Can You Breathe Underwater with a Full Face Mask?

can you breathe underwater with a full face mask

Many people, after seeing the design of a full face mask, have noticed that there is more room in the mask for air to linger in (i.e. it has higher volume) and are wondering if the air trapped inside the mask can allow one to breathe underwater for a bit.

A full face snorkel mask can help you breathe underwater with your face submerged by the surface of the water, but what about deeper than that?

We can this question in two ways. First, if you use the full face snorkel mask as intended, i.e. at the surface with the snorkel above the water’s surface, then you can probably stay submerged and breathe underwater for about 15 minutes at a time before it gets difficult to breathe.

However, if you are wondering if you can breathe underwater with the full face mask fully submerged, then the answer is maybe for an extra breath or two before you run out of air. Therefore, no, you cannot breathe underwater with a full face mask the same way a scuba diver can; you would need some source of air supply with you.

In this article, we will discuss what exactly a full face snorkel mask can do for you in regards to its features, as well as how it can help you breathe underwater.

Differences between a full face snorkel mask vs. a traditional snorkel

Full face snorkel masks are a relatively recent invention, having been popularized only in the last few years. It has since taken on a more mainstream appeal thanks in part to its more comfortable design, allowing one to breathe with their nose and not have to wear an uncomfortable mouthpiece.

Many beginner snorkelers love using the full face snorkel mask because of its built-in dry snorkel. Dry snorkels are designed to keep water from entering the tube and drastically decrease the instances of water being swallowed or choked on.

The term “dry” snorkel often confuses people into thinking that it somehow allows them to breathe underwater because it keeps them dry or some other such misunderstanding. Dry snorkels do not allow you to breathe underwater since they are not connected to a portable air supply such as a scuba tank or mini air tank.

A dry snorkel, like all other snorkels, relies on taking air straight from the atmosphere. Since snorkels are not very long, around 1-1.5 feet long at most, that means that is also the limit of how deep you can breathe underwater with.

Extrapolating from this, since full face snorkel masks also use a dry snorkel as its air intake mechanism, then the same limits applies here, meaning you cannot breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask past the point where the top of the snorkel is fully submerged (1-1.5 feet).

How a full face mask can help those struggling to snorkel

Even though you cannot dive with a full face mask, it provides many advantages to beginners who struggle to use a traditional mask and snorkel.

When starting out, many beginners struggle to switch from nose breathing to mouth breathing. With a traditional setup, the nose is covered by the mask, which is kept separate from the mouth and the snorkel. Therefore, one can only inhale with their mouth, and doing so with their nose does nothing.

Despite that, due to years of habitually breathing through the nose, it’s hard to break that habit in one or two sessions, so sometimes beginners try to inhale with their nose and panic when they do not receive fresh oxygen.

Another problem with the traditional mouthpiece is how uncomfortable it can be to have that in your mouth for a snorkeling session. Even if it’s the right size, it can tire out your jaw muscles and maybe even cause canker sores.

Depending on what type of snorkel you have, assuming it’s not a dry snorkel, then water might even splash or flood in, causing you to choke on it.

All of these potential problems can lead to a disastrous first snorkeling session. First impressions are important, so a bad one might discourage you from ever trying again.

With a full face mask, since the breathing chamber covers the entire face, you can use either your mouth or nose to breathe with. Plus, since no mouthpiece is necessary, many beginners find it so much more comfortable.

Furthermore, since the standard for a full face mask is to have a dry snorkel built in, you can get all of the benefits of snorkeling with a dry snorkel as well.

All of this results in a fantastic snorkeling experience where you can comfortably breathe with your nose, not deal with jaw pain, and not worry about swallowing water. This is assuming you remain by the surface of the water and are using the product as intended, not diving with it.

Why you should not duck dive with a full face mask

In addition to not being able to breathe underwater with a full face mask when fully submerged, it’s also a terrible idea to dive with it.

First off, it’s not a good idea to dive with a dry snorkel. There’s a reason why freedivers, spearos, and scuba divers dive with the classic J-snorkel.

When a dry snorkel is submerged, it’s designed to seal the top opening shut. While this keeps water out, it also traps some air in the tube. When you’re diving, that air in the tube is very buoyant, so you’ll constantly feel like the dry snorkel is trying to pull you up.

This problem is exacerbated in a full face mask because of how high volume the mask itself is. Plenty of air will be trapped inside the mask, not just the snorkel, making it very buoyant and hard to descend with.

Honestly, that’s not even the worst problem. There’s a reason why the traditional mask and snorkel are designed that way, with the nose pocket of the traditional mask being soft so that you can pinch your nose through it.

When you dive underwater, the pressure in your ears needs to be equalized, and the easiest way to do that is to pinch your nose and exhale through it. This is known as the Valsalva maneuver.

With a full face mask, you cannot pinch your nose and therefore, unless you know how to equalize your ears without pinching your nose, you will feel extreme pain in your ears. It can lead to a burst eardrum which is extremely painful.

As you can see, there are many arguments against diving with a full face mask. Not only can you not breathe underwater with it when submerged, but you will also struggle to equalize your nose and ears, and you will have to constantly fight against the positive buoyancy of the air trapped inside the mask. All signs indicate that you should not dive with a full face snorkel mask.