I wasn't always calm and controlled underwater. I still remember my initial reaction to the mask flooding skill in the open water course: terror. "Why would I ever put water into my mask on purpose?" I asked my scuba instructor. It sounded crazy. My instructor explained that there was significant value in this skill. Water leaking into a scuba mask is a common occurrence. A diver must become comfortable with water in his mask so that he will maintain control and avoid panic. Situations exist in which a diver may even choose to allow a small amount of water to enter his mask during a dive. For example, swishing a small amount of water around the interior of the mask removes fog from the lenses during a dive. Here are tips on how to overcome the fear of water in the scuba mask.
* Remember that all scuba skills should be practiced initially in the presence of a certified scuba instructor.
Fear Management Step 1: Practice Breathing Without a Mask on the Surface:
If the thought of water in the mask scares you silly, your are not alone. The first step in overcoming your fear is to prove to yourself that you can breathe without a mask at all. This step develops confidence that you won't die underwater without a mask on, and that it is possible to breathe with water surrounding your nose.
Stand, kneel, or sit in shallow water. While breathing from a scuba regulator or a snorkel, but without using a mask, lower your face into the water. Practice breathing slowly and calmly. Inhale and exhale with your mouth. If you feel water entering your nose, breathe in your mouth and out your nose.
Breathing in this manner may feel uncomfortable at first, but stick with it. Remember that you are in control, and that you can lift your face out of the water whenever you like. Practice this skill until breathing though a regulator or snorkel with your face submerged feels routine.
Hint: This skill can even be done with a snorkel in a bathtub at home. With no people watching, there is less pressure from instructors and other students.
Fear Management Step 2: Do "Dry" Runs:
After proving to yourself that you won't immediately drown when breathing with your nose in the water, you need to develop confidence in your mask clearing skills. Having water in your mask is less scary when you are sure that you can quickly and efficiently remove it.
Underwater (under the supervision of an instructor, if this is your first time) practice the breath control required for mask clearing. Hold the upper frame of the mask against your forehead, look up, and breathe out your nose with a long, slow exhalation. Air should bubble out from the lower portion of the mask. Have an instructor or buddy observe your practice and provide feedback. Practice inhaling with your mouth and breathing out your nose until the breathing pattern is second nature.
Fear Management Step 3: Baby Steps:
Fear Management Step 4: Practice Repetitively in Calm, Shallow Water:
Fear Management Step 5: Put Water in Your Mask on Every Dive -- On Purpose!:
The key to mastering scuba diving skills is repetition and practice. A proficient diver can execute diving skills automatically without fear or hesitation. Of course, many diving skills require a series of steps which must be practiced deliberately at first, but with repeated practice, even a complicated skill becomes automatic.
With this in mind, consider that your work is not done once you have become comfortable with water in your mask. Even if you have overcome your fear, you must periodically reinforce your confidence by allowing water into your mask and clearing it. A diver who is nervous about water in his mask should purposefully flood his mask on every dive. Not only does he reinforce the skill (See, I can still do it!) but repetition over a long period of time will strengthen his muscle memory and ensure that he reacts properly in an unexpected situation.