Breathe Like a Diver
Practice Wet Breathing Without a Pool

Bottom Line

Breathing like a diver is an unnatural process and can be challenging for new divers.  If you have limited experience wearing a mask, breathing with a snorkel, or can’t stand the thought of water going up your nose, or if water in the back of your throat makes you cough, choke or panic, these drills can help you master the skills associated with breathing like a diver.

By design, humans are primarily nose breathers—and for good reason: Noses connect to sinus cavities, and it is in the sinuses where filtering, warming and humidification of inhaled air occurs. Our lungs would not do well if they were regularly abused by cold, dirty, and dry air. That is why prolonged breathing through the mouth is abnormal at best and potentially harmful at worst. But then there is scuba diving…

 

Unless you are a full-face mask diver, mouth breathing through a regulator is how scuba divers survive. If you are a new diver, you might find mouth breathing awkward, but adding a little bit of water to the mix can turn an uncomfortable experience into an overwhelming one, resulting in uncontrolled coughing, choking, and a panicked ascent to the surface.

 

“Wet breathing” is a way of life for scuba divers because there is no way to avoid water in masks, snorkels and regulators. Practicing “breathing around” this water is the only way to reduce the physical stress associated with water in the airway (throat, nose and sinuses). With experience, you’ll quickly realize that a little water up the nose or in the back of the throat is not that big of a deal.

 

Beyond inhaling slowly to breathe around water, how you cope with wet breathing (e.g.  blocking the back of your throat with your tongue to avoid a choking response to water in the airway) is a personal choice that will develop through trial and error.

 

If you think wet breathing might be a problem for you, practice will certainly help. These drills do not require a pool or any specialized equipment beyond a mask, a snorkel, and a little bit of water:

 

INHALE-EXHALE EXERCISES: NO MASK OR SNORKEL

  • Inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth until comfortable.

  • Inhale through your mouth and exhale from your nose until comfortable.

  • Switch between breathing techniques with each breath. Breathe in from the nose and out from the mouth; next breath, in from the mouth and out the nose. Repeat 10 times (20 breaths).

 

MASK-ON BREATHING

  • Breathe through your mouth while wearing a mask.

  • You can do this while doing pretty much anything (like watching TV) for 30-50 minutes—the average length of a scuba dive.

 

MASK & SNORKEL BREATHING

  • Same as the Drill #2 except add a snorkel to breathe through.

  • Because snorkels represent additional “dead air space,” you must learn to breathe past the snorkel to get fresh air into your lungs.

  • This requires deeper breaths as the snorkel will essentially store some of your last exhaled breath, and this air contains carbon dioxide that you must breathe “past” by inhaling deeper, but not faster.

  • Practice as long as you feel comfortable then work to increase your tolerance for snorkel/mask wearing times. You goal should be 50-60 minutes.

 

Advanced Skill Challenge

Do some light exercise (similar to swimming) while wearing the mask and a snorkel. Mow the lawn (and get some odd stares from neighbors), vacuum, mop, get on the treadmill, etc.

 

BREATHING WITH NOSE IN WATER

  • Fill your mask halfway with water.

  • Put it on with your face pointing downward.

  • Slowly raise your head to the normal position which will cover your nose with water.

  • Gently press the mask skirt against your face to reduce water leakage.

  • Breathe normally through your mouth.

  • Practice as long as you feel comfortable then work to increase your tolerance up to about 3 minutes.

  • Be cautious of water leaks during this exercise. Have a towel nearby.

 

Advanced Skill Challenge

Tilt your head back to further test your ability at airway control.

 

SNORKEL BREATHING WITH NOSE IN WATER

  • Same as Drill #4 except add a snorkel to breathe through.

 

Advanced Skill Challenge

Tilt your head back to further test your ability at airway control.

 

As instructors, we have given students “homework assignments” than included watching an hour of TV with mask and snorkel in place. These no-water, non-threatening practice sessions can go a long way in bringing confidence to students who lack any appreciable experience with mask or snorkel use. Encourage students to text you a pic while practicing!

 

IF A POOL OR OTHER BODY OF WATER IS AVAILABLE, additional practice sessions are available and easy to do. Your imagination is the only limiting factor to possible drills to reduce fear of water in the airway:

 

  1. Partially or fully flood mask and breathe through mouth

  2. Partially or fully flood mask and breathe through regulator

  3. Swim in various body positions/angles to determine tolerance for water in airway

  4. Submerge face without mask and breathe through snorkel

  • Nose-pinching is allowed in the beginning but students should be able to do this skill without having to block nostrils