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Preventing Seasickness

April 3, 2019

There are few worse ways to ruin a day on the water than being seasick. Getting sea sick, as I can personally attest, is one of the worst temporary feelings you can have on a boat. I normally don’t get seasick but a few years ago while on a dive boat in the Turk Caicos’ the swells kicked in at an angle and speed that made me so miserable that it did not take long before I was leaning overboard and “feeding the fish”. I was surprised at myself being an experienced boater and still losing it!

 To help understand about seasickness I spoke Dr. Frank Sandor who along with his wife are avid cruisers.  He is personally familiar with seasickness because his wife is prone to it, yet their favorite vacation is cruising. Dr Sandor said that many people are prone to “motion sickness” in any form of transportation.   Motion sickness (seasickness) seems to be due to abnormal flow of fluid in the semicircular canals of the inner ear.  It is caused when the movement you sense in your inner ear is much different from the movement you see. A way to understand it is that your inner ear is like an internal gyroscope and keeps you steady and about. If the gyroscope (the inner ear) has a problem with what your eyes see, the queasiness kicks in. The bottom line is that when the problem arises a person cannot get their inner ear to acclimate to the swaying of a boat.   The mildest form of seasickness can be the desire to take a nap when underway as our son used to do when he was very young.  Continuing symptoms are uneasiness, sweating and dizziness which lead to nausea and vomiting.
The good news for most sufferers is that common medicines can relieve your feeling of green while floating on the blue.  As with any medicine mentioned below, I recommend you talk to your doctor before taking anything.  The most common preventive motion sickness brand is called Dramamine which is made from Dimenhydrinate.  They also have a “less drowsy” version made up of Meclizine. Other popular brands for this are called Bonine and Sea Legs.  These pills can take an hour to get into your system so time your ride as this is an important part of taking the above meds.  The next most popular option outside of the pills listed above is called Scopolamine or the patch as it is known. This needs to be prescribed by a doctor. I have used the patch on board a small expedition ship in Antarctica when we knew the waves may top out at 30 feet for part of the cruise.  I never got sick and my side effects were being thirsty and sometimes feeling my eyes or skin a little dry.  David Cuttler, a good friend of mine who takes two to three cruises a year says he is the poster boy for seasickness and for Scopolamine.  He said “I get so seasick that I would stick a patch on before taking a bath if I was not embarrassed. Taking it a day in advance and changing them out as directed has me enjoy the cruise with no worries”.   Another preventative popular device people use is the pressure wrist bands.  You can buy these on Amazon for several dollars.  They work by applying pressure to a point on the wrist, near where you wear a watch. Many people find the pressure helps them avoid nausea, one of the symptoms of motion sickness. Other remedies include ginger root pills, sliced ginger or ginger gum.  A new product I have not tried is a watch like device called Relief Band. It works by sending electrical signals into your body through by your wrist.  Looking at reviews on Amazon, it seems to have a four out of five star rating.
Seasickness can be eased by following a few simple steps the day and night before you go aboard.  This can include eating lighter and not drinking heavily the night before.  In the morning keep to non-greasy lighter foods.  Finally, take the pills discussed above an hour before boarding.
When going aboard take a box of crackers or pretzels as these may absorb acid building up in your stomach.  On board stay center and look at the horizon. Looking out and getting a breeze on your face can do wonders. Seeing the motion can help your inner ear communicate better as to what is going on making you feel better.
Staying in a cabin is generally not a good idea at.  Last year I met the manager of a cruise ship and we talked about cabins and heavy seas.  He joked that the staff has a saying “you pay to sway” That means the higher the cabin level, the more you are going roll and pitch.  On board the two expedition ships we cruised on, we stayed on the lower levels near the center of the boat.  These lower priced cabins have less movement. My friends were four decks up in high seas, they were nearly rolling out of their bed and placed almost everything on the floor that were on the table and desk to avoid them crashing off.  On the larger cruise ships get the lowest cabin with a balcony. This way you will get a better ride and you have fresh air with the doors are open.  While on board don’t over eat and go light on the alcohol if you decide to drink.
Seasickness for some does pass. It is where the term “getting your sea legs” comes from.  An old time merchant mariner told me that when he joined up he had kitchen duty.  He felt so horrible on his first voyage that he would prepare his part of the meals in the walk in refrigerator because being very cold took his mind off being sick.  It took two port calls and 20 days on board before he had it beat.  Another boat captain I knew got queasy in swells at the beginning of his first season but got his sea legs within a couple of months.  Interestingly enough, getting your sea legs can have an opposite effect on land in which one feels a swaying in bed for a short while when you are home after being at sea for a while.
 As a captain taking friends and family out you may run across a time when someone on board gets seasick.  When this happens, slow down a bit and plot a course that will give you the smoothest ride.  Next, we will get the person Dramamine that I keep on board knowing it can take an hour to work.   If we have to, we will try to head into the next quiet bay and anchor hoping the person settles down. If this does not work we will head back.  Many times I find the seasick victim feeds the fish and then falls asleep in the shade or in the air conditioning inside for the rest of the afternoon.  There is not much more one can do for this unfortunate soul until they are back on land.
Seasickness should not be a worry to anyone if they understand how it works and take the proper precautions.
 
Tab Hauser is a U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Captain and has been writing about cruising for over ten years. He currently charters out of Glen Cove. You can find some of his cruising stories by web searching “Long Island Boating World Tab Hauser” or go to www.tabhauser.com. Email questions to tab@tabhauser.com

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