Nobody wants to get seasick. But if you’re anything like 85-95% of the population, you will find yourself at least somewhat sensitive towards motion sickness at least once in your lifetime. This is because the unusual movements we feel while boating can cause conflicting signals in the inner ear, eyes, and sensory receptors, and that confuses the brain. The brain sees this as a dangerous situation and releases stress hormones which then cause the nausea and dizziness symptoms which we associate with motion sickness. So how do we overcome motion sickness? How can you not get seasick when it is the body’s natural response to an unusual stimulus?
The first time I got seasick
It was a windy overcast day and a group of classmates and I went on a whale-watching cruise out of Boston. We were the first group to set sail. The one scheduled before us was cancelled due to bad weather. The captain gave the all-clear and we set out for the open ocean. The further out we went, the bigger the waves got, and it wasn’t long before I started to feel sick. My stomach was doing summersaults and I could hardly keep my balance as I stumbled from the inner viewing gallery to the outer edge of the boat to get some air. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t keep my breakfast down. By this time, other passengers were feeling the effects of the waves and began joining me at the side of the boat. Space was at a premium. Even the captain became seasick.
At that point, time got away from me. All I remember was feeling like it was took us forever to return to the dock. Looking back, I can’t remember if we saw any whales that day, the only thing that stuck with me was the awful feeling of seasickness that I experienced not only on the boat but for roughly 24 hours after returning to shore.
The following time I got seasick
Fast-forward about 15 years to my honeymoon at Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It was a beautiful clear morning and my husband and I signed up for the glass-bottom boat cruise. After saying “hello” to our fellow passengers and putting on our lifejackets, our guide lifted the anchor. Off we went. We hadn’t been gone for more than 5 minutes when I began feeling seasick. Looking through the glass floor of the boat only made the feeling worse, so I moved up to the front of the boat where I would be out of everyone’s way. The guide noticed my distress and tossed me a towel, and just in time too. I spent the rest of the cruise hanging over the edge of the boat as the other passengers looked on in horror.
So, what could I have done differently in these two cases to not get seasick? Let’s take a look.
Sit in the appropriate spot
In both instances, I choose to sit in the wrong part of the boat. While being out in the fresh air was a good thing, it would have been advisable to position myself at the center of the boat where the rocking is less severe. It’s also recommended to sit facing the direction of travel.
Look toward the horizon
Another mistake I made was shifting my gaze from place to place instead of focusing on the horizon. This would have helped to maintain my equilibrium by providing a visual confirmation of motion. I could have also closed my eyes, which would have removed the optical stimuli, therefore reducing the number of conflicting signals in the brain.
Knowing I am predisposed to becoming seasick, there are some preventative measures I can take if I know I will be going out in a boat. These include:
Chewing gum is a simple way of reducing motion sickness. It works in two ways; the peppermint flavour of most gums helps to ease the nauseous feeling associated with motion sickness, and the action of chewing forces the production of saliva, which makes us swallow. This forces your Eustachian tubes to equalize which helps reduce the confusion between the inner ear and the brain.
Motion sickness wristbands and bracelets
All motion sickness wristbands and bracelets use acupressure to stimulate the P6 point on the inner wrist. Sold in packs of two, they must be worn together, with one on each wrist. A great thing about acupressure bands is that they are non-medicated and free from drugs, which means they can be used alongside other motion sickness medication.
High doses of vitamin C
Some data shows that vitamin C is effective in curbing seasickness symptoms. Expert sailors recommend taking a 2-3 gram dose of Vitamin C twenty-four hours before departure, and drinking Emer’gen-C or a similar beverage if seasickness symptoms occur.
Ginger has been used for centuries as an alternative medication for the prevention and reduction of motion sickness symptoms. Available in both fresh and capsule form, ginger works fast and can be taken even after the onset of symptoms.
Inhaling scents like peppermint, ginger root or cardamon will not cure motion sickness, but it will provide some relief from the nausea. Buy yourself a personal aromatherapy inhaler to take with you on the boat for almost instant relief of an upset stomach. Exercise caution when using essential oils. Research their safety and decide if they are right for you.
Certain medications can be used to prevent or reduce the symptoms of motion sickness. These include:
Scopolamine (transdermal patches, Transderm-Scop)
Scopolamine is the medication most frequently prescribed to people who get seasick. Sold as a patch you place behind the ear, this medication must be put in place 6-8 hours before departure. Scopolamine is very effective but comes at the risk of side effects including drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, anxiety, hallucinations and psychosis.
Promethazine (Phenadoz, Phenergan, Promethegan)
Promethazine is useful in the prevention and treatment of nausea related to motion sickness. The drug lasts about 6-8 hours and should be taken 2 hours before departure. Side effects sometimes include drowsiness, dizziness and dry mouth.
Cyclizine is used to treat and prevent nausea, vomiting and dizziness associated with motion sickness or vertigo. It is most effective when administered at least 30 minutes before departure. The side effects of cyclizine are similar to those of scopolamine. This drug is not recommended for children under the age of 6.
Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine, Gravol)
Dimenhydrinate is an over the counter medication used to combat the symptoms of motion sickness. The first dose should be taken between 30 minutes to 1 hour before departure, and then every 4 to 6 hours as needed. Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision and dry mouth.
Diphenhydramine is mainly used to treat allergy symptoms, but it is also effective in reducing the symptoms associated with seasickness. The medication should be taken 30 minutes before departure, and repeated every 6 hours as needed. The side effects of diphenhydramine are similar to those of dimenhydrinate.
Meclizine (Antivert, Antrizine, Bonine, Meni-D)
Meclizine is one of the most popular drugs used to prevent motion sickness. It should be taken about an hour before departure and is not recommended for children. Common side effects include drowsiness, headache, vomiting and dry mouth.
For those who live in countries other than the USA and Canada, cinnarizine is another over the counter medication used to prevent motion sickness. It should be taken 2 hours before departure and every 8 hours as needed. Reputedly quite effective, cinnarizine causes less drowsiness than other medications in it’s category.
Use caution when taking any medication. Ask your physician or pharmacist what option is best for you.
Ways to prevent yourself from becoming seasick before departure include:
- Avoiding foods such as tuna, salami, hard cheeses, tomatoes, as well as beverages such as coffee, black tea, colas and alcohol beginning a few days before departure.
- Increasing your fluid intake to a total of 2-3 litres per day.
- Eating a light meal high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Avoid spicy and greasy foods.
- Getting lots of rest and stay in a relaxed state of mind
Ways to prevent yourself from becoming seasick after departure include:
- Maintaining a steady fluid intake (experts recommend one litre every 2-3 hours)
- Eating small snacks on a regular basis. Items like bananas, crackers, cookies, hard candies, crystallized ginger and canned fruit make great choices. Spicy and greasy foods should be avoided.
- Avoiding strong odors like diesel fumes and smoke.
- Not reading while in motion.
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