people getting into trouble with them. There have been fatalities. If I had known all there is unknown about these masks, perhaps I could have persuaded my wife not chance it, and she would still be with me.

  • Steven flores 04 / 08 / 2018

    The biggest problems are the knock offs that didnt get all the research and development. People are buying these masks from walmart, longs, costco.. when the original patent holder does not even release to the stores. Oceanreef has by far brought the full face mask so far with all the tests and studies, when you have these cheap knock of companies, snorkl, ninja mask, amongst others flooding the market with their crappy equipment..

  • Shannon 15 / 08 / 2018

    I’m an avid snorkeler but due to a recent injury in the eye area I chose to purchase the full face snorkel so I could snorkel without further injury on my recent vacation. Upon getting into the water I thought it was great! I could see really well and had no issues with water entering the mask. I did find myself extremely thirsty and exhausted quickly… so much so that I got out of the water and thought I’d get a drink and be fine. Upon re-entering the water that feeling never really went away. Even hours after snorkeling I still felt as though my breathing was laboured which I found super bizarre as I’ve never experienced this snorkeling before. This sparked my google search and so I stumbled upon this page. I’m super weary of using this mask again and probably won’t – definitely didn’t feel as though I could breathe/get enough air as easily as I could with the regular 2 part mask.

  • Mark Hussey 22 / 08 / 2018

    I leave for Hawaii and have booked a Snorkling tour on a Royal Caribbean cruise. I have packed my full face mask and have attached a go pro. Please tell me if I will be able to use this mask or not. If it’s “not” I’m going to cancel the snorkel tour and do something else. The old style mask does not seal due to my moustache. Please advise before I leave for Hawaii.

  • onesie for adults 25 / 08 / 2018

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