Solved! How to See Underwater Without Goggles (Train Your Eyes?)

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Almost everybody loves swimming! It’s a fun activity that people of all ages can pick up and learn. However, while diving can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of swimming, it’s difficult to see underwater without eye protection.

Understandably, you can easily resolve the situation by simply wearing your goggles. Still, some people often wonder whether it’s possible to see without them.

This article will explore how to see underwater without goggles, including a couple of methods that might be able to help you see clearly underwater.

But first, we need to establish what happens when we dive underwater and the reason behind having blurry vision.

Why Can’t You See Underwater Without Goggles?

Technically, most people are able to see underwater without goggles, just not clearly.

Let’s say you’re at the pool and decide to jump in, and with your head underwater, you open your eyes. More than likely you’ll see shapes with varying contrasts underwater, but it won’t be a clear image.

Without too much technical mumbo jumbo, you can blame your eye anatomy for not being able to clearly see underwater. The human eye has a couple of lenses that work together to focus on what we’re looking at as the light refracts and hits them creating an image.

With water being much denser than air, the light is refracted differently. When light reaches the eye underwater, the lenses struggle to focus on the image, leading to hazy or blurry sight.

How Do Goggles Fix This?

Wearing goggles resolves this light refraction problem by creating an air pocket in front of the eye. This small air pocket allows light to properly hit the lenses and provide you with a clearer image similar to when you’re above water.

Swim goggles utilize a flexible rim –sometimes made of silicone or rubber— to help provide a tight seal to your face. The seal prevents water from entering the goggles in order to keep the air pocket in tact for maximum clarity.

How to See Clearly Underwater Without Goggles

While the best way to see underwater is by using goggles, there are a couple of alternative ways that may allow you to see underwater without the need for gear.

Hand Method

The basic idea of the hand method is to mimic what the goggles do by creating a small air pocket in front of the eyes.

You can create that air pocket by cupping your hands around your eyes, making sure they’re airtight

Then, while underwater, slowly blow some air bubbles so that they stay in front of your eyes, creating an air pocket. This air pocket should do basically what the goggles were designed to do.

However, this method is impractical because it’s hard to maintain such a position for a long time. You’re bound to lose stability in your arms and hands trying to keep the air pockets in place.

What’s more, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to create a tight enough seal to keep the bubble in place. Once the bubble disappears, you’ll be left with blurry vision underwater.

Training Your Eyes

Although it may sound crazy, there have been scientific studies of people being able to train themselves to see clearly underwater. One of the most renown studies is that of the Moken children.

The Moken children are from a coastline tribe in Southeast Asia that were found to be able to see twice as clear underwater compared to that of non-native children.

During investigation of this phenomenon, it was found that the Moken children had learned to control their eye muscles allowing them to negate the affects of water. Their training allowed them to make their pupils smaller along with changing the shape of the lens –these two aspects allow them to see clearly underwater.

While it may sound far-fetched, the Moken study has proven that just 11 training sessions over a one month period was able to produce clear underwater vision for non-native kids!

Unfortunately, the training is best served for children because their lenses remain more flexible than adult lenses. Once trained though, the ability to see clearly underwater may even last into the teenage years before fading during adulthood.

If you or a younger willing participant are up for a challenge, here are some simplified steps that can be used for training to see clearly underwater in your own pool:

1 – Prepare Images

Images are used as the stimuli during the training to help allow for better eye control. The images recommended from the study are of sinusoidal gratings with high contrast, such as black and white.

You’ll need several images that each have a differing width of grating. Wider grating is considered easier to distinguish than finer grating.

The grating pattern should have high contrasts between the alternating lines, such as black and white.

The images should be laminated so that they can be placed into water.

2 – Mark the Viewing Distance

It’s important to ensure consistency in viewing distance during the training process. Place an object or a piece of underwater tape on the floor of the pool approximately 50 cm (20 inches) from the wall.

3 – Place the Image Underwater

Select the grating image with the widest width, as this is the easiest one to start with.

Using underwater tape, adhere the image on the wall located 50 cm from the viewing spot that was marked in the prior step.

You can also set the orientation of the grating while placing it on the wall –vertical, horizontal, or diagonal.

4 – Dive Underwater and Focus on the Image

All the prep work leads up to the important part: training!

The trainee can dive underwater to the marked viewing location. Extreme focus should be placed on the image to try to distinguish the orientation of the grating. It likely will be very difficult at first due to blurry vision.

After re-surfacing the trainee can indicate the perceived orientation of the grating to determine if they saw it clearly enough.

5 – Adjust Orientation of the Image & Repeat

The same image can be re-oriented for additional dive attempts.

6 – Increase Difficulty of the Image

Once it appears the trainee has mastered the first image, you can move onto the next narrower grating. Repeat steps 3 through 5, and continue to advance to more challenging widths.

7 – Practice Makes Perfect (or Not?)

Don’t expect immediate results, but repeated practice is a great start! Just remember to give the eyes ample breaks as the water can be irritating.

In the controlled study it took 11 sessions over a one month period for children to achieve clear vision underwater without goggles. At an uncontrolled home setting, achieving successful results may be more difficult or even impossible.

Similar to the challenge of trying to float upright without treading, many people may not be able to succeed in training their eyes to see clearly underwater no matter how much practice is applied!

Should You Open Your Eyes When Swimming Without Goggles?

Now that you know the reason why you can’t see well underwater without goggles, you should understand whether there are risks with opening your eyes underwater.

While it’s not an issue to have a quick glance every once in a while during your swimming session, keeping your eyes open all the time underwater can be potentially harmful.

Swimming Pools

When it comes to swimming pools, the use of chlorine to kill bacteria in the water is the main reason why you shouldn’t be opening your eyes underwater.

That’s because chlorine is a powerful disinfectant and, unfortunately, can cause slight damage to the outer layer cells of the cornea in the eyes when exposed to the chemical for a long period.

This exposure can cause irritation in the eyes, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision. Thankfully, these symptoms are temporary, but they can still be painful.

Another reason to put on your goggles is the presence of chloramine in pools. Chloramine is formed when the disinfectant chlorine reacts with urine, body oils/fats, and other particles that enter the water.

Chloramine is usually the culprit behind the stinging sensation you get when opening your eyes underwater in the swimming pool.

Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes

Opening your eyes underwater in lakes, seas, and oceans is also dangerous because these water bodies are natural sources of water that haven’t been purified.

The saltwater in the seas and oceans won’t harm your eyes but it’ll be slightly painful due to the high salt content in the water itself.

That being said, salt isn’t the only factor that you should be worried about. The water can be full of pathogens and other bacteria that are harmful to your eyes.

This is especially true for lakes, which contain microscopic bacteria and other harmful particles that can impair your vision.

What Can I Do to Protect My Eyes When Swimming?

Sight is an important sense, and while we sometimes take it for granted it’s always important to protect it from certain elements, especially after a day of swimming.

Here are some tips to protect your eyes:

  • It’s recommended that you wash your eyes with clean water after you finish swimming to clean out your eyes from anything that could harm them.
  • If a person has to open their eyes underwater, the best solution is going to be wearing goggles because it will not only give them good vision but also protect them from potential infection.
  • If you’re intending to wear contact lenses under your goggles to see better, make sure that you have a very good seal. Because if swimming pool water overwhelms the goggles and fills them, it cause your contact to become dislodged –then you’ll really have trouble seeing clearly!

Final Takeway

The human eye wasn’t created to see underwater, and that’s due to the difference in light refraction caused by the heavier density of water compared to air. The best way to resolve this issue is by creating an air pocket in front of the eye.

That small pocket of air, which can be achieved by using goggles, returns the light’s speed and refraction into the eyes properly, which in turn clears up the blurry image. Yes, you can try to form your own goggles using your hands and an air pocket, but it won’t be as practical.

If you’re up for a challenge, have some fun trying to perform the visual training underwater to potentially improve eyesight underwater without goggles. You may see more success with it in kids, but just be sure to give the eyes plenty of breaks to avoid overexposure.

Ultimately, wearing goggles not only helps us see better underwater but also protects the eyes from external elements that could be found in different bodies of water.

So remember the next time you go for a swim be it in a pool, sea, or lake, grab your goggles!

Happy (Crisp & Clear) Swimming!

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