What's a Full Face Mask and why use one?

Diving cold water and get face freeze? Maybe you are doing long dives and have jaw fatigue. Or perhaps you want to talk to your buddy underwater? A Full Face Mask is something that may be right for you. There are several types of Full Face Masks (FFM) ranging in price from recreational to professional. The 3 most popular ones are the Oceanreef Gdiver/Neptune, OTS Spectrum and the OTS Guardian. They are all FFMs but function a bit differently


Why use a FFM?

The reasons mentioned above, cold, jaw fatigue and communications are some of the biggest reasons to use a FFM. Another reason may be your dive environment. Public safety divers use full face masks when they dive contaminated water environments in conjunction with drysuits and dry gloves. It provides a great level of protection. The OTS Guardian is a favorite for that kind of diving

Aquarium divers use FFMs too as they often dive all year around in several different environments. They also allow seamless integration of communications for presentations to the public. The OTS Spectrum pictured to the right is coupled with a drysuit for Northeast Coast December diving at the NY Aquarium.

How do FFMs work?

FFMs operate basically the same, a regulator either dedicated or user supplied provides gas to an oral nasal pocket. Some do it on demand like a regular regulator as you inhale. Other have a constant flow of air which is called a positive pressure mask, the OTS Guardian has this functionality. Positive pressure masks reduce the likely hood of water getting in the mask.

The Gdiver/Neptune masks by Oceanreef and OTS Guardian have dedicated regulators. The OTS spectrum allows you to use your existing second stage as long as it meets the manufactures requirements. It is advised to use an adjustable regulator with the Spectrum as well as a good 1st stage. The users manual will explain more on that.

How do you?

The biggest question I get on FFMs is how do you equalize? Different masks have different methods. Oceanreef masks use adjustable plugs that block your nostrils when you push the mask in and up. The OTS Guardian uses adjustable blocks that pinch your nose when you push the mask up. Both equalizing systems require extensive adjustment but when set right make equalizing an easy task. The OTS spectrum allows you to equalize like a traditional mask, finger pinching your nose. That makes it a great mask to use for recreational divers.

Another big question is how do you clear the mask? The beauty of FFMs is they are almost self clearing. All models have a purge button and you can also exhale to clear them, but once you get a seal a fully flooded mask clears immediately. Mask fogging is also a thing of the past with the Gdiver/Neptune and Guardian. As you breathe, air passes over the lens defogging them, the Spectrum does not have this feature so traditional defog is used

Advantages of a FFM

No more mouth pieces! No mouth piece means you can breath through your mouth or your nose. FFMs provide a great barrier of protection against the elements and allow you to communicate underwater. They are easy to use with proper training and make breathing as easy as being on the surface. They are great for emergency issues. A diver will not lose their regulator if they become unconscious and it's much harder to have your regulator accidentally knocked out of your mouth. They are also good for waiting on the surface in high waves.

Disadvantages of a FFM

Full Face Masks require special training, being able to "bailout" in an emergency to your octo or your buddies is a must skill. Rescue divers have special considerations when they bring an unconscious diver to the surface as well. You also have to carry a bailout regular mask. Setting nose plugs or blocks for equalizing can be a time consuming task until you find the sweet spot for you. Servicing can be expensive depending on the mask you have. Air consumption is also a bit more until you get breathing down.

Must have additions for your mask

Omni Swivel
This is a must have for the Gdiver/Neptune and OTS Spectrum masks. It allows great freedom of movement and reduces neck strain. Here is one brand: Omni Swivel OmniSwivel.com

Air Surface Valve
FFMs are great but once they are on, you are breathing precious gas. An air surface valve allows you to breathe ambient air by rotating the valve open. Many masks come with one pre installed


LP Quick Disconnect
All models of FFMs benefit from this. A quick disconnect allows you to detach your mask making gear setup and removal much easier. No wrenches required to remove your mask for storage, just disconnect it like a BCD inflator hose. The locking ring option is popular with many. Here is one brand: XS Scuba first stage quick disconnect

LP Hose
This is a personal preference. I like a 40 inch LP flex hose. With the Omni Swivel I can run it under may arm reducing the chance of snags. This is especially important when using the OTS Spectrum where you use your own reg secured by a zip tie.

Go Pro and Light Mounts
Mounting accessories on your mask such as a camera or light enhance your dive experience. Each mask has their own mounting system, many user customizable


Prescription Glasses inserts
Many FFMs have special inserts that allow you to use prescription glasses. Avoid using glue on magnifiers.


Full Face Masks are fun to dive with and create a new experience and with accessories like communications diving becomes much safer. Special training is required and the PADI Full Face Mask Diver course is recommend. In it you will do a pool session and 2 open water dives learning how to bail out and deal with emergencies. Never use a FFM without proper training, even in the pool.

Your choice of mask should be suited to your diving needs, a casual diver may not need a professional OTS Guardian and a Public Safety Diver might not choose an entry level Oceanreef mask. Talk to your instructor before buying to see whats best for you.