Sea Sickness Is No Joke- How to Avoid It!

Those lucky few who have never experienced it, say that’s it’s all in your head. It’s not. Certainly, if it happens often enough, some people will get nauseated by just stepping aboard, as conditioned response. However, seasickness happens more commonly than most people care to admit, and can turn a fun day into one of the worst experiences of your life. It has been said: At first you feel that you may die; then you worry that you won’t.

Having been there myself, more times than I could count, I am very sympathetic to anyone who is afflicted. Prevention works best.

First, keep updated on the weather and swell condition prior to your trip, and plan accordingly. Your direction of travel, in relation to the swells, makes a difference, as does the type and speed of the boat. A rolling beam sea is usually worst. When in doubt, medicate!

Discuss susceptibility with guests ahead of time. If they are susceptible, they should take medications a full two hours ahead of reaching open water. As a minimum, keep over-the-counter remedies aboard, such as Bonine or Meclizine, wrist bands, Saltine Crackers, Gatorade or similar drinks with electrolytes. Place the remedies where they are readily and discreetly available to yourself or your guests. Seasickness is embarrassing. No one wants to admit they are getting queasy, often until it is too late. (Then, everyone usually shares their worst motion-sickness stories, making the afflicted person feel even worse.)

The only drug I’ve found to work, once you’re feeling bad, is Phenergan, also known as Promethazine. It is by prescription, but it often works so well, that if you can keep one down, it will probably cure you. It is available as an IM injection, if you have someone qualified to administer it. Once it starts to work, you’ll need a nap, and probably be wiped out for the rest of the day, but it’s better than being miserable.

Check out the internet. The newest products include ginger-based “Queasy Pops”, gum, lozenges, and an oral spray called Vita-Motion. Different products work better for different people. The Transderm-Scop patches work well for some, and last 3 days, but must be taken hours in advance. There is a new pill called “Scopace” that has the same active ingredient, but can just be taken for the day.

A few more tips:

Don’t go out with a hangover. It will be many times worse, combined with seasickness.

Don’t go to sea on an empty stomach, but avoid rich or greasy foods.

Avoid going below. Use the head before reaching open water. Make sandwiches in advance. Keep them in a cooler in the cockpit or flybridge.
Plot your course ahead of time; minimize time at the nav station, or staring at the chart plotter.

Advise everyone to avoid alcohol until reaching port, except on the calmest days. Drinking one beer may suddenly feel like you’ve had six. Avoid drinking alcohol if you are still under the effects of any medication; as it causes extreme drowsiness.

If someone starts to feel ill, immediately move them to wherever the motion is the least noticeable. Consider a course change to make the ride more comfortable. If possible, find a place to stand up, holding oneself relatively stationary, while hanging onto a railing or rigging, letting the boat move about you as it rides the waves. Watch the horizon! Administer whatever remedies you have aboard. Sometime a second pill will help. This is the time when I’ve found the Phenergan very effective. If you can use a landmark as opposed to the compass, sometimes steering the boat brings immediate relief.

Sometimes people feel better after one bout of vomiting. Then, it’s better just to get it over with. Position the sick person near the rail, aft and downwind, where the least motion is. Don’t have sick passengers in the head; they will feel even worse, and the head may become unusable for others. Often they will be cold; try to make them as comfortable as possible. Be sympathetic, don’t tease them. Try whatever remedies you have. Saltine crackers may help. Again, consider a course change, heading back, or diverting for the nearest port, if things get bad. If the sick person vomits up the medication, try again.

On a multi-day trip, I find it works best to medicate myself the first day, as a precaution. I take one Phenergan. If it’s rough, at the slightest hint of nausea, I take another. On the second day, I halve the dose. After that, the motion actually seems pleasant…and no medication is required.

Be aware, seasickness medications generally make you drowsy, and may cloud or impair judgement! The skipper must weigh these risks compared to incapacitation by seasickness.

This makes the alternative use of natural remedies attractive, if you can find one that works for you. A good source for natural remedies, with little or no side effects, can be found at: http://www.nomoremotionsickness.com/.

Another good website, which lists the prescription drugs available, can be found at: http://www.marinemedical.com/articles/seasick. You’ll need a doctor’s approval for prescription remedies, so discuss it with him or her.

The key is finding what remedies work best for you, and avoiding the situations which cause it in the first place. Good luck!

-Bob Sherman