How to Breath and Swim Underwater Without a Scuba Mask

Nine out of ten divers still remember the first time they had to pull their mask off their face during the Open Water course. This is the skill which gives apprentice divers the most problems. Luckily you can train this skill quite easily. During my open water course I had to take extra lessons to master it. But 15 years later I teach this and all other skills as an instructor. So don’t loose hope when that pesky mask skill is giving you heaps of problems. Despite this being a hard skill to master everybody is able to learn it an get comfortable with it. All steps below need to be followed in order and it is important not to jump ahead. This method is used on students and has proofed itself over the years.

*This program focuses on people who have trouble taking the mask off and not on those who have problems with clearing the water out of the mask. We presume that you already have practiced clearing the water out of your mask with your instructor during your course.

Step 1: Breathing on the surface

Your first step towards becoming the master of the mask skill is getting in water no deeper then 5ft/1.5m. Get your snorkel or regulator out but leave your mask off. Take a wide standing and put your butt out a bit, this ensures that you stay stable in the water. Now put your head down with the snorkel or reg in your mouth. Maybe you will find it hard to put your head in the water because water will enter your nose. This is easily fixed by holding your nose with your fingers while putting your head down.

Now try to breath through the snorkel or reg while releasing your fingers from your nose slowly. Try to focus on breathing in and out through your mouth. If you accidentally inhale some water through your nose, just stand up and try again. Before proceeding to step 2 you should be able to put your head in the water without holding your nose and breath through the snorkel or reg without a problem. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time, step 1 is the hardest part!

Step 1 is safe to practice without the supervision of a dive professional. 

Step 2: Breathing without a mask underwater

Onward to step 2! We are going to stay on the same depth (5ft/1.5m) and are basically doing the same as we did on step 1. This time you will need your full scuba set and the supervision of a dive professional. For now leave your mask off and deflate your BCD completely. Put your regulator in your mouth and jump up and kick your legs backwards towards your butt. You will land on your knees with the regulator in your mouth and without a mask.

Just as we have practiced in step 1 you are going to focus on breathing through your mouth and not your nose. To make life easier for yourself tilt your head a bid so the bubbles of the regulator don’t go up your nose. These bubbles give you the impression that you can breath through your nose which is of course impossible. If this is hard or impossible the first time, just stand up and try to relax before attempting again. Water will enter your nose while you go underwater. If this bothers you try to exhale while you submerge yourself, this prevents water from entering your nose.

You should be able to slide underwater without holding your nose and calmly breath from your regulator before proceeding to step 3.  If you can do this the hardest part is done and being underwater without a mask is no longer a problem for you! GREAT JOB!!

Step 3: Almost there!

On step 3 we build on everything we have learned in step 1 and 2. We still are in the shallow part of the pool (5ft/1.5m) with our full scuba set and a dive professional to supervise us. We are going to do the exact same as on step 2 but this time put your mask around your arm and take it with you underwater. Jump on your knees without a mask on and with your regulator in your mouth. Now take a minute to find your breath and to concentrate on breathing through your mouth, don’t forget to tilt your head (bubbles). Once you have settled and feel comfortable try to put the mask on your face. Don’t rush and try to clear the water out immediately. Take your time and clear the water out in your own time.

You should be able to breath underwater without a mask, put on the mask and clear the water out without a problem before proceeding to step 4. You basically are already doing the mask skill minus a small part. ALMOST THERE!!!

Step 4: The entire mask skill

Okay! You are ready to do the entire mask skill. You have done everything except removing your mask underwater. If you have made it this far then you will have no problem with this last step! Put on your full scuba set, ask your favorite instructor to join you in the shallow end of the pool and show them how it’s done!

A few pointers which will help you to take off your mask:

  • Firstly always slowly flood your mask entirely with water. When the water is cold and you yank your mask off this will feel as a smack to the face. Most certainly this will make you breath in hard through your nose which is a no no.
  • Take your time. Flood your mask…..concentrate on breathing through your mouth…………take your mask off slowly…..concentrate on breathing through your mouth……..tilt your head……concentrate on breathing through your mouth….. a well you get the picture…..TAKE YOUR TIME!!! You will get faster the more you practice.
  • Only do the entire skill if you have mastered and are comfortable doing step 1,2 and 3.

YES YES YES YES YES! You have done it! From now on the ocean is your new frontier and you don’t have to be afraid of losing your mask anymore!


  1. From step 2 and onward a dive professional must accompany you when you don’t have your scuba certification yet. Also it’s important to do the skill on different depth levels.
  2. So once you have mastered the skill in the shallow part, try it 8ft/2.5m and so on.
  3. If you have trouble mastering this skill then it’s very important to keep practicing the skill even when you have mastered it.

Related posts

How to Use Less Air While Scuba Diving

Why Do I Always Have To Pee Every Time I Dive?

Scuba Diving Specialties, Which are worth doing?


CWilson April 7, 2019 - 6:47 pm
First thanks for the information above- I can’t wait to try it. But I have a question - are you saying that even though you will have the sensation that water is flooding your nose (and probably every other facial cavity) as long as you continue to breath through your snorkel/regulator(mouth) then it’s just a sensation -water is really just on the surface interior of the nose (you won’t experience that terrible burn when you accidentally snort water up your nose). I need to know how far water is entering your nose as that seems to be my issue.
Corné Ligtermoet April 12, 2019 - 2:25 pm
Hi CWilson, Yes that is correct, so if you don't snort or something like that you don't have the burn in your nose. If you have questions, please ask!
Add Comment