How to Clear a Scuba Mask of Water

Diver underwater in profile.


Although it may be counterintuitive to purposefully let water into a well-sealed mask, the mask clearing skill is one of the most important skills of the open water course. Leaky masks are not fun, but every scuba diver will find water in his or her mask at some point (usually sooner rather than later). It's an essential skill to efficiently get the water out, without surfacing and without panicking. With a little practice, mask clearing becomes easy and automatic. Here's how to clear your mask of water.

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Photo of a diver preparing to clear her mask of water.
Instructor Natalie Novak relaxes and signals that she is "okay" and ready to begin the mask clearing skill.

Natalie Gibb

If this is the first time you have tried to clear a mask of water, take a moment to relax, slow your breathing rate, and review the steps of mask clearing in your mind. It is normal to be nervous about clearing your mask for the first time, but if you work through the skill step by step you should have no problems. You can even do a “dry run” by practicing the steps of mask clearing without adding any water to the mask until you are confident. When you are calm and ready to begin the skill, signal to your instructor that you are “okay” and about to begin.

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Allow Water to Enter the Mask

A scuba diver allows water to enter her diving mask.
Instructor Natalie Novak allows water to enter her scuba mask in a controlled manner.

Natalie Gibb

Before you can practice clearing water from your mask, you need to let some water into it. Allow a small amount of water to trickle into the mask in a controlled manner. It is no fun to suddenly find yourself with a completely flooded mask!

The instructor in the photo demonstrates one method of controlling the flow of water as it enters the mask. She pinches the upper mask skirt, letting just a tiny amount of water to trickle in. This method of adding water to the mask works well because it exposes divers to the sensation of water flowing over or near their eyes, something that may happen on a dive.

An alternate method of putting water in the mask is to gently lift the bottom of the mask away from your face. Water will slowly enter the mask because it has to displace the air already in the mask. This method does not allow as much control over the flow of water entering the mask as the first method.

Do you wear contact lenses or have very sensitive eyes? It is perfectly fine to close your eyes during this skill.

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Breathe Past the Water in Your Mask

A scuba diver breathes past the water in her scuba mask.
Instructor Natalie Novak demonstrates that it is easy to breathe with a partially flooded diving mask.

Natalie Gibb

If this is your first time practicing clearing your mask, fill it to just below eye level. Take a moment to relax and get used to the sensation of water in the mask. Practice breathing in and out using your mouth only, or breathe in your mouth and out through your nose. If you feel water entering your nostrils, breathe out of your nose, tilt your head, and look down. This traps air bubbles in your nose and prevents water from flowing in. See, there is nothing scary about it!

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Exhale Through Your Nose

A scuba diver exhales to clear her scuba mask of water.
Instructor Natalie Novak holds her mask frame, looks up, and breathes out through her nose to clear her mask of water.

Natalie Gibb

Start by holding the top of the mask frame firmly against your forehead. You can do this with one hand placed in the center of the mask frame, or a finger on each upper edge. When you are ready, look down to keep water out of your nose and take a deep breath from the regulator. Begin exhaling slowly but forcefully through your nose, then tilt your head up while continuing to exhale. If you have difficulty exhaling from your nose, it helps to imagine that you have some extra sticky, nasty boogers up your nostrils that you need to blow out. Focus on your imaginary boogers and blow.

Your exhalation should last at least a few seconds. As a goal, try to breathe out through your nose for a minimum of five seconds. Air from your nose bubbles upwards and fills the mask, forcing the water out the bottom. It is important to maintain firm pressure on the upper frame of the mask, or the exhaled air will simply escape from the top of the mask. Remember to look upwards while exhaling. Otherwise, the air will just flow out of the bottom and sides of the mask.

Before you finish exhaling, look down. By doing this, any water remaining in the mask will not flow up into your nose.

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A scuba diver exhales to remove water from her scuba mask.
Instructor Natalie Novak repeats the exhalation step of mask clearing to remove the remaining water from her diving mask.

Natalie Gibb

On a first attempt, you may not be able to completely clear a mask of water with only one breath. Don't worry. If water remains in the mask, look down and take a few moments to catch your breath. Repeat the exhalation step, focusing on breathing out of your nose slowly, holding the mask firmly against your forehead, and looking up. It may take a few iterations to get the last few drops of water out, and that's okay.

If you wear contacts or have sensitive eyes, you may still have your eyes closed during this stage. Once you think you have cleared the water out of the mask, open your eyes slowly. Your instructor may tap you gently to let you know the skill is finished. It is normal to feel that your face is still wet – it is! You just had water in your mask and you haven't had a chance to let it dry yet. Don't worry, any water on your face will dry in a few moments.

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A scuba diver signals that she has finished the mask clearing skill.
Instructor Natalie Novak signals that has successfully cleared water from her scuba mask.

Natalie Gibb

Good job! Now you know how to clear your mask of water. Practice this skill until it becomes automatic and comfortable. Once you are an expert at mask clearing, try the exercise in a variety of positions. You can even clear your mask while maintaining a proper, horizontal swimming position.

This skill has another application. If a mask fogs up during a dive, you can clear the fog from the mask lens using the mask clearing skill. Simply allow a small amount of water to drip into the mask, then tilt your head down so that the water flows down into the mask lens. Shake your head gently side to side so that the water contacts all parts of the mask lens, then clear the mask normally. Presto! Now, you can enjoy a clear view of the underwater world during every part of the dive.