Mask clearing has always been among many new divers’ least favorite skills. The good news is that most new divers have little difficulty with this skill (even if they may not be particularly fond of it). The bad news is, some new divers really struggle with this.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you have the proper foundational skills, mask clearing can literally be as easy as 1-2-3. Specifically:
However, for it to become this easy, there is a foundational skill you need to master first. That is, no-mask breathing (i.e., breathing from a regulator while your nose is exposed to water). And what that skill relates to, more than anything else, is being able to separate nose breathing from mouth breathing.
Most new divers can do this innately — that is, without even thinking about it. These are the students who have little difficulty with no-mask breathing and, as a consequence, with mask clearing.
A small number of students, however, find this very challenging. These are the ones most likely to struggle with mask clearing.
Ironically, many instructors introduce no-mask breathing as a skill only after they have students attempt mask clearing. Unfortunately, this puts those students most likely to have difficulty with mask clearing in the awkward and stressful position of having to deal with having their nose exposed to water at the same time they try to master the mechanics of mask clearing. The phrase that applies here is “doomed to failure.”
In this article, we assume you are among the fortunate majority for whom no-mask breathing is not a problem. However, if you are having a problem separating nose and mouth breathing and, as a consequence, with no-mask breathing and mask clearing, you need to resolve that problem first.
Let’s say, however, that you have either mastered no-mask breathing or never had an issue with it in the first place. Now we can get on to the 1-2-3s.
1. Press in
The first step in clearing a partially- or fully-flooded mask is to press in, with one or both hands, at the top of the mask frame or lens. What this does is seal the mask skirt along the top and sides while leaving the bottom of the mask skirt unsealed. It turns your mask into the equivalent of an upside-down glass in which air rising to the top will force water out the bottom.
What you do not want to do is pull out at the bottom of the mask — despite what you may hear others say. There are two reasons for this:
It’s unnecessary: As long as you are pressing in at the top of the mask, water will have no difficulty finding its way out the bottom.
It’s counterproductive: Even though you might get away with pulling out slightly at the bottom of the mask, you are every bit as likely to create a gap so big that as much water comes right back in as goes out.
Another thing you most likely do not want to do at this point is look up. Sure, you can get away with this if you are confident of being able to clear your mask in a single breath; however, if you cannot do so, looking up increases the likelihood of water getting up your nose when you inhale.
Bear in mind, there will come a point at which you will want to look up, in order to make the bottom of the mask skirt the lowest point and, thus, get the last of the water out of your mask. At the onset, however, you are most likely better off looking straight ahead.
2. Breathe out
And by this we, of course, mean breathe out your nose and not your mouth. Doing so allows air to rise to the top of the mask, pushing water out the bottom. If all you do, on the other hand, is exhale through your mouth, no air will enter your mask, and you won’t get anywhere.
Ideally, you will master doing this with just a single breath. But, if you need to take more than one breath, do so. Just keep looking straight ahead until the last of the water is ready to come out. Doing otherwise may increase the likelihood of water getting up your nose.
3. Look up
Just before the last of the water is getting ready to leave your mask, look up. As mentioned earlier, doing so makes the bottom of your mask skirt the lowest point and helps you get all of the water out. And, if you are confident in your ability to get all of the water out in a single breath, you can do this from the onset.
That’s pretty much it: Press in. Breathe out. Look up. With practice you should be able to do this without conscious thought. And that’s what diving is supposed to be: effortless.
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