Buying the right used scuba diving mask

Buying a solid, well made, well fitted, used scuba mask is not as simple as everyone thinks. If you grab the first visually appealing mask that happens your way, without checking and testing it, you will have issues at depth. So much so, that these issues could spoil your diving altogether, if not set the stage for cascading problems elsewhere. In this blog I will discuss types of scuba diving masks, how they differ from snorkeling masks, how to fit a mask, and some gadgets to fit to the mask (yep, there are accessories for your mask).

If you are a new diver, about to enter your certification program, your chosen dive shop has probably already reigned you in and strong-armed you to buy their mask/boots/fins/snorkel collection…it is how they make a chunk of change up front. The good news is, this is one instance when they can’t push you to the upgrade at the expense of a mediocre fit. The mask either fits well, or it doesn’t. The other nice thing is the ability (at a reputable dive shop) to take the mask back and exchange it if it fits poorly in the pool. My suggestion is this, however. Beg out of the initial buy BEFORE the classes, and insist on trying the rental or student gear in the water first. When you get in the pool ask to swap for a few minutes with your neighbor student or one of the Dive Cons, so you have an idea of how different masks (fins, snorkels, and boots) fit when wet. A good shop or staff will do everything they can to make you happy with the product before you lay cash out for it. And they will stand by the mask if the purchase turns out to be a mistake.

OK, now let us talk about how to fit a scuba diving mask (new or used). If the mask doesn’t properly fit your face it leaks, plain and simple. The leak can be a constant trickle, or akin to sinking the Titanic, but it WILL leak. It is very hard to enjoy your dive, view your gauges, or see to solve a problem at depth, if your eyes are under the attack of stinging sea water. And, this constant annoyance can become the thing that divides your undivided attention from safe diving practices. One annoyance can cascade into a bunch of annoyances and turn a dive into a nightmare!

So, as you have ascertained – a good fit means no leaks! To check fit: 1. Put a snorkel or regulator in your mouth, 2. Gently set the mask on your face (hair out of the way) without putting the strap around your head, 3. Inhale a small amount of air GENTLY through your nose, 4. Let go of the mask. If it stays on your face, maintain the inhaled suction to the mask and look left/right and down. The mask should NOT fall off your face (meaning it has lost suction). If you have facial hair a good mask seal can become more difficult. You can apply silicone compound (made for this purpose) to the areas with facial hair to improve the seal. Or, you may find you want to shave.

Now that you know how to test a mask for fit, let us look at the parts of the scuba mask: “Skirt” is the part of the mask that contacts and encircles your face. The ”nose pocket” is just that, it is where your nose goes. The “mask strap” is a strap specially made to be both adjustable and to snuggly conform to the back of your head. And, last, the lenses. You look thru the lenses. There are prescription lenses that you can purchase for your specific prescription if you wear contacts or glasses. They are a bit more expensive, but worth the investment. With the exception of the lenses, masks are made of  hypo-allergenic silicone. The lenses, unlike snorkel masks with regular glass or plastic lenses, are made of tempered glass and set into the frame such to avoid breakage at depth. DO NOT wear snorkel masks scuba diving. Make sure the mask you buy is for scuba diving.  DO NOT buy a mask with cloudy, scratched, chipped, or otherwise damaged lenses. The nose pocket should not restrict your nose, or your comfort, and you should be able to easily pinch your nose through the pocket.

Some masks have a one-way “purge valve” in the nose pocket. The valve allows you to clear water entering your mask away with exhalation, without removing or refitting the mask. But, if you use proper mask clearing techniques, the valve is a redundant item that is another point of equipment failure. I do not buy masks with a purge valve.

Used scuba mask types are simple enough. Masks come in all sorts of colors and designs. New divers often prefer the clear mask because it doesn’t restrict the peripheral vision as much. Many eventually graduate to a dark mask color, which makes the color on the reef more vivid. It should be noted, the clear masks tend to yellow over the course of a year or so and look dingy. The yellowing can affect the resale value if you intend to replace the mask at a later date. Masks come with 1 lens, 2 lenses, lenses that also wrap around the side of the mask, and big or small lenses. They come with square, round, or teardrop lens shapes. Masks come various sizes. A popular size is a low volume style, or mini-masks. The lower volume means they clear easier. There are many sizes, shapes, and options. Again, try as many masks on as possible, before you buy.

Now comes the fun stuff, used scuba mask accessories:

Anti-fog solution: Anti-fog comes from many manufacturers, and is all good enough to get the job done. I have had divers tell me they use all kinds of things from no-sting hair gel, to Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. You are basically creating a slick surface to prevent water from sticking to the glass. I use the good old stand-by, SPIT. And, if at depth, they fog…I crack my mask and allow some water in  to swish around, then I purge it! Easy Peasy.

You should always have a replacement mask strap in your save-a-dive kit. While you can get to the surface with a broken mask strap, and maybe even finish a dive, no one recommends doing an entire dive without a mask! Safety first!

Mask strap covers, generally made of neoprene, cover the strap making it easy to don/doff with thicker cold water gloves on. They are also great places to show off your individuality. And, they can help identify your buddy under water. I have the one of the diver flipping off the shark! LOVE IT.

Your mask might come in a case, which is a nice protector for travelling, on the boat, and for storage. Your mask is an investment, protect it.

There are various magnifying devices sold that attach to your mask and work like bifocals. I have a small 1in circle that magnifies x8 on the lower left corner of my main mask. If my contacts (I dive with contacts – but that is another blog) slip out, I can use the magnifier to read my computer and analog gauges (I always dive with analog back-up and so should you) to get me safely to my exit point.

There are camera attachments for your scuba mask. While they look fun and convenient, hands free, easy to point and shoot, they are not. They are one more thing near your face taking your attention away from the dive. They are cumbersome. And, they are heavy on the mask, causing an otherwise well fitted mask to leak. The same can be said of computer attachments. And, these are another failure point at depth. I do not recommend either of them.

Check the durability of the mask. As always, check the mask for defect, cracking, peeling, breakage, and wear. Don’t buy anything overused.

And last, used mask PRICE. Expect to pay no more than 50% of a brand name mask if it is in excellent shape. Usually you are looking at 35-45% of MSRP of a similar item.

Well, there you have it, “Mask 101”. If you need information on other used scuba gear purchases, email. If you are unsure how to fit a used scuba mask, or if you have issues after you buy the mask, email me or your local dive shop. Some used gear sellers will answer questions, give estimates, and assist with other diving related issues for free, BlueOrbDiving.com is one of those sellers! Read my past blogs, you may find answers to your scuba diving gear questions there. Look for a later blog on used mask reviews, and email at blueorbsales@gmail.com with questions or concerns.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”