Drill Rounds and Exercises

Safety-aware drill can even be fun. Not only to spectators and mockers.
(In Sauerkraut Factory, Aufkirchen, BY/D)

So let us now, well, dive to the details of a safety-aware full face mask drill. This article breaks down the previously described drill concept into concrete bits and pieces, in our case, these are rounds and exercises. Remember that the overall idea here is that with each round the (simulated) «environmental and equipment difficulties» increase in order to improve your skills. In contrast, the exercises are basically the same constant set across all rounds.
ATTENTION! I'm no instructor and thus cannot give any official drill instructions. The following description of a set of drill exercises is the result of my own experience and is not in any way official dive organization drill. You have to decide for yourself and on your own risk whether you want to exercise my drill. I'm taking no liability that the descriptions or the exercises are correct and safe. Under no circumstances does my drill supersede any training under certified instructor supervision according to daily dive organization guidelines.

A Round of Exercises

You need to drill proper
handling of your mask.
(Steinberger See, BY/D)
On its surface, the drill as described next in this article is more or less the same drill you can find in the literature. For instance, some organizations provide training booklets, as do some mask manufacturers. However, the improvment in safety-awareness now comes with the round concept, by improving skills under increasingly more difficult conditions.

However, there is no (strange) panic exercise in the exercise set present ... that exercise to remove a full face mask quickly when in panic mode that had been proposed by German SCUBA diving magazine «tauchen» (source: tauchen 9/11, «Vollgesichtsmaske [sic!] ‒ voll normal?», see their checklist). I would assume that panic is always a bad idea (not only) under water, so training a special drill for panic situations is simply beyond my understanding.

Okay, that's how each round is divided into exercises:
  1. clean and purge the full face mask without having to remove it,
  2. flood and purge the full face mask, again without having to remove it,
  3. remove the full face mask completely from your face and head, then don it again under water,
  4. switch from your full face mask to your backup gas supply and half mask, and then back again.
In the following, I will now describe the individual exercises in more detail. Depending on your progress you may skip exercises #1, #2, and #3 in later rounds and just do the most difficult one: #4. However, for the beginner it is clearly well to start slowly and with the most basic exercises.
From My Experience: After I got my brand-new full face mask delievered, the next day I plunged myself into the pool of an indoor diving center (that once was a Sauerkraut factory). I spent more than four and a half hours exercising rounds #1 and #3. Talk about drill crackpots. Cleaning, flooding, purging the full face mask, removing and putting back my full face mask regulator ... all these exercises. Okay, one OWD freshman fell victim to severe self-doubts when he accidently watched this drill. Well, count this as the inevitable training losses, I suppose.

Exercise 1: Cleaning and Purging the Full Face Mask

Let us begin with the most basic exercise: only partly and carefully flood your full face mask, then purge it. The focus is on starting slowly for beginners. Later, in the second exercise we will flood the mask completely. This skill will help you in case your full face mask develops some (minor) leak, or the visor (viewport, front panel) fogs and you need to clean it. Finally, you may use this skill also to cool your face if this should become necessary. Later, during rounds #3 and #4 you may take advantage of this skill in case you are exercising in a warm pool with your coldwater hood on.

You can start this exercise in a safe, comfortable position for the first round, kneeling on the pool floor or some suitable ground. Later, you will need to do this hovering freely.
ATTENTION! Be safe: have an experienced instructor supervising your exercises which can immediately help you and come to your rescue in case of any problems.
Due to their construction, full face masks are not that easy to flood. Even with on-demand gas supply there is usually a small overpressure resulting from the cut-off threshold of the regulator. In addition, the shape of a full face mask, which covers the face, supports air detention to some extend.

With a more or less upright head position you simply pull off the upper part of the full face mask a little bit of your head. Typically, the second stage will simply start to free flow, as there is enough pressure difference between the reg's position and the leak at the top of the mask. This steady flow then automatically purges the mask to some extend if there is only a small leak (the one you just forced by pulling off the mask a small bit).

Oh well, that's not exactly what we intented: we want to clear the full face mask and thus need to get more water into it.

So either pull of the mask more and/or lower your head position. This should help you with getting water into your full face mask. Something that you may observe now with full face masks with an oronasal inner mask: water leaking into the mask will usually not immediately reach the inner part where your nose and mouth are, but instead accumulate in the chin area. Thus, in the bottom part of the full face mask. To purge the water from your mask, simply breathe out.

This design with an oronasal mask makes purging water from your mask much easier as you can stay calm and breathe almost normally, at least as long as the water has not reached high levels in your mask. You can still breathe through your nose without the fear of immediately getting water into your nose. However, depending on how much water is in your mask, breathe in carefully as there may be water in the regulator, splattering.
My Observation: In consequence, there is an important difference with respect to your existing intuitive reaction with half masks when water leaks into your full face mask: carefully continue to breathe through your nose, you may need to place your head in an upright position in addition as well. In this diving position, your nose is well above your mouth so that any infiltrating water will accumulate in the bottom part of your mask, where your mouth is (well, and your reg). So breathing through your mouth isn't the best option in this situation. You can now purge water from your full face mask by breathing out. The water gets expelled either through the regulator or an exhale or purge valve.
As backup there is still the purge button of your regulator. You may even prefer this method to ensure proper buoyancy and not loose hovering due to having exhaled too much.
With some experience you will be able to clean the mask with virtually no gas loss. So, when you need to just clean the mask frontplate, I suggest to lower your head so it's around 45° or down to horizontal. This way, water leaking in runs across your visor cleaning it and not just across your face where you don't want it to be. With some more experience you will be able to let leak in only a small amount of water and then to spread it over the visor with a slight rotary head movement.

To purge the water from your full face mask you usually just need to breathe out. The water will then be purged through the regulator or a separater purge or exhale valve. This procedure works better when you ensure that your head is up so that the valve is in a low position. You may also get some help from your regulator by pressing the purge button.
From My Experience: Pressing the purge button is, according to my personal experience, neither complicated nor painful at all, at least not with the Dräger Panorama Nova Dive and the OTS Guardian. When it comes to purging Ocean Reef masks, the diving magazine tauchen 9/11, p. 98, «Vollgesichtsmasken ‒ voll normal?» writes: part of the water ends up deep in the nose, another part under the eyelids. But the mask is empty and the nose now definitively clear. («Ein Teil des Wassers endet weit oben in der Nase, ein anderer Teil unter den Augenlidern. Aber die Maske ist leer und die Nase jetzt definitiv frei.») Doesn't sound painless. With the Dräger or the OTS masks I've never experienced anything like that.

Exercise 2: Flooding and Purging the Full Face Mask

This is basically the same as exercise #1, but now you are going to flood your full face mask completely. Afterwards, you take your time to purge it completely. While with exercise #1 visor defogging played an important role, this second exercise now focuses on dealing with more severe mask problems. In addition, this lays the base for exercise #3.

Exercise 3: Completely Remove the Full Face Mask, Then Don It Again.

So much fun ... the others will have!
(In Blausteinsee, NW/D)
Here, the most important aspect is to learn how to open the mask straps (spider) and later tighten them again. With most full face masks this is comparable easy to do in rounds #1 and #2. The fun really starts in later rounds when you are wearing thick gloves. And a thick hood. Speaking of fun, it will be with your instructor and your spectators. The latter can be avoided by carefully selecting some dirty and filthy hole of cold water somewhere in the (felt) middle of nowhere.

If you like and want to get a good laugh then please head over to the drill video section. There you can watch this exercise from round #4, that is, hovering and with gloves and hood. Yes, that presentation is far from perfect and that's okay: nobody is perfect, we just keep drilling from time to time to stay in routine. Better not perfect than out of routine or untrained at all.

With the Dräger Panorama Nove Dive full face mask, removing your mask even with thick gloves is really easy: simply grab the big handles next to your head and pull them forward. The straps will open on all four(!) main straps, so you can easily remove the Dräger mask. This all is one smooth action that is also quickly done. No need for special panic training. Dräger is upping the ante quite a lot. You can also watch doffing the Dräger mask quickly to get some visual impression.

Exercise #3 in round #4 in Sauerkraut:
donning the full face mask under water, hovering.
After you removed your full face mask completely, flooding it in this process, you place it on your face again. Before you start tighten the mask straps, you may want to purge the full face mask first. Then carefully breathe in (so you don't breathe water in) and hold your mask firmly to your face.

Instead of trying to understand my many words, just watch this procedure in the drill video for round #4. This should illustrate the whole procedure quite good.

If you happen to be short on air (or breath for that matter), just press the purge button. Again, breathe in through your nose ladies and gentlemen, carefully to avoid breathing in any remaining water. Using the purge button as a nice side effect: it doesn't affect your buoyancy the way breathing out to purge the mask does... You may notice this to a slight extend if you really careful watch the demonstration.

The difficulty in donning the full face mask under water is to avoid that the straps get in between the mask and your hood, while at the same time correctly placing the mask so that it properly seals with the hood. You probably will need some patience and practise to get this right most of the time. Just stay calm and if it doesn't work the first time, simply retry. You can always purge the mask, so you have gas supply.

In later rounds you need to be able to do this exercise hovering freely (as you can see in the drill video). Of couse, this is not easy and it takes quite some time for many divers to achieve. Don't despair, for instance, for me it took quite some time to get to this point. And many times, something slightly different and out-of-routine will happen when you drill. Only this way you learn to cope with a broader range of irregularities safely and calmly. Now this is safety-awareness.

Exercise 4: Switch to Backup Reg and Half Mask, Then Back to Full Face Mask Again.

Far from perfect: my first attempt
at round #2, exercise #4.
The fourth exercise again builts upon the previous exercise #3. Instead of immediately redonning your full face mask after removing it, you now switch first to your backup regulator and half mask, putting away your beloved full face mask.

You will encounter an important difficulty not before the rounds where you wear a hood. Getting your half mask not to flood faster than you purge now becomes a concern and something to train. There is all kind of fun waiting for you, as in: the half mask seal won't properly sit under the hood, the seal is distorted, the straps are distorted, and so on.

Of course, after you finished donning your half mask, you need to switch back again to your full face mask to complete this exercise. You may want to arrange your full face mask first. Make sure that all straps are fully open and pulled out all their way. For instance, hang it using its hose over your right forearm. Then remove your half mask and put it away, for instance by temporarily slipping it over your wrist. Make sure it is out of your way. Only then spit out your backup regulator and grab your full face mask, already waiting in its pole position next to your forearm. Feel where top and bottom of your full face mask is, grab the straps and place the mask correctly on your face. Then pull the straps over your head. Purge the full face mask and only then start tightening the mask straps. Again, you can watch this in the drill video.

Typically, you will need some more gas to purge a full face mask, compared to the usual half mask, so your buoyancy may change when you do this by exhaling. If this should be a problem to you, wisely use the purge button. In my drill video I'm purging by exhaling instead.

Other Exercises

Before entering open water and before showing a daffy face behind the large mask visor you should check for any changes in handling your other configuration when diving with a full face mask. Sometimes, adjustment may become necessary.

For instance, filling a buoy by taking out your reg and exhaling into the buoy often does not really work that well with a full face mask. Another way is to exhale through the reg into the buoy. However, you may put yourself to danger of entangling yourself with your mask and buoy when trying to fill it this way. There's an easy solution to this: simply use your backup regulator. Or another way is to use a buoy that comes with a connector that fits to your power inflator hoses. You then temporarily detach an inflator hose from your jacket or dry suit to fill the buoy. If you never did this procedure before, be safe to train it throughtly first.


You will find even more blog posts on this topic following this tag: full face mask. Likewise, I've put some impressions from diving with full face masks online.

PS: Many thanks to Peter von der Sitt and Wolfgang Friebe for the imagery. Peter shot the photo in Lake Steinberger during a freshwater biology session. Wolfgang filmed during my certifcation, so I took some stills from this footage.