Seasick . . .

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Simple steps to reduce seasickness: I'd never really suffered from seasickness until our last trip.  Things to know before you're hit.

I never thought I’d write this post.

Since beginning The Boat Galley, I periodically have gotten questions about dealing with seasickness and while I’ve passed on things that I’d heard from other cruisers, I’d always prefaced it with “I don’t have a lot of personal experience with seasickness.”

Well, that all changed on our recent trip to the US and Spanish Virgin Islands. I was seasick every time we were underway, until I learned avoidance strategies that worked for me.

Frankly, I was surprised.  I’ve felt a little queasy maybe a half dozen times in the past and truly seasick twice, both in unusual circumstances.  I didn’t even think to pack seasickness meds on this trip.  I won’t dissect all the possible causes for my increased problems, but apparently it’s not uncommon for women approaching menopause to have more problems with seasickness due to hormonal changes — sort of like pregnancy’s hormonal changes can trigger morning sickness.

I’m certainly not a seasickness expert, but 10 days of dealing with it (even on the big car ferry to St. John!) taught me a lot.  The funny thing is that I still enjoyed the sailing — but it was a lot better after the third day when I figured out the magic formula to keep me from getting seasick.  (For me, the magic was starting meds 12 hours before we set out, staying outside, letting others consult the charts and guides when underway and taking the wheel for substantial amounts of time.)

This isn’t a comprehensive article on the topic, and I’m not a medical professional.  But here are a few things to think about and a little bit of how I coped:

  • Even if you’ve never experienced seasickness before, it’s possible.  And you need to be prepared.
  • If you’re going on a charter or a friend’s boat, take seasickness meds with you.  Don’t count on others having them for you — I’m lucky that LaDonna had some and was willing to share.  I’m not a medical professional and am not going to recommend any particular meds — talk to your doctor about what is most appropriate for you (some can cause psychiatric problems, some cause extreme sleepiness, and only a few are appropriate for pregnant women, etc.).
  • Keep the meds where you can get at them easily.  If you are starting to feel queasy, you don’t want to have to dig in lockers.
  • If you know you tend to have problems, start taking meds about 12 hours before you plan to get underway so that are in your system.  Taking them immediately before getting underway or after symptoms appear is often ineffective as you puke them up before they have a chance to get into your bloodstream.
  • On longer passages, many people report that seasickness goes away after two days underway.
  • Dehydration can be both a cause and effect of seasickness — being a little dehydrated can lead to seasickness, and puking from seasickness can lead to dehydration.  Even if you’re puking, it’s important to keep drinking plain water or ginger ale — your body will absorb at least some.
  • Seasickness also affects your thinking.  Be aware of this when doing anything!  I didn’t appreciate how stupid seasickness could make me and was shocked at the silly mistakes I made.  It’s a good thing I wasn’t responsible for navigation!  Problems in thinking can just multiply and this is one reason why it’s important to prevent seasickness in the first place.

Home remedies:

  • For most people, getting into a calm anchorage or marina is sufficient to stop the seasickness.  This was definitely true for me — by the time the anchor was down, I felt fine.  And starving!
  • Conventional wisdom is that some people find ginger helps, others prefer mint.  Ginger snaps and ginger ale did nothing for me and mint didn’t sound remotely appealing.  I frankly have never met anyone that’s been helped by either one.
  • Recently, an article in Spinsheet said that many people get relief by using an earplug in their non-dominant ear.  (Read more here.)  We didn’t have any real ear plugs; the makeshift ones I tried didn’t help.  I’d really like to try this in the future.
  • Don’t go inside or below.  Most people find that they do much better when “outside.”  Therefore, having meds and drinks in an easy-to-grab location is critical, as is having food pre-made on longer passages.  Going below to use the head can be a real problem — a pee bottle in the cockpit can help.  On passages, many people will sleep in the cockpit for the first couple of days if conditions permit (always wear a harness and clip in).
  • Don’t read or watch a radar screen if you don’t have to.  Even looking at a little chartlet of the anchorage we were approaching was tough for me.  If there are others on board who aren’t seasick, have them do these chores.
  • Pets can have seasickness, too, although it seems to be rarer.  Paz (our dog) was seasick on her first passage and never again.  Ask your vet for advice and what meds are best if needed.  Be prepared — just as with humans, the fact that they haven’t had a problem in the past doesn’t mean they won’t have one now.
  • The absolute best “cure” for me outside of meds was to take the wheel and I’ve heard many other people report the same thing.  The seasickness went totally away if I was steering.  While this may not work on offshore passages — who can steer for two days straight until the seasickness goes away? — it can be very effective for day passages.

Simple steps to reduce seasickness: I'd never really suffered from seasickness until our last trip.  Things to know before you're hit.

Practical tips in the galley:

  • Never assume that there won’t be any seasickness.  (Yeah, I violated this rule.)  It’s easy to be complacent and not prepared in case it does strike.
  • Before embarking on a trip, fill a cooler with drinks to keep in the cockpit so that everyone can stay hydrated without having to go “inside.”
  • Alcohol usually makes seasickness worse (we never drink adult beverages underway in any case); some people are bothered by caffeine.
  • Many people report that pasta and rice are foods least likely to trigger a fresh bout of seasickness; others say not to eat anything spicy.  As you’re coming out of a boat of seasickness on a longer passage, my feeling is that the best foods to eat are those that sound good to you.
  • On longer passages, Gatorade or rehydration drink is good to have easily available in case anyone is sick enough to become dehydrated (on shorter trips, you’ll usually be in a calm anchorage or marina before anyone is seriously dehydrated).
  • If you’ll be needing meals underway, prepare them in advance.  Cold rice and pasta salads are good since they don’t even have to be heated up.  Energy bars are also easy to grab.  Heat soups in advance and keep them in a Thermos.
  • Don’t try to wash dishes underway unless on a multi-day passage (and then, you might want to wait until the first couple of days — and the seasickness — have passed).
  • If ginger or mint help anyone affected, keep a stock in a convenient place.
  • If you are seasick and taking other meds (birth control, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, antibiotics or anything else), you may be puking up your meds and creating other problems.  I don’t have the answers for you, but be aware of potential problems and discuss this with your doctor.

Lots of well-known cruisers suffer from seasickness — Lin Pardey and Beth Leonard have both done double circumnavigations despite having to deal with seasickness.  Preparation is key!

Know some other tips or tricks that I missed?  I don’t want to get into a discussion of specific meds, but please leave a note about anything else.

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Comments

  1. Michelle rene says:

    Wow so glad you shared your story as I assume I’m not a sufferer either, yet we never know! And I too am approaching the Menopause time of life.
    I did catch on a pod cast of Sheryl & Paul Shard of Distant Shores that they feel Vita-C really works. I believe it’s preferred to be taken before the sickness hits. It seemed the combo of vita-c and hydration was a big suggestion. So something like an EmergenC packet mixed in a bottle of water.
    Hope it’s true! Would be easy and healthy!

    Happy sailing
    Michelle

  2. I tried the earplugs a couple of weeks ago & it worked!

    • I’m glad it worked for you. I purchased three types of ear plugs, tried them all, changed sides…nithing worked. My seasickness isn’t severe…mainly nausea no vomiting, but still debilitating especially when ocean racing. I was hopeful myself.

      After experimenting with multiple types of meds, combinations of meds, alternative methods and comprehensive prep, but the only thing that works for me consistently is good old SCOP patch. I put it on one day prior…and I’m happy as Larry…and just a little tired (which can be overcome).

  3. I struggled to find the right medication to help with my seasickness – one of them even gave me blurred vision! If you are looking for a new medication, I suggest you give it a trial on a day that you don’t need to drive, sail or look after small children.
    Also, some medications come in a wafer form – dissolve on the tongue – and they work even if you have started to be sick.

    • Really good suggestion — hadn’t thought of needing to try meds out ahead of time, but of course there can be side effects that affect one person and not another. The idea of meds in wafer form is also good.

  4. Really good post. I also find that taking over the helm has helped. I’ve heard that watching the horizon can help with the seasickness so perhaps focusing on something else by being in charge added to the view helps.

  5. Darlene Price says:

    My dad, a fisherman, always taught me to look at the horizon (which is why taking the helm worked for you). We also found that eating some peanut butter crackers as we got underway was helpful. Never sail on an empty stomach. That seems to stir up the stomach.

    We do keep seasick med on board but haven’t had the need to use it, thankfully.

    • I think that it was a combination of looking at the horizon (I look at the sails a LOT when I have the helm) AND having something else to concentrate on. And no, never had an empty stomach — dry heaves are even worse!

  6. I have had bad luck with meds, so my best defense has been food. I eat before we leave the dock and snack almost nonstop during the day when we’re underway. Salty carbs seem to be best – soups, mac and cheese, tortilla chips, all of it! I also like to add a splash of cranberry juice to my water or soda water, something about the tartness helps. Great info in this article, as always!

  7. Great post!

  8. I use acupuncture bands on my wrists (actually on board and wearing them now as your article is well timed with an extremely rough bit of weather)….. not sure exactly how much they work, and I suspect the key might be in how much you believe they will work, but they have definitely worked for car sickness for me in the past. They were recommended to me by a pharmacist when I was due to navigate on a night rally – because I’d never taken motion sickness meds and didn’t know how much they would affect me or make me drowsy, she thought the bands might be worth a try. They aren’t expensive and I’d recommend them if you’re open minded (or desperate) enough to give them a go.

    • Trish Draze says:

      I suffer terribly from seasickness, car sickness, airplane sickness….I will try them for sure…I have tried Dramamine and was out for hours which hindered me in any case of emergency. I tried the non-drowsy formula and it works 50/50 with me. So I want all kinds of alternatives…I do acupuncture and i does work amazingly enough, I have never heard of the bands though so I am all over that!! Thanks

  9. Try the earplug trick. One plug in your dominate ear. Haven’t tried it yet but previous postings on this site are all positive.

  10. I would have, but didn’t have any earplugs available. I tried the end of a stethascope — the only thing we had on board that was “similar” — and it didn’t do a thing.

    • Glenda Neild says:

      I suspect it didn’t work because it was open to the air thus not creating a closed atmosphere a normal earplug would do?

  11. I highly recommend taking 1/2 a meclizine/bonine at 36, 24, and 12 hours prior to departure, and continuing the 1/2 pill every 12 hours. This saved my maritime career. Dramamine makes me too sleepy, and 1/2 of a less sleep-inducing meclizine twice per day works really well. When I prepare a large inexperienced crew for a big trip, I set up baggies for each crew and put one in the corner of each bunk. These baggies have gummy vitamins, beef jerky, kerns apricot nectar, bottled water, those neon colored cheese or pb crackers, and “Goo” or squeeze pouches of peanut butter. The jerky is for sucking on, not eating outright.

    The fizz in Emergen-C makes seasick people sicker. If you’re in a hot place and getting sweaty and dehydrated, you need potassium and sodium. I used to work in Search & Rescue in the Grand Canyon, where people die all the time due to dehydration. The NPS trained us that power bars are not the answer, and that those weird orange crackers are the most easily absorbed and best source for replacing needed salts.

    • Trish Draze says:

      GREAT information..THANKS!! I haven’t tried that method and combination but it sounds like its down to a science. I am a hard core barfer and I will try anything to get away from it.

      I can speak about the lack of potassium/sodium bit, we were done with a dive and surfaced on rough seas and instantly it was on me. My hands became claw like and I could not use them. The mexican boat guy gave me a lunch paperbag to breath into (like for hypervenilating) and a banana..it went away and that guy got a great tip!!

      My nurse friend told me it was due to dangerously low on potassium and sodium. It should be noted that I don’t drink the amount of water I should which would be iterated as HIGHLY important and possibly could have prevented that situation.

      The fizz thing makes total sense…I will get my seasick baggies made up!!

  12. Kim – We’d always kept meclizine on our boat and I used it a few times when I thought conditions might get funky. I think there’s a typo in your first line — should that read 36, 24 (not 14) and 12 hours? Thanks for all the info — I’ve been picking up a lot of ideas for the next time I’m out!

  13. Good catch – I changed it to read 24. The only thing I’ve been too scared to try is going OFF the meclizine regimen!! LoL. It is true that seasickness in normal heavy seas will abate in three days, but if there’s a fluctuation in sea states, well, who the hell knows how your body will react. I’ve seen people get really sick in sustained 3′ wind waves abeam, and then myself feel perfectly fine in the rollercoaster ride of spread-apart 14′ following seas. One day I sat on a boat, “sailing” south but looking at the same buoy ashore for three days. I sucked on one apple for that whole time and truly wished I was dead. Now I just play it safe and take my meclizine.

  14. I love Stugeron Forte for seasickness… I take 1/2 of a 75mg pill and have no side effects… you can buy it outside of the US or online at a Canadian pharmacy without a script.

    • Great article Carolyn. While I dont seem to suffer feom seasickness, my husband does. He has found Stugeron works for him better than anything else we have tried. I use 1/2 one when really anxious too. He takes one 1/2hour or so before leaving, lift anchor, we hoist sails, and when he gets drowsy he goes and has a nap.
      Before this we tried all sorts of things with carying results
      Treatment for seasickness? Lots of fluids definitely…dry crackers and tinned fruit work for us. I cant make cooking smells while he is sick so it is high energy and doesnt make smells.

  15. Linda Frylink Anderson what do you use for adults, here in Australia?

  16. Nicole, I use stugeron which fortunately I’ve been able to buy supplies in other countries as Australia doesn’t sell it. It’s also called cinnerazine. If conditions are mild Travacalm works ok. (You can buy that over the counter here)

  17. Re – earplug trick : didn’t work for me. It also made me feel unco-ordinated and I couldn’t hear properly! Not good if I am alone on watch and need to feel alert and responsible.

  18. Kelly Purinton says:

    I don’t have nearly the experience some of the other women here do, but one thing that’s helped me in the past was to sit and look at the horizon and consciously relax. I mean, really consciously trust the water, the wind, the vessel, my self, and the whole experience to keep me safe. While snacking on salty pretzels and drinking electrolytes. It worked within 10 minutes when I was at that bridge between being OK and being in trouble. I don’t think it would do much once I was past that point, lol!

  19. We moved on a boat with our family, and come to find out myself and two of my three children did get seasick about half of the time at first.The best thing to do is prevent it before it starts. Once I was seasick I could feel a little better, but still sick. I only used medication when we were on a large passage. What I found to work best was to regulate our diet for at least 24 hours before we left. Light food only, no sugar, and no fatty foods. While sailing I tried to constantly ate something. If I got hungry at all I would get sick. I also noticed a conection between being seasick and constipation. Once I went to the bathroom I would feel better. Hope this helps someone.

  20. Cindy Balfour says:

    I am glad to read all this. Mostly I get sick at night. Like when I can’t see the horizon…. I am not completely sure how I can incorporate these ideas.
    I was great on board from April through August only day sailing, anchored at night. But then in September we left the PNW and turned from The a Straight of Juan de Fuca around cape Flattery to head south. I puked for 3 days straight. Once we reached San Francisco I called my family dr back home and we decided I should try Zofran. It helped as long as I was under the influence, but if I let it wear off I was sick. We were getting ready to leave Monterey and I was dreading every thought of sailing when I decided to hit the med kit to see what was there. I tried the scopalamine patch ( follow directions carefully) and it got me through to the turn at Cape Mendocino. We have plans to head to Mexico, I don’t know if I will want to use that constantly. I still have slight bouts day or night now, it is like my system is messed up. One thing that has helped stave off the early feelings of seasickness is powdered pedialite in 8 oz of water. I can’t stand the taste so I chug it fast then finish with lots of fresh water. Will try the ear plug idea and have been told to try wrist bands.

  21. I use motionease. Non-med solution. A little dab behind the ears even after the onset of queasiness or seasickness and it really helps to keep it under control.

    • I’m going to get some and try it.

      • Barbara Leonard says:

        Motiionease helped my husband on a recent rough passage back from Havana to Key West. He took it after getting sick and it stopped the nausea. He took it again on our way back to Gulfport from Key West and didn’t get sick at all. It is all essential oils and smells good.

  22. Hi Carolyn,
    I have used the wrist bands that use accupressure. One of the brand names is SSea-Bands. These work well for me. It seems that they either work really well on someone or not at all. If I know it is going to be a rough day, I put them on ahead of time. I really like these because there are no side effects. They are worth trying.

  23. Pamela Harwood says:

    Organic crystallized ginger (http://gingerpeople.com/crystallized-ginger/organic-crystallized-ginger-chunks.html) worked for me through two pregnancies and chemotherapy. Either eat the chunks or pour hot water over them and drink the “tea”, then eat the chunks. The behind-the-ear patch of scopolamine (by Rx only) worked on an evening passage in the Galapagos. I keep a packet of foam earplugs and a bottle of motionease handy, too.

  24. Sturgeron, hands down the best med.

  25. Been going to sea 50 yrs & never got seasick, but now I might, or might not. I think getting older & taking medications have something to do with it. Today I take dramamine the day before going out. The veterinary told me to give my cat 1/2 25 mg ANTIHISTIMINE. Works.

  26. Eat snacks while traveling works for me

  27. Dramamine and Bonine put me to sleep. Scopolamine gives me headaches and dilates my eyes. Sturgeon gives me headaches. Finally, a friend introduced me to Kwell’s, an over the counter inexpensive tablet available in all British countries. I can take them even after I start feeling queasy, just chew them and swallow. They do not taste bad and are almost immediately effective. They do give me a bit of dry mouth but no other adverse effects. We have English friends bring them when they make a visit home.

  28. Best thing is take that tablet at least 8 hours prior!
    I always go down below and sleep! Best cure for me for the whole if my life, and look out any one that tries to make me stay above decks. 🙂 Sleep and sleep then eat dry crackers and sleep some more! Lol everyone has there own remedies , article is great just adding some other ideas.

  29. Great info – thanks

  30. Ginger works the best for me even when I start to feel queasy

  31. Snacking while underway, specifically plain saltine crackers and ginger ale. It’s important to keep your stomach a little busy so the acids don’t slosh around.
    I’m going to try the ear plug trick as soon as we set out though.

  32. I keep a thermos of ginger tea in the cockpit that we sip on while underway. So far I’ve been blessed not to get seasick but Paul does for the first 3 days of a passage. I serve him soup, yoghurt and other easy to digest foods such as mashed potatoes with gravy until he gets his sea legs. He’s tried every medication and technique for curing seasickness but finds Stugeron best for him. Haven’t tried Kwells. The Scapolomine patches made him hallucinate. Anyone thinking of using these patches should try them onshore first since the side effects some people experience such as blurred vision, mood swings and hallucinations are dangerous at sea. Not everyone experiences this of course. The patches work well for many. It seems you have to experiment with a few remedies and find out what works for you. Thanks for a great article Carolyn .

  33. I keep a baby sippy cup in my first aid kit on the boat. If someone gets very seasick and needs to lie down I fill the sippy cup with water, ginger ale or rehydration drink and they can sip on it easily without having to sit up.

  34. One of the keys, and it was touched on indirectly, is having a clear view of the horizon. That’s why steering is so effective. Even if you aren’t steering, sit somewhere you can just stare out.
    Stugeron is available outside of Canada and the U.S. and works well for us. We also keep a cooler of drinks and snacks in the cockpit so nobody must go below. Canadian milk bag pitchers are very effective pee pots for both sexes (yes, you get milk in bags in Canada).

  35. I like to keep my tummy occupied by eating at regular intervals. I also discovered that seasickness is okay as a “background melody” and only becomes a problem if it becomes the foreground. Fear exacerbates it big time.

  36. Fresh Ginger cut up and drink about 12hours before and during.Limit cabin time

  37. Susie Burall says:

    Definitely keep your head up at all times. Especially when using the heads. If you have to go below, sit in the middle of the boat – saloon – and keep your head up. Look at the horizon and steer for as long as you can. We carry airline sick bags which can be sealed up, with string or whatever and disposed of at a later date.

  38. I have suffered from sea sickness forever. It didn’t keep me from canoeing, kayaking, sailing and now we have a Ranger Tug 25. I wear SeaBands all the time. I mean from the time we leave home until we return home. If we swim off the boat I keep them on. They worked fine for years but when we got the Tugboat and I knew I would be sleeping on the boat I knew I needed to be ready with something more. So I have Scapolomine patches for weekend trips. And I found a new product called Releif Bands. http://www.reliefband.com/ So far this new band has worked and I have great hopes for the future so I can wear it and sleep on the boat during extended cruising. My secret is the horizon, too.

  39. But because of your positive attitude we still had a great time!

  40. I use Bonine..Dramamine makes me very drowsy. I also take powdered ginger capsuls. The cookies and ale doesnt have enough. The best cure is manning the helm. I’ve been called a Helm Hog on more than one occasion! Worth it to have a happy tummy!

  41. When are you heading to the Bahamas?

  42. It sounds like I’ve been relatively fortunate – without medication I might feel crummy but I’ve managed to eat and do dishes anyway, if carefully and in small doses. Driving helps a lot. Just watching the horizon helps some.

  43. I was never seasick until a morning in rolling waves when it took my husband an hour to reef the mainsail without our engine (don’t ask).

    I knew it was only a matter of time until I suffered. Nearly everyone will get sick in the right (or wrong) conditions. So I wasn’t too disheartened.

    I even found it rather empowering to realize I could steer a straight course, screaming along close to the wind while vomiting over the side. 🙂

  44. The accupressure bands do work for many folks, and the science behind accupressure/puncture is sound, it’s not just a “if you believe it” thing. However they work best if worn BEFORE you feel sick! Many wait till they already feel sick, and for most, that’s too late.
    Also there is a homeopathic remedy for nausea that works well for about half of people – again, have to take it an hour or so ahead for best results.

  45. I’ve come close a couple of times
    Taking the wheel or helm helps
    Burying your head with eyes closed and physical pressure on them as you lie down helps
    .
    Drinking water in mouthful sips every 2-3 mins ingests small enough amount that your body cannot expelled it, but keeps you hydrated
    .
    Citrus and tart helps
    .
    Wrist pressure bracelets help

  46. I had never had problems with seaskickness until I was working on a tugboat as a deckhand. The skipper was bound and determined to make a certain port despite the storm. There was alcohol ashore and he wanted it more than taking care of his crew or tow. The stress of that and the stormy weather had me feeding the fishes. Once we got in behind an island and the knucklehead decided maybe it wasn’t worth risking life and limb just for a drink, my stomach settled down. The crew had a good time mocking me for getting sick. That was my last trip on that boat.

  47. Thank you! I never used to get seasick, but I did the last time and it was awful to say the least.

  48. Stephanie Jones Stebbins says:

    Ginger does work for me, but it needs to be really strong. I was extremely seasick and took ginger pills (Brand name is something like “Sailors secret”. They worked wonderfully. Ginger ale or snaps does not help me. I had no side effects.

  49. sometimes I get seasick and sometimes I don’t. It always catches me by surprise. It really is an awful feeling, and it seems like different things help different people get over it. A lot of people say they need to lay down or whatever, but for me walking around if possible keeps me more focused on other things and keeps me from feeling so ill. also, dramamine. If there’s any chance of rough seas I take dramamine.

  50. Such an excellent and comprehensive post! Thanks. Will be following your good advice this summer for sure.

  51. I totally agree with your seasickness solutions. I found out I was prone to seasickness when we bought a sport fisher and started fishing in the Gulf Stream. I always started meds the night before and spent most of my time at the wheel up on the flying bridge….It’s how I acquired enough hours to get my skipper’s license.

  52. Sturgeron changed my sailing life. Not available in the US but available OTC in the Bahamas and other Commonwealth countries.

  53. Crackers…lots of crackers to nibble on at the earliest sign of sickness can really take the edge off. Also, listening to music or audiobook in headphones helps, too.

  54. Here’s something else to try: I don’t get seasick (so far!) but friends of mine use essential oils: pepperemint and/or ginger. Put a few drops in your hands or on a tissue, and inhale deeply. You can also apply them topically to feet (bottom), temples and wrists.

    The nice thing about oils is you dont need a perscription, they store easily, don’t expire, and are easy to use. The important thing is the quality of the essential oils.

  55. Just a tip for during sea sickness. A quart or gallon zip-lock plastic bag, usually an item you might already have on-hand, is easier to use than a bucket. You can easily take it to bed with you if things get really bad. The bag can be held around your mouth and cleanup is not so disgusting. The other day when I was visiting a hospital, I noticed along with masks and hand sanitizers, they made available similar bags with a round neck that twist closed after use. They were opaque, so that might be good too.

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