In May of 2011 I received a box from Oceanic. I had asked for the opportunity to test dive the new Oceanic DATAMASK. I thought the mask had a simple display that showed cylinder pressure, and while this heads up display (HUD) in itself would have been a major accomplishment, I had vastly underestimated the experience I was about to have.
I first opened the box and removed the mask for examination. The mask strap was heavy duty; it was about twice as thick as what I usually expect in a mask strap and very comfortable. The mask buckles were metal. The mask frame was thicker than any other masks I had seen before and the double face seal was wide and comfortable. This was a heavy duty military grade piece of diving equipment. There are two buttons, one on the top right of the frame and the second on the right side of the frame. Just from the standpoint of a mask it was an outstanding piece of diving equipment.
Looking through the other items in the box I found a computer cable and a CD, the hose-less pressure transducer, and an instruction manual. As I began to read the instruction manual I discovered this was far more than I had originally thought. This was a hose-less, air integrated, Nitrox programmable dive computer integrated into a mask. It displays appropriate amounts of information continuously to the diver in a well thought out common sense display. This information can be read at any time by looking down and to the right. The primary display shows what divers are most concerned about. Across the top I see my depth. The next line down is cylinder pressure. The bottom shows no decompression time or gas time remaining, whichever is your limiting factor. Yes, the mask also does decompression diving calculations. To the left I see tissue saturation in the bar graph display. I push the top button one time and screen 2 shows time of day and water temperature. If you want to turn the display off push the button on the right side of the frame.
As a diver, having this information in my mask made it impossible to not know my cylinder pressure, depth or bottom time remaining. In zero visibility or in absolute darkness I have all essential information available and complete use of both hands. The two adjustable audible gas pressure alarms, one turn around pressure and one adjustable low air alarm seem that it would be impossible to unknowingly run out of air. During my assent at the end of my second dive of the day, the mask asked me to make a safety stop. I had no idea this was going to happen. The mask seemed more like a dive buddy at this point.
As an instructor I found this to be an amazing tool. Most of our open water checkout dives are done in murky water. As an example, when working with students practicing buddy breathing, an instructor should be holding onto the diver that is simulating out of air. For me this means I am on the student’s right shoulder, my left hand holding their first stage and my right hand holding their second stage just off to the right of their mask. Being able to hold onto a student properly, glance to my lower right to see where we are in the water column during the entire accent made incredible sense to me.
The information and dive profiles are downloadable. Although the mask is programmable using a laptop computer, I was able to program the mask using only the two buttons on the mask.
There are virtual dives and instructional videos at www.OceanicUSA.com. Definitely worth viewing.
Bill Gordon is Lead Instructor and a Training and Equipment Specialist at The NOAA Diving Center in Seattle Washington.