Are Full-Face Snorkel Masks Safe? 5 Big Truths & Lies

They can make for a unique experience, but are full-face snorkel masks safe?

Full-face snorkel masks are one of the more interesting innovations to come out of developing snorkeling technology in recent years.

Instead of a traditional snorkel mask which only covers your eyes and nose and requires a separate snorkel tube to connect your mouth to the surface air, full-face snorkel masks include a dome that covers your entire face from forehead to chin along with an integrated snorkel at the top which includes a one-way valve that aims to keep out unexpected water while allowing you to breathe normally. They’re a big departure from your grandparents’ snorkel sets.

And, they’re meant to be great for beginning snorkelers.

Instead of worrying about using the right pressure to keep a tight seal on your snorkel with your mouth, the snorkel mask should keep the seal for you around the perimeter of your face. Instead of worrying about dealing with unexpected water in your snorkel tube, the integrated one-way valve keeps near all of it out for you. Plus, the viewing window is much larger so you can see more underwater, which is a lot of fun.

Full-face snorkel masks have become incredibly popular in a short period of time.

But, are full-face snorkel masks safe? Some have been asking that question after an increase in snorkeling-related deaths in some areas in recent years, seemingly alongside the growing popularity of full-face snorkel masks. Are full-face snorkel masks the cause, though? That’s proving to be a difficult question to answer.

Is there something wrong with the masks themselves that’s causing people harm? Is the ease of access that a full-face snorkel mask provides inviting underexperienced snorkelers into the water who are more likely to have problems? Is the bump in deaths related to preexisting conditions of the snorkelers? Is it all a statistical coincidence?

It’s a complicated and evolving situation, and one that is causing salacious clickbait articles about “death masks” or one-sided pieces about “the best snorkel masks ever.”

So, let’s look at some of the things that we do know about full-face snorkel masks right now and sort out some of the truths and lies about full-face snorkel mask deaths and full-face snorkel mask dangers floating around at the moment.

Are full-face snorkel masks safe? Traditional vs. full-face snorkel masks
Traditional and full-face snorkel masks each have their own benefits and trade-offs.

1. Truth: We Don’t Know For Sure Right Now

The truth of the matter is that we just don’t know for sure if full-face snorkel masks are safe or dangerous (or exactly why) right now.

For example, while acknowledging reports of problems and even drownings when a full-face snorkel mask was in use, the Hawaii Department of Health (with Hawaii being one of the leaders in studying the safety of full-face snorkel masks and any full-face snorkel mask deaths) also notes that “there is currently not enough information to prove a direct association to increased risk.” [Source]

On the other hand, many snorkel tour operators in Hawaii are discouraging full-face snorkel mask use on their tours, with some banning the masks outright, saying the stories they have heard regarding full-face snorkel mask deaths are concerning to them. [Source]

Right now, the concerns regarding full-face snorkel mask dangers are indeed largely based on stories, which make it tough to draw any definitive conclusions.

Full-Face Snorkel Mask Deaths: Numbers

It’s really tough to gather enough data regarding full-face snorkel mask deaths. As one huge Australian study on the overall safety of snorkeling noted, “reports of harm from snorkelling are rare, and it can generally be considered a safe activity.” When the question of the safety of full-face snorkel masks started to become more popular in 2018, of the 10 snorkeling-related deaths that had happened in Hawaii that year, 4 were with someone using a full-face snorkel mask [source]. That’s a really small sample size.

On one hand, it’s good that snorkeling makes it tough to find much in the way of injury statistics because the numbers are so low compared to the number of people out there snorkeling every day. And, while occasional deaths did still happen even before full-face snorkel masks existed, they are yet rare and a real chunk of them often have something to do with a preexisting heart or health issue [source]. Plus, no one yet knows exactly what happened with the people who were involved in full-face snorkel mask deaths.

The numbers regarding full-face snorkel masks specifically are going to need to be recorded and analyzed. Lab tests are likely going to need to be run and data collected. Hawaii is working on it (along with other researchers like some from Duke University), but as of this writing no one has gotten far enough to be able to give a definitive answer on safety or causation one way or another.

2. Lie: All Full-Face Snorkel Masks Are the Same

One of the most popular early theories about a possible problem with full-face snorkel masks was that a faulty valve at the top of the snorkel might not be allowing exhaled CO2 to escape the mask easily enough, while at the same time not allowing enough oxygen to enter. This, if true, would certainly cause a problem.

And there might be something to this theory. While it’s still conjecture, anecdotal evidence has started to build up across the internet from people who have used full-face snorkel masks that indicates that there may really be some valve problems. Those valve problems, though, seem to happen more with lower-end, knock-off full-face snorkel masks, but are much more rare with masks from an established snorkel manufacturer with a good safety record.

You can easily find full-face snorkel masks from 30 or more brands on Amazon, but the backgrounds of many of the brands are thin and the source of the masks questionable. The popularity of anything — full-face snorkel masks included — can attract a knock-off market. That can be concerning when there’s a safety component to the product.

A well-known Hawaiian snorkel retailer even says about knock-off full-face snorkel masks, “I get three or four inquiries a week from Chinese manufacturers. ‘You must carry these. Please send your address. We’ll send samples.’ And my response is always the same, ‘No, thank you. Please put them in the dumpster.'” [Source]

The problem has caught the attention of the more reputable full-face snorkel mask manufacturers as well. Head USA noted that their full-face mask “was put through rigorous testing protocols… including the measurement of potential CO2 build-up,” but that its success “has spawned a number of low-cost copycat masks… whose expertise, design and manufacturing experience are unknown.” [Source]

Tribord Subea Easybreath
The Tribord Subea Easybreath (Amazon) is often regarded as a full-face snorkel mask from an established manufacturer with a good safety record.

So, if you’re considering a full-face snorkel mask, it appears to be crucial that you limit your search to only masks from reputable snorkel manufacturers with good safety records. Two of the most common masks that users say fit these criteria are Head, who we just heard from, with their Head by Mares’ Seaview (learn more about it on Amazon) and Tribord’s Subea Easybreath (also on Amazon).

We would not recommend using a full-face snorkel mask that you don’t have a broader history on in terms of other people’s experiences. That usually includes masks that you might rent from a shop or snorkel stand.

There’s never a guarantee of safety no matter what equipment you use or which activity on the planet you take part in, but using equipment that others have had good experience with can help a lot. And, it appears that not all full-face snorkel mask brands are created equal.

(Check out more of our snorkel gear recommendations in our guide on the best snorkel gear and getting started affordably.)

3. Truth: Your Health Is Always a Factor

One of the complexities surrounding figuring out potential full-face snorkel mask dangers and whether or not full-face snorkel masks are safe is that their ease of use has invited a lot of new types of snorkelers into the water that otherwise might not have tried the sport with traditional gear.

This is wonderful in theory (more people should get to experience the beauty of the underwater world!), but if a demographic of full-face mask snorkelers might skew older in age or with more existing health problems, then it’s tougher to say what the cause truly was if something bad happened.

Snorkeling is a full-body workout, and one you should definitely be fit and in good health to enjoy. Otherwise, you might put yourself at risk.

Full-Face Snorkel Mask Deaths: Health Questions

One huge snorkeling safety study that analyzed 12 years’ worth of data found that almost half of snorkeling-related deaths (60 of 140) occurred due to cardiac-related causes and that men of a median age of 65 were most likely to have these problems. Almost 25% of all deaths (34 of 140) were concerning those who already had a history of cardiac disease. No information was included on whether or not full-face snorkel masks were used in these incidents. [Source]

However, regarding one of the few full-face snorkel mask deaths for which more-detailed information exists, a British tourist in Egypt regrettably died after snorkeling with a full-face snorkel mask despite snorkeling with the same mask for the previous 5 years. [Source] A coroner back in the U.K. felt that the full-face snorkel mask, combined with the snorkeler’s pre-existing high blood pressure and other medical issues, contributed to her death, enough so to make a general warning about this type of mask. [Source] What the outcome would have been with traditional snorkel gear is unknown.

The point is, your health is always a big factor in staying safe while snorkeling, whether you use a full-face snorkel mask (and perhaps especially so) or not. So, it’s always recommended to have a physical and talk to a doctor before taking up something like snorkeling to make sure you’re in good enough health for either traditional or full-face snorkel gear.

And, if there’s any doubt, it’s definitely better to avoid something like full-face snorkel masks that may still have questions to be answered, especially if you have any health issues.

Are full-face snorkel masks safe?
You should be fit and in good health to snorkel, no matter if you use a full-face snorkel mask or not.

4. Lie: There’s Nothing Like Full-Face Snorkel Masks

Full-face snorkel masks definitely have some benefits over traditional snorkel gear. That’s why they’ve become so popular.

The biggest benefits are that the larger dome covering your face gives you a larger field of view over a typical snorkel mask that just surrounds your eyes, and that the integrated snorkel with the one-way valve on the top of the full-face mask keeps out most any unwanted water that might try to make its way into your snorkel.

Those are huge benefits, and they can make snorkeling a lot easier and more enjoyable. But, full-face snorkel masks aren’t the only snorkel equipment that can provide an experience like that.

For starters, traditional snorkel masks have gotten a lot bigger over time, and some now have some really, really big lenses that let you see a lot more than you once could.

Are full-face snorkel masks safe? Traditional snorkel masks with big lenses are an alternative
Many traditional snorkel masks, like the TUSA Imprex 3D Hyperdry (Amazon), have much larger lenses than older versions, allowing you to see the water more like through a full-face snorkel mask.

Our favorite huge-lensed snorkel mask is the TUSA Imprex 3D Hyperdry (look at it on Amazon). The panoramic field of view is really impressive, it’s construction is solid and lightweight, and it even has a useful purge valve (a feature that higher-end masks have that let you blow any water out of your mask that might seep in). At usually around $65, it’s a great value.

Next, while traditional snorkels used to just be a more specific version of an open tube, “dry snorkels” are now commonplace. These dry snorkels work very similarly to those on the full-face snorkel masks, incorporating a one-way valve at the top of the tube that keeps water out while allowing air in.

TUSA has a dry snorkel that pairs well with its Imprex 3D Hyperdry mask, the TUSA Imprex II Hyperdry snorkel (check it out on Amazon) which gets you a really solid dry snorkel typically for less than $30. It’s a great option if your budget is a little more limited.

A dry snorkel is something that we like to be really selective with, though, for both comfort and safety, and our top pick for best dry snorkel is the Oceanic Ultra-Dry 2 (here on Amazon) for a couple of reasons.

The best dry snorkel, the Oceanic Ultra-Dry 2, underwater
The Oceanic Ultra-Dry 2 (Amazon) is our favorite dry snorkel which works similarly to the integrated snorkels in full-face snorkel masks.

First, the float valve design of this top-end snorkel is fantastic and really goes a long way toward limiting almost any intrusive water. But, second, should any water dribble in (which will happen with any dry snorkel), it also has a finely-tuned purge valve that will let you easily puff the water out through the bottom of your snorkel tube. The Ultra-Dry 2 usually runs about $60, and is absolutely worth it.

No matter your gear, you want to make sure that you’re in good health, fitness, and are a strong swimmer before getting in the water to snorkel. But, with dry snorkels and masks that have larger lenses, you can grab a lot of the benefits of full-face snorkel masks which can help you focus more on having an awesome time in the water and less on your field of view or water management.

(To learn more about traditional snorkel masks with larger fields of view, check out our guide on the best snorkel masks for beginners, intermediates and advanced snorkelers, or learn more about dry snorkels that work similarly to the snorkels in full-face snorkel masks at our guide on the best dry snorkels.)

5. Truth: The Situation is Fluid

Ultimately, we don’t yet know the full story about full-face snorkel masks. That’s just the way it is right now; we don’t yet have a definitive answer.

Some government officials, doctors and tour operators are recommending that people err on the side of caution and stay away from full-face snorkel masks. Others are leaving it up to snorkelers to make their own decision. A case could be made for either approach.

Ultimately, you’ll need to make your own decision given the information you can find, your health, experience, and other factors. Read this article, and also look for new information before you make a decision. The situation is fluid and changing.

Group of snorkelers with both traditional and full-face snorkel masks
The consensus on full-face snorkel masks is fluid and will continue to change, so make sure to check the latest information before making a decision.

Bonus: My Personal Experience with Full-Face Snorkel Masks

I personally have a lot of experience with using a full-face mask for snorkeling. And, since I’m sitting here able to write this, you might guess that I personally haven’t had any problems.

That’s true, I haven’t had any problems with full-face snorkel masks. And while one person’s experience with something doesn’t guarantee that something to be safe, I can tell you what it’s been like for me.

I’ve personally had a fine time using my full-face snorkel mask on occasion. I’ve used a lot of different types of snorkel gear in my life, and while it’s not necessarily my go-to, the full-face mask has occasionally been nice for leisurely snorkels where I don’t want to do anything more advanced like dive underwater (which is a lot harder with full-face masks since the air trapped in the face dome makes you more buoyant).

I’ve had the Tribord Subea Easybreath (Amazon) for years. It fits well to my face and the snorkel valve on top of the mask has worked well to keep most any splash water out of the mask while letting me breathe.

I do notice myself breathing just a little heavier when I use the mask, though. This makes sense because my lungs have to work to activate the snorkel valve on the other side of a larger air space. It’s never been anything that has caused me difficulty, however, and I just make sure that I’m breathing deeply and evenly as I snorkel.

I’m in good shape, good health, and I don’t use the mask for any real strenuous snorkeling (diving, longer distances, rougher waters, etc.) If any of those things were to change, I would either use different equipment or choose a different activity altogether.

The full-face snorkel mask has been a nice addition to my own snorkeling repertoire as far as I’m concerned. Again, my positive and safe experience doesn’t guarantee one for you and you should of course exercise your own caution, but I’m putting it out there so more data points can be added to the ongoing conversation.

However, ultimately, I do prefer my traditional snorkel gear (with a large-lensed mask and excellent dry snorkel) both for the snorkeling experience as well as my own choice to err on the side of caution regarding the question of full-face snorkel mask dangers.

The Deep Dive

Full-face snorkel masks are definitely a fascinating advent in snorkeling technology. They’re intended to make snorkeling easier and more enjoyable for more people through the wide field of view via the full-face dome along with the integrated one-way snorkel valve keeping out unwanted water.

But, stories of full-face snorkel mask deaths and people having other problems with full-face snorkel masks have caused some to wonder about safety and ask, “are full-face snorkel masks safe?” As we’ve seen, while the number of incidents regarding full-face snorkel masks (or traditional snorkel masks for that matter) are still very low, we just don’t know for certain one way or the other at the moment.

If you’re set on trying a full-face snorkel mask, you now know to make sure that you at least get your general health checked before something like snorkeling and to also only look at masks from established snorkel manufacturers with good safety records. Then, check the latest information out there before making a decision. Or, if you’d rather avoid full-face snorkel masks until we know more about them (arguably the safer decision), you also now know that you can get many of their similar benefits through larger traditional snorkel masks paired with dry snorkels.

Ultimately, since we don’t have an easy answer right now, the choice is up to you. And, no matter your choice, we wish you safe, healthy, and downright epic snorkeling!

Up Next

You can check out more details on the gear mentioned in this article below:

You can also learn more about full-face snorkel masks or more traditional snorkel gear in some of our other helpful guides below:

Alex Axon snorkeling

Alex Axon

Alex was born landlocked, but has been hooked on the ocean ever since first wading in. He's obsessed with snorkeling as a beautiful and easy way to experience the underwater world, and having been able to learn first hand from in-the-water experience across the world what gear, tips and trips work, he shares that knowledge in the hope that it will inspire others to find their own underwater adventure.

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