Clearing Your Mask While Diving
One of the most important fundamental skills to learn while diving is how to clear your mask. New divers often find this a daunting task - you're dozens of feet under water and all of a sudden you're unable to see! Fortunately, mask clearing is easy, and with a bit of practice, what seemed like a scary situation will be easily solved by this simple technique.
SCUBA and snorkel masks are different than the swim goggles that most people grew up with. Masks cover your nose - including the bridge of your nose - in addition to your eyes. This creates an air pocket that is sealed in all the way around your face, which enables mask clearing to work. Keep in mind, because your nose is the key element for clearing a mask, goggles cannot be cleared underwater, and should never be used for SCUBA!
Have you ever held a cup upside down in a bathtub? The inside of the cup remains dry. Air is lighter than water, so the air can't leave until it has a way to escape upwards. This is the same principle that you'll use to clear your mask.
There are a few different scenarios where you'll need to clear your mask. First, during your SCUBA training you will purposely flood your mask a number of times to practice clearing. This will probably happen both in a pool and in the salt water while you're Key West diving! Second, you or a fellow diver may accidentally knock the mask off of your face or temporarily break the seal, flooding the mask. This rarely happens, but won't be a problem after you practice! Finally, and most likely, the seal may be imperfect and slowly leak water throughout the dive. Minor leaks aren't a problem but may require occasional clearing while under water.
Here's what you do:
1 KEEP BREATHING! Your mask has filled with water, but that's okay! Don't panic.
2 - Establish neutral buoyancy and orient yourself so you are floating "upright," with your head pointed to the surface. You'll be taking some deep breaths, so you may want to err on the side of slightly negative buoyancy.
3 - Ensure that the mask is properly seated on your face, and press firmly against the top of the mask near your forehead.
4 - Inhale deeply through your mouth and exhale through your nose. Because your mask is pressed at the top, the only way for air to escape is through the bottom. But remember the cup in the bathtub? The air will float to the top of your mask and water will be forced out the bottom!
5 - Repeat as necessary until your mask is completely cleared - usually two or three breaths. You're ready to continue on your dive!
Something to keep in mind - while you can keep your eyes open underwater, saltwater can sting your eyes while Key West diving. Also, if you have contact lenses in, you'll probably want to keep your eyes closed all the time while your mask is flooded.
That's all there is to it! Remember that you'll have a chance to practice this skill a number of times during training, and that you can always ask a fellow diver or dive guide before the dive begins if you're unsure of any exact techniques. With some preparation and confidence, this "problem" is really just a temporary inconvenience before you're back on your way.