Prescription scuba and snorkeling mask purchasing tips

A common question or concern for new divers or snorkelers purchasing a new mask has to do with vision correction. There are a variety of options available for those that need some assistance in this area and it is a good idea to consider them before committing to a mask.

Time frame for vision correction

Some prescriptions/masks are easy to accommodate but this is not always so. It is generally a good idea to allow at least 2 weeks when shopping for a prescription mask. Some can be done on the spot, but others must be custom ground or specially ordered.

Drop-in Lenses

For those that are moderately near-sighted (as in, cannot see things at a distance very clearly) with little astigmatism or bifocal needs, there are several masks that offer a “drop-in” lens option. What this means is that the mask’s original lenses are easily removed and prefabricated prescription lenses – usually ground to the nearest .5 diopter – are installed. For popular masks that have this option, these lenses are often available in-store or within a couple of business days. This is generally one of the fastest and least expensive options for prescription masks.

Custom Prescription Masks

If the masks that accommodate drop-in lenses do not fit your face or you wish for a more accurate prescription (glasses and contacts are usually available in .25 increments, rather than .5) then you will likely wish to get a custom prescription. This will also be the likely case if you have a very strong prescription, are far-sighted (so objects that are near are difficult to see). The price varies depending upon how complicated the prescription is in these cases, but is generally more expensive than drop-in lenses and will usually take between 1-2 weeks to complete.

Gauge Readers

For those that wear reading glasses, there are a couple options if you’d like a mask with something like this so that your gauges (SPG, compass, depth gauge, dive computer, etc) are easier to decipher. There are masks that are made with lenses that are essentially bi-focals. If these “gauge reader” masks fit your face they are generally of good quality and are often the fastest, least expensive option. However, custom prescriptions can be accommodated or “drop-in” or stick on bifocal lenses can be added to most masks.

Contact lenses

If you already use contact lenses and are comfortable with them (ie. would play sports with them, have few problems with them falling out, causing irritation, etc) then this might be the best option for you when it comes to vision correction and diving. Many divers (including yours truly) dive with contacts safely and comfortably. However, it is always best to check with your optometrist first; tell them what you are doing and make sure it is safe for you. I also recommend asking about disposable lenses. In all my years of diving and teaching and snorkeling, I have only really lost 2 contacts (I’ve lost more just trying to put them in on a regular basis), but it is nice to know that you aren’t losing a substantial investment if you do lose them and it is a little more sanitary should you get sea/lake/quarry/pool water in your eyes.

Laser Correction and other surgical procedures

As with any surgery one should consult with a knowledgeable medical professional about if/when it is safe to dive or snorkel after the procedure. Keep in mind (and point out to your doctor) that even the best fitting mask can leak or potentially fall off in some situations. Always make sure to book a follow up visit to ensure that you are ready and safe to start diving again.

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