Tour companies in Kona try to curb use of full-face snorkel mask

  • Lifeguards and attendees offer a hands on demonstration of how the different types of snorkel masks work, including the increasingly popular full face ones that some say are a problem. (PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA / Star Advertiser)
  • The Body Glove morning snorkel tour returns to Kailua Pier. Body Glove Hawaii makes customers who want to use full-face snorkel masks on their trip sign a waiver. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The Fair Wind II launches from Keauhou Bay. Fair Wind Cruises are one of the boat tour companies on Hawaii Island that have banned their customers from using full-face snorkel masks. (West Hawaii Today/File Photo)

KAILUA-KONA — As concerns rise about the safety of full-face snorkel masks, more and more Hawaii Island tour companies are following the example of their island neighbors by banning the use of the masks on their boats.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported this week The Pride of Maui, a boat tour agency that operates in Maalaea on Maui, announced it will no longer allow customers to use full-face snorkel masks on its tours.

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The Hawaii Ocean Project in Lahaina is also a boat tour agency on Maui that has banned the use of the masks, a policy it started last year.

Several boat tour companies on Hawaii Island have either outright banned customers from using the full-face masks, or only allow customers to use them with the signing of a waiver form.

Fair Wind Cruises, which operates its boats out of Keauhou Bay, said they no longer allow customers to use the masks on their snorkeling excursions.

Kailua-Kona’s Dolphin Discoveries and Ocean Adventures said they only provide traditional snorkel masks for their customers, but allow customers to use their own equipment as well, including full-face masks.

Maggie Brown, owner of Body Glove Hawaii, another boat tour company in Kailua-Kona, said they do not provide full-face snorkel masks to their customers, but they still allow customers to use them. Those who want to use the full-face masks must bring their own to the Body Glove’s tour and sign a waiver form.

Brown said Body Glove tried an outright ban of the masks for several months this year, but the policy began to hurt the business.

“We were just bombarded by bad TripAdvisor reviews because we wouldn’t let them use them,” Brown said. “We were trying to explain and educate them, and it just got to the point where what we do now is have them sign a waiver that was written and put together by our lawyer.”

Body Glove also gives the customers who want to use the full-face snorkel masks swim noodles that have been color-coded to identify the full-face masks users. Brown said it ensures the employees on the Body Glove boats keep a closer eye on those customers.

Some of the concerns tour companies in Hawaii have raised with full-face snorkel masks is the difficulty of removing the masks if water gets inside; that the masks can retain more carbon dioxide than traditional snorkel masks; and that the masks cover the snorkeler’s mouth, making it difficult for someone wearing it to call for help if needed.

Brown said even with Body Glove’s new policy of having customer sign a waiver to use the masks, the company still sees hundreds of customers using them.

“They’re marketed very well. You can go on Amazon and see 30 different brands. They are all over the place. Even Costco promoted them at one point. Everyone was promoting them,” Brown said. “The reason why we didn’t was we’ve had our finger on the pulse. We just heard so many things and we just didn’t want to take a chance.”

Brown said she’s happy to hear the news of big tour companies on Maui changing their policies on full-face masks.

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“I was really happy to hear that on Maui they did take a stance,” Brown said. “And it makes me rethink and to go back to my initial thought that I had about the masks a year or so ago.”

A resolution introduced into the state House of Representatives this year, HR 113, urged county councils to enact ordinances to ban the sale and rental of full-face snorkel masks. The resolution stated an average of 17 snorkeling-related deaths occur in Hawaii each year, with both traditional and full-face masks, and that two deaths occurred in January of 2018 where the swimmer was wearing a full-face mask.

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