Powerbreather vs Full Face Mask vs Traditional snorkel

Going snorkeling on your next vacation?   Considering a Full-Face Snorkel Masks or a Traditional Snorkel?

 

Here are some compelling reasons to consider the Powerbreather Beach model, and some serious reasons to be careful of the other options.

  1. Benefits of the Powerbreather innovation that has made snorkeling safer and more fun.
  2. Potential Dangers of a full face mask
  3. When are traditional snorkels safe and appropriate.

Powerbreather  -  Full Face Mask  -  Traditional Snorkel

Powerbreather     Full Face mask:Traditional Snorkel:

 

Benefits of Powerbreather Innovation

Starting positive before we put fear in you on the risks on other options with cited devastating examples that you likely never heard of because... who's really paying attention to it if you're not in the industry and just a recreational snorkeler?

The Powerbreather is a fresh air snorkel.  That means, it completely separates your incoming fresh air with your exhaled CO2.  Air comes in the top, exits out the bottom.

This is a very important feature that has been enjoyed by Ironman triathletes when swimming distances with the Powerbreather, keeping their head down while they work on strength, endurance, and technique.  

For the common snorkeler, it has the same effect, getting 100% Oxygen while swimming with a Powerbreather.

 

My other favorite feature about a Powerbreather.  No purging!  That's when you get saliva or water from waves or just diving down and coming to the surface and you start gurgling, not breathing fully as you struggle to have dry air.  You purge, take a deep breath and blow out the water/saliva and hope you get all of it or maybe even 90% of it as it builds again.

With the Powerbreather, there is NO PURGING!  You just let any water or saliva drain out the bottom as you breath relaxed, it's always dry.  In fact, the valves at the end don't stay closed when you are not inhaling.  So you can literally hold your breath and go under water, come up and inhale.  No purging.  Water can slip in when inhaling while a wave hits you, but you just breathe relaxed, and it drains out.

So those 2 points alone are reasons to use a Powerbreather.

  1. Fresh Air
  2. No Purging, always dry.

Now for why NOT to buy a Full Face Mask snorkel or a traditional snorkel for your trip.

Compare Powerbreather Models

The Potential Dangers of Full-Face Snorkel Masks

Full-face snorkel masks are now enormously popular since the original – Tribord – first came to market. This has lead to at least another dozen models to be put out on the market, including some cheap Chinese knockoffs.  

With a full-face snorkel mask it covers your whole face with no need to learn to breathe in a tube, which makes breathing easy with your nose and mouth. That said, the design is not without its potential flaws.

Issues:

  • Leaks in seal to your face effect breathing
  • Diving down is challenging with the air filled mask.
  • Can not equalize by holding your nose when diving deeper.
  • Difficult to remove in a hurry.
  • CO2 mixed air danger!

The seal on your fact is critical, if it's not a tight seal, leaks or water purging in, it impairs your sight, like a regular mask would, but also your breathing.  

Another issue is the use of full-face masks when diving under water. Going under is difficult with an air filled mask, but the real problem is that since you can’t plug your nose, there is no way to equalize the pressure that comes with diving even for a short period of time.

However, the real controversy of full-face snorkel masks is the potential for build-up of carbon dioxide. Unlike breathing fresh air in each breath, like a Powerbreather, in some brands of full-face snorkel masks, the air fills the entire cavity that sits over your face which makes it hard to purge the carbon dioxide. This can lead to a build up in both the air cavity and the blood, leading to carbon dioxide poisoning.  

CO2 poisoning at this rate doesn't happen instantly, it's a slow fatigue, even unnoticeable to the swimmer while it's happening.

There are some of higher end models addressing the CO2 issue.  Many, especially newer models, have taken to separating the mouth and nose from the rest of the mask so that air is more easily purged and carbon dioxide build-up is no longer a risk. However, this is easily the biggest risk of full-face snorkeling masks.  Be sure to inspect diligently.

Due to the large dead airspace in the mask and tube, there is concern that there could be a build-up of carbon dioxide in the mask, which could lead to the swimmer becoming disoriented, weaker, and possibly black out and drown. - Hawaii drownings raise equipment questions - Deep Blue 08/2017

Then there is the awful story of the woman snorkeling with a full face mask less than 1 hour before being found floating and unable to resuscitate.  - One Drowning Too Many! Full-Face Snorkeling Masks And One Man’s Quest For Answers - Snorkel Club 2017

I was in Hawaii for the Ironman in 2017, during our time there, a man nearly drown while out with his wife using their full face mask snorkels.  He had passed out, but fortunately his wife was next to him at the time.  It was described as a slow fatigue that he didn't notice coming on, and was saying he just felt exhausted while it was happening.  

There are too many of these stories.  Yes, I'm trying to scare you, because I believe that much in the Powerbreather as a fresh air snorkel for anyone out there for more than 10 minutes. For even the too many deaths from CO2 buildup in a full face mask, there has to be hundreds or even thousands of people who didn't associate fatigue with the mask, just thought they were tired out there.  If you choose a full face mask option, do your homework first.

Traditional / Front Snorkels

We are obviously very pro Powerbreather and the fresh air system, but there are also very appropriate times to use a traditional snorkel, and NOT the Powerbreather.  The traditional snorkel has its place and has its dangers.

Where is a traditional snorkel appropriate:

  • SCUBA
  • Deep freediving / spearfishing past 10 meters.
  • Frequent removal of your snorkel in situations like rescue for example where frequent communication is critical.  

When it causes problems:

  • Long distance swimming
  • Long term snorkeling of any kind > than 10 minutes
  • Lap swimming, flip turns

Issues:

  • Mixed Air with your own CO2 can cause headaches and slow fatigue
  • Water from waves pour into the snorkel and causing struggle and purging.

Front Snorkel Issues:

  • Mixed Air with your own CO2 can cause headaches and fatigue >10 minutes
  • Obstructed View
  • Wobbles on push off in pool.
  • Constant purging and clearing during flip turns
  • Gurgling throughout the laps.

 

Other sources:

Compare Powerbreather Models

Potential Hazards of Full Face Masks 

Hawaii drownings raise equipment questions - Deep Blue 08/2017

One Drowning Too Many! Full-Face Snorkeling Masks And One Man’s Quest For Answers - Snorkel Club 2017