Sea Sickness

The day has finally arrived. You step on your boat and cast off the dock in the calm waters of the harbor, the faint breeze ruffling your hair. Fifteen minutes later you are out of the channel and on the open sea, and you should be enjoying the wind, the sky, and the sense of freedom. Instead you feel like you want to curl up into a ball on the cabin sole until you reach land again.   

Seasickness is nothing to be ashamed of. Even people who have been sailing for years can fall prey to bouts of it during particularly bad weather, and thankfully we are long past the days where green hands (a term for new sailors) would be shoved out to sea and expected to adjust eventually to the waves.  

Like carsickness or any other type of motion sickness, seasickness is caused by your world being thrown out of balance — your brain is not able to process the movement that is so different than what your body usually does. If you are sitting in the cabin, your eyes tell you that you are not moving, but the motion of the boat tells your brain you are moving, and this confusion creates the unpleasant sensations known as seasickness.

How to Prepare for Seasickness Before Departure

Before you head out on the water, take Dramamine or a different motion sickness drug — those that come in patch form can also be quite effective. Be aware, however, that many of these drugs can cause powerful sleepiness. If you are susceptible to these types of effects, look for non-drowsy versions of the drug. Another medical treatment is available in the form of bands that you can wear around your wrist which press against a pressure point and which many people find helpful. Because it does not involve taking anything, you can use it in conjunction with other seasickness remedies without having to worry about side effects.

In addition, research conducted by the U.S. Navy has shown that not getting enough sleep can amplify the effects of seasickness. Your sleeping quarters aboard may not permit you a good night’s sleep, or you may just be going for a day trip. In either case, make sure you get some rest before you head out, particularly if you do not have your sea legs yet. Unfortunately, some people are just prone to seasickness due to inner ear imbalance, so read on for more tips to shake that queasy feeling.

Tips for Seasickness While on the Water

Say you forgot to take medication and you start feeling queasy, you forgot your wristband at home, or for some reason you cannot take motion sickness meds. If this happens, do not worry too much! As long as the seas are not too rough, there are several methods of avoiding or repelling seasickness that can help you overcome it.

Some of the things you can do are as follows:

  • Drink seltzer water, just like when you are feeling ill at home.
  • Avoid sugary, greasy, and acidic food and drink, as they can make nausea worse
  • Eat salty foods like crackers or saltines, which can ease nausea.
  • Eat or drink ginger – it has a well-known ability to calm upset stomachs. Ginger ale often does not have enough ginger in it, but candied ginger, ginger tea, or ginger beer can all do the trick.
  • Stay on deck! If you are on a boat that has a cabin, do not go down below, as it will make the seasickness much worse almost instantly.
  • Do not drink too much alcohol the night before, as a hangover will only compound your misery.
  • Look at the horizon line. This is a constant stillness in the motion that is going on around you.
  • Do not read or use a screen — focusing on text or something not in your surroundings can make you feel sicker, even if you only do it for a few minutes.
  • If you are able, take the helm. Having control of the boat and having to focus on the horizon can distract you from the sickness.

If the weather is severe or the swells are rolling you around too much for any of the methods listed above to work, then it may be a good idea to head back to port if possible. Seasickness can make what should be a fun excursion miserable, so if you are not enjoying your time on the water at all it is best to head in and either wait for a time when the weather is better or make sure to take medication or use another remedy the next time.

With this in mind, it is a good idea to keep medications and other remedies for motion sickness aboard, just in case. Many people will become acclimated to the motions of the sea after spending enough time on it, so in the long run your seasickness may go away or only reappear occasionally. But if you have new crewmembers out with you, you want to be prepared for what might happen.

Despite all of this advice, seasickness sometimes gets to be just too much and you will have to vomit. Remember one thing: always do so over the leeward side of the boat (the leeward being the side opposite the side the wind is coming). The last thing anybody wants is to have vomit blown in his or her face, so this is an absolutely crucial thing to keep in mind. 

Seasickness can be part of the maritime experience, especially for people who are new to the sea. There are ways to avoid or overcome it, but it may happen anyway — or you may be one of those lucky people who never experience it. Either way, knowing how to work around seasickness is important for any mariner, as you will come across it one way or another and being well informed can help you or others to feel better.