Seasickness

There is a common saying about the stages of seasickness. The first is when you are afraid that you are going to die, the second stage is when you are afraid that you won’t…

I absolutely HATE being sick and will do everything I possibly can to avoid it. So what causes sea sickness and how can you prevent it happening to you?

They say the best cure is to sit under a tree…

Hmm that isn’t terribly helpful when you are out in the middle of the ocean.

Firstly remember that no one is immune. Even the most hardened and experienced fishermen can experience sea sickness from time to time. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and thankfully there are plenty of things you can try to stop it happening.

Essentially it is caused by a confusion between the inner ear – which controls your balance, and your eyes. So for example when you are down below on a boat, your eyes are seeing things as being steady, but then your inner ear is wondering why you are still moving around. Your body doesn’t like this, so it decides there is something wrong and starts protesting.

Flying along!

Firstly you might get a headache, and feel sweaty, dizzy and queazy. If you start to feel any of those symptoms, then it is time to take action!

If you don’t, then you are likely to get very nauseous, start being sick, you might find it hard to function at all, you might even start hallucinating. This is when things become dangerous.

So what can you do to prevent being sick? (Apart from staying on land that is…)

If you are heading away on a passage outside of any protected waters, you should try and get a good night’s sleep. Avoid alcohol, and any foods that are likely to upset your stomach. If you are particularly prone to getting sick, then you should take your first seasickness medication 12 hours before you head out, although I usually just take it when I am heading out of the harbour. Drink lots of water as they can make you quite dehydrated.

There are a number of different medications on the market, and different things work for different people. Some of them can tend to make you a bit sleepy, and some can only be obtained in certain countries.

My absolute favourite so far is called Stugeron. You can’t buy it in New Zealand so I get it from an online pharmacy. I buy about three packs at a time and get them posted to me.

Sealegs is commonly available in New Zealand and works well, but it makes me so tired that I am just about unable to function, which of course is not ideal if there are only two of you on the boat.

Some people swear by the Paihia Bomb which is a special concoction made by a Pharmacy in New Zealand. Here are their contact details.

Scopolamine patches are popular with some people but I have never tried them. It sticks on behind your ear and lasts for about 3 days. However they don’t agree with some people. My friend Jared reported having crazy hallucinations while wearing one, and don’t rub your eyes if you have it on your fingers, it makes your pupils dilate!

With all medications, you must read the instructions carefully to make sure that they will not react with anything else you are taking. Be aware of the side effects and any issues with prolonged usage.

As you go along, if you are feeling ok, you can increase the amount of time recommended between doses, or cut the dose down. I sometimes just take a half a tablet, even when the packet recommends two. Sometimes I think its a mind over matter thing – “I’ve taken a tablet so I am not going to get sick”

If you don’t want to take the drugs, then you can also try wrist bands. These are tight bands with a stud on the inside that presses on a pressure point. I believe there are also little electric versions of this as well that give you a shock every so often.

Being outside and keeping an eye on the horizon or steering also helps, and apparently standing up and swaying along with the movement of the boat can help your body adjust quicker as well.

Some people swear by putting an earplug in one ear, and I have just heard of someone putting vaseline in their belly button and then covering it over with a bandaid. Don’t ask me how or why but apparently it worked.

You can also take ginger tablets to settle the stomach.

They also reckon that after a couple of days, your body will adjust to the motion and you should come right. Others might need to take the medication for the whole trip.

Anyway there are lots of different options, keep trying different things until you find the one that works best for you, and then stock up! Keep the medication in a handy place, the last thing you are going to want to do if you are feeling queazy is to be rifling around in cupboards.

If you are going on someone elses boat – take your own medication. Don’t presume that they are going to have something that will work for you.

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I personally have only ever been seasick once, but I have seen lots of people have their day out on the water ruined because they didn’t take anything. I remember being on a dive trip once in Australia with about 20 other people. My ex-husband and I were the only ones to take a pill and we were literally the only people (other than the crew) who weren’t sick. Don’t risk it! Especially when you have paid money to go on a trip and end up having a miserable experience.

Once you have taken your pill, you can still do plenty of things to stop yourself from feeling ill:

  • Avoid being inside – your brain gets the confused messages and that can set you off. If you do have to go below – lay down as quickly as you can. Stay fully clothed if it is too difficult to get changed.
  • Stay on deck – breath fresh air, avoid exhaust fumes, steer the boat and keep an eye on the horizon, think about something else!
  • Keep hydrated, but not so much that you have to keep going to the loo. Trying to sit on a toilet when it is rough and you aren’t feeling good is not much fun. Consider getting a Shewee!
  • Keep eating – lots of snacks. I like salty crunchy things like pretzels, nuts, crackers etc. Some people swear by ginger nut biscuits. Keep a stash of snacks to nibble on in the cockpit. It gives your stomach something else to think about. Pre-make sandwiches or a dinner that can simply be re-heated if you are going on a longer trip so no one has to stand around in the galley chopping things up.

If for some reason you end up having to launch your life raft – be aware that the kit inside includes seasickness medication. Take it as soon as you get in to the life raft. The last thing you want to do is be sick when you are trying to preserve water and energy for when you are rescued.

If you do end up with someone who is sick on board, it is usually too late to give them a pill as they will only throw it back up again. Here is how you can help:

  • Keep a very close eye on them. Some people get so bad that they will consider throwing themselves over the side!
  • Give them a bucket or position them on the leeward side of the boat – you don’t want them setting anyone else off!
  • Try to get them to sip small amounts of water. You don’t want them to end up dehydrated.
  • If you can – get them laying down below, with a bucket and a flannel near by.
  • If you have a patch, stick that on and see if it helps. For people with severe seasickness you can also get suppositories – but I don’t think anyone would be super keen on helping a friend out with that!
  • Get them sitting under a tree sometime soon if you can!

Remember that if you are part of a crew sailing somewhere, having one person down with seasickness puts pressure on the rest of the team, particularly if there are only a few of you. Be aware & prepared, and then everyone will have a good time.

If you have any miracle cures, or seasickness stories, please share in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Seasickness

  1. Apparently the pharmacy in Kaikora has a miracle sea sickness tablet specially formulated by the pharmacies there. You can get them at the whale watch shop too. I’ll let you know how they work after I’ve tried them out next week on the Great Barrier Reef!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Sailing at Night | Astrolabe Sailing

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