When scuba diving, the whole point is to see things. You’re there to see the sites and experience life underwater. What’s the point if you can’t? A lot of people have hesitations when thinking about scuba diving because they have poor eyesight and don’t know how to accommodate glasses or contacts into their dive.
For scuba diving, you cannot wear glasses under a mask. The mask will leak. Opt for soft contact lenses, prescription masks or lenses, or use stick-on magnification on the mask you already have. Eye correction may not be necessary for everyone that needs glasses due to mask and water refraction.
There are also some other neat options to consider when planning to go scuba diving, or becoming a regular scuba diver. Divers today, with poor vision, have many options available to help them see underwater.
Who Needs to Wear Glasses or Contacts Underwater?
Nearly 90% of all humans today, in the developing world, suffer from poor eyesight. A whopping 61% need to wear glasses or contacts.
For most people who need vision correction, there’s always that question of “What do I do when scuba diving?”.
It is impossible to wear your glasses while diving, contacts for the most part are safe. And prescription masks were my preferred method before I had LASIK.
Depending on the diver and the dive, marginally blurry vision at a distance may not present any issues for the diver. This is because you are only looking a few feet in front of you, usually, as you dive. Additionally, your mask air and water refraction difference will provide some natural correction for nearsighted divers.
Natural Underwater Magnification Properties
There is 25-30% magnification while beneath the water, which may help those who cannot see things up close. The natural magnification properties of the water may correct the vision of those with mild vision issues.
Interestingly enough, the eye is like a complicated, living camera. This DiverMag article does a great job of explaining the eyes camera like qualities.
While underwater and wearing a dive mask, we create an airspace in front of the cornea, giving us the same vision as above water. However, things still seem larger? This is because the light passing from the mask lens into the airspace, it diverges (opposite as focus). Resulting in a natural magnification of 25-30%. This is the same magnification we experience when looking down directly into the water; our masks just give us a crystal clear picture.
You may be able to experience this for yourself while diving when you go to reach for your buddy that seems to be in reaching distance, and your arm is too short! If you’re still interested in learning more about underwater magnification to a great extent, read more on ScubaGeek.
When diving, and you notice you still struggle to see your submersible pressure gauge, or even seeing your partner’s hand signals, you should seriously consider exploring options to correct your vision with contacts, bonded lenses, or a prescription mask.
Because of this natural magnification that the ocean provides, you’re going to want to be sure to order your prescription 0.25-0.5 closer to zero than your actual prescription. This applies to entire lenses, bonded lenses, or bifocals. If you fall between strengths, try the next
For example: If your lens is a -1.5 you’ll want to choose a lens for your mask that is -1.25 or -1.0
Can I Wear Glasses While Diving?
No, those with glasses should not attempt to wear them under their masks when scuba diving. A diver cannot wear their glasses beneath their mask because the earpieces will not allow the skirt of the mask to seal to the divers face tightly.
Even if there were a chance someone could shove the mask over their glasses, the pressure from both the mask and the glasses would cause great discomfort toward the diver’s face.
Some divers wear glasses, with very thin, flexible arms, underneath their masks. Generally, however, the mask will still leak for these divers.
You may see other divers who have taken off the arms of their glasses and attempt to mount the frames inside their masks. This usually will prevent the mask from leaking. However, it is hard to keep the frames positioned and even harder to clean them and avoid fogging.
What If I Am Unable to Wear Contacts?
If the diver happens to have astigmatism and is unable to wear contacts – the diver can still scuba dive and snorkel. With bonded lenses or a prescription mask, you’ll be able to see all the beauty that lies underwater comfortably.
Bonded lenses are special lenses that have been ground to provide the same correction as your glasses would, but with a perfectly flat front. The lenses can be glued to the inside of your regular scuba mask to allow you to have crystal clear vision as if you were wearing your glasses.
These lenses will provide the diver with excellent visual assistance because any lens can be ground to assist people with astigmatism, bifocals, and even prisms.
However, the lens itself is smaller than the glass in the mask, so the diver’s peripheral vision will not have the same assistance. This is also the case when wearing glasses, so this factor shouldn’t bother many divers.
Also, it is usually hard for divers to clean the faceplate of their mask around the lens so it may get pretty dirty.
They can be placed into any scuba mask with a flat faceplate (most common), but not into a scuba mask with a curved faceplate (rare). And they have to be positioned correctly inside the mask or will not work correctly. The lenses need to properly lined up with the diver’s unique eyesight.
If the diver has poor eyesight, the lens needed will usually be very thick, providing a “coke bottle” effect. Finding special hi-index glass should do the trick for avoiding that annoying, thick glass inside your mask.
Once the skirt of your mask needs to be replaced, you can try to remove the prescriptions from your old lenses to transfer them to your new mask. Although it’s probably best to replace the lenses each time you upgrade your mask to keep your prescription updated.
If you do decide to pursue this technique for assisted vision while scuba diving, be sure you can trust your mask fits you well by taking it out for a few uses beforehand.
After you’re confident that the mask won’t leak, take it to a place that knows how to fit it for lenses. They’ll need to measure the distance between your pupil and the mask, and you will need to know your prescription.
Just like at the eye doctor, after this process, you’ll just have to wait a few weeks for them to mount the lenses into the mask, which can be pretty expensive. Regardless, it’s a rather reasonable way to go about getting visual assistance for scuba diving.
Wearing Contacts on a Dive
Contacts are typically very safe to wear under a mask when going scuba diving. This only applies to soft or disposable contacts.
Soft contact lenses permit the transfer of gas from the eyes, so the diver has no visual impairment after their dive due to escaping nitrogen from the eyes. As hard lenses or even gas permeable contacts may cause more issues for the diver (source.)
Pros of Soft Contacts While Diving
The diver’s eyelid should cover enough of a soft contact lens to protect it from incoming water. However, this isn’t all that important because the lens of a soft contact is also larger and hugs the eye better than that of a comparable lens. They’re also much more comfortable for a new or infrequent wearer.
Daily lenses are a great option as after a day of diving. You can just throw away your contact and get a fresh pair for the next dive.
Always be sure to tell your diving instructor that you are wearing contact lenses. This way, if you lose your mask and wish to close your eyes, the instructor can keep an eye on you.
Your instructor should teach you how to put the mask back on safely, and clear out the water. They’ll usually touch your shoulder to let you know you can open your eyes again.
Cons about Contacts While Diving
The downside about wearing contact lenses underwater is that the diver is more susceptible to an eye infection. The lenses may also become contaminated by bacteria in the water.
A higher possibility of dry eyes is in place as well, which can be more than a little irritating.
Also, if the diver uses a defogger on their mask, the contacts may absorb the defogger into the eyes, regardless of the method used to defog. This is another argument for daily disposable contacts.
If, after your dive you start to experience red, itchy eyes, don’t hesitate to see an ophthalmologist.
Hard Contact Lenses While Diving
Hard lenses are smaller than soft lenses and therefore have less suction. This allows them to flow off with the water much easier than that of soft lenses. They are also built to be more rigid around the eyeball. This causes no gas exchange to take place.
During the ascent of the dive or after the dive is complete, the diver may experience irritation due to bubbles of nitrogen between the lens and the eye, trying to escape. This may also cause the diver to have a blurry vision because of the bubble (source.)
While wearing soft lenses, the diver is able to close his eyes if his scuba mask floods to avoid accidentally washing away his lenses. Soft lenses help prevent most infections in the eyes; the risk with soft contacts is less than 1/10000.
When considering purchasing soft lenses, daily disposables are the best option. Talk to your ophthalmologist about brands and prices. Typically monthly subscriptions for daily disposables are around $25 per month.
Any diver who wears contact lenses should be sure to pack eyedrops for their contacts and eyes with them to the dive site. Eyedrops will be a great help in the rare occurrence that the contact lenses become stuck to the diver’s eyeball from the increased pressure from the dive.
Prescription Masks for Scuba Diving
Prescription masks are the best way to go if you’re concerned about vision issues when scuba diving. There are many advantages to owning your own prescription mask.
Masks with prescription lenses are typically offered at most scuba diving equipment manufacturers. It’s also just about the same process as going into the eye doctor and picking a pair of glasses and then waiting for them to make yours with your unique prescription. It is usually the same price as well.
Any diver that is using a prescription mask should remember to bring their glasses or contact lenses and case so that they can see before and after their dive.
Also, if planning extending diving trips, consider bringing a backup mask (either prescription or not) just in case anything happens to their current mask.
It’s wise to consider buying two prescription masks because you’ll find that in many remote locations, it’s not possible to find prescription masks, which can absolutely ruin an entire dive trip.
Having a mask with your exact prescription is not a cheap option; however, with proper care, your mask should last you for years and years. And no matter the price you pay for your mask, you’ll be quickly repaid with having crystal clear vision underwater for dives and dives to come!
Sometimes divers struggle with finding a prescription mask that suits all their needs. There’s also the option of finding certain masks that allow you to modify and remove the current lenses and replace them with prescription lenses.
You can use this calculator to determine what strength lenses to order, then buy a mask that allows lens swapping.
Corrective lenses may be a bit cheaper for the diver if they already have a mask with removable lenses. If the diver has no current mask they should just consider buying a new one with prescription lenses, it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Most manufacturers offer this method. Similar to the method of getting a prescription lens, you simply take your separately bought lenses into the dive store along with your mask if you have one, and get your lenses and mask fitted.
ScubaPro carries 4 masks that are prescription lens compatible. Again, use the calculator above, order your lenses separately, and you can pop them into these ScubaPro masks.
You’ll find many manufacturers will also offer specially made masks for those requiring bifocals or an additional correction for astigmatism.
Getting the Right Mask
Before adjusting your lenses on your mask, make sure that your mask fits well and secure to seal around your face properly. Our guide to choosing a mask may help.
Your local dive shop should be able to help in picking and adjusting your mask perfectly. Try a few different masks to be sure you’re finding the right fit before placing the prescription lenses. When you’re certain about your mask, take it out for a few dives. Make sure it’s the one.
When you’re confident in your mask, you can have your optician send your prescription to the local dive shop and have them make and place the lenses. This will take a couple of weeks.
Buying Prescription Scuba Goggles
Lenses are usually priced separately from the mask, so you need to make sure you’re getting everything. When shopping online, be sure to read product and customer reviews to be sure that other people are satisfied with the product.
Do comprehensive research so you can be confident you’re making the correct purchase.
Some places will even sell their lenses completely separate from their masks so that way you can change the lenses whenever your prescription changes, without hassle.
It may be hard to fit the lenses in yourself. Most shops allow you to send back the mask with your new lenses so that they can replace them for you.
Prices for this service vary amongst shops. For added built-in bifocals (different from the stick-on bifocals), you can pay an additional $80, for split built-in bifocals divers can expect to pay closer to an additional $140. Built-in bifocals are a great convenience, but again, they can be pricey.
DIY Bi-Focal Mask
Some people require reading glasses to help them read smaller prints. Divers that require bifocals also need not worry!
Small, stick-on magnifying lenses are available on Amazon for scuba masks. Just like lenses found at the drugstore, you can find a variety of magnifications for a super affordable price online.
This is very helpful when divers need to read the small numbers on a submersible pressure gauge, or when having trouble seeing the setting on their camera and screens while underwater.
Simply just place the stick-on magnifying lens on to the lower part of your scuba mask. You don’t even need glue as the lenses are made with a durable sticky backside. Before you know it, you have yourself a bifocal scuba mask.
Stick-on bifocals are not recommended for those who already have a prescription mask. If you’re having issues seeing out of your prescription mask, you should consider checking that your prescription is accurate.
Bifocal add-ons are an excellent option for those who have close vision problems or for those who feel they don’t necessarily need a prescription mask.
Some divers may dive while wearing their soft contact lenses and use the bifocals for a little extra help when trying to see their camera settings while underwater.
Having a bifocal dive mask would be incredibly helpful in seeing underwater gems like ghost shrimp cleaning off a moray eel or perhaps hiding clownfish in the anemone. Being able to see clearly will turn a frustrating dive into a fun experience.
Can I Open My Eyes Underwater with Contact Lenses?
Many people fear that if they open their eyes underwater while wearing contact lenses, their contact lenses will wash away. The only time you would need to be cautious is if water starts rapidly flooding into your mask because the speed of the water rushing could be enough to wash away your contact lens.
For the majority of the time, you are completely safe to open your eyes underwater while wearing contact lenses. Many people you’ll talk to while diving will admit that they open their eyes underwater while wearing contacts all the time, usually without thought.
The only time divers should be concerned about open their eyes underwater while wearing contacts is if they’re wearing hard contact lenses. And this could cause water bubbles between the lenses and the eye or full suction onto the eyeball. Both being annoying and painful for the entirety of your dive.
Something to consider; saltwater density is rather different than that of lachrymal liquid, which is why contacts will sometimes stick to your eyes. However, it is also different in swimming pools and other bodies of fresh water, which will typically do no damage to your contact lenses.
Scuba Diving After Eye Surgery
Don’t let a recent eye surgery stop you from diving. Scuba diving is most definitely possible after most types of corrective eye surgery. I had LASIK in 2001, and I’ve logged many, many dives since then.
You’re certainly going to want to be sure that your eyes have healed before even thinking about getting into the water. Talk to your ophthalmologist about the usual healing time for the specific corrective surgery you’ve had.
Even if you feel confident that your eyes are healed, you should have a follow-up consultation with your doctor to confirm you’re good to dive.
For any other eye surgeries or treatments, consult your surgeon.
Do I Need To Wear a Prescription While Diving?
It’s a typical rule of thumb- if you can drive without any assisted vision, then a normal scuba mask is usually fine. If you wear glasses providing relatively small amounts of assistance, your vision while wearing a regular scuba mask is typically fine. Due to things underwater seeming 33% larger and closer than they are.
An exception to this common guideline is a diver who requires reading glasses. Usually, this diver wouldn’t need to wear their reading glasses while driving, but will usually require assistance reading small words.
A great recommendation for a diver like this would be to consider buying stick-on bifocals for their scuba mask or can buy built-in bifocal lenses as well for a higher price.
People suffering from poor eyesight, no matter the severity should be able to find options to help them, scuba dive, blissfully. On top of the natural 33% magnification the ocean already provides, there are plenty of ways to correct your vision under the water.
Whether you choose small, stick-on bifocals or soft, daily use contact lenses, there are some quick and easy ways to stay safe. Of course, if you’re unable to wear contacts, bonded or prescription lenses can be a great way to see better underwater while diving.
So choose your preferred vision correction option, or try different ones until you’ve found your preference. But don’t let vision problems stop you from trying scuba. As always, get out there, stay safe and have fun.
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