Tips for avoiding seasickness

What is seasickness? Misery and discomfort, often including vomiting associated with the motion of a ship or boat. Motion sickness is the same condition caused by other vehicles such as cars, planes, fairground rides or even elevators. It’s not a sickness as in a disease but rather a normal reaction in an otherwise healthy person.

What causes se sickness? A mismatch of motion signal inputs in the brain. The brain gets confused. The brain gets signals from the inner ear, or vestibular apparatus, about the body’s motion which doesn’t match with what the other senses are telling it about the body’s position and movement.

Prevention and reduction of seasickness symptoms

Avoid sea sicknessPeople often ask us whether they will get sea sick on a boat here in Thailand. That really depends on an individual’s susceptibility. Some lucky people never suffer, others feel sick in the bath. Most people are somewhere in between. Most people with normal inner ear balance will suffer from some form of motion sickness at some point in their lives, even professional mariners. Spend enough time on a boat and you’ll eventually get acclimated but if you just go out to sea occasionally you’ll need a plan to make sure your day isn’t a disaster. Mal De Mer, as the French call it, can really ruin your day, especially if you can’t get off the boat to find relief. Non sufferers can be pretty unsympathetic too.

In general bigger boats are better than small ones when it comes to getting sea sick, most people will be fine on a cruise liner with stabilizers. Direction of sailing may have an effect. Sailing with the swell coming from the side is often worse than running with the waves. The best ways to avoid getting sick  (besides staying on shore) are:

1. Go out on a calm day

2. Take sea sickness medication before boarding the boat

You can’t always predict the weather so if you are in any doubt, take the medication. Some medication, like Dramamine, contains antihistamines which will make you drowsy but there is very effective medication available with no tiredness side effects such as Stugeron. Ask a pharmacist for advice, there are lots of options. Scopolamine patches can be prescribed by a doctor for serious sea sickness sufferers but they are too strong for prolonged use. Other useful meds could be sleeping pills, you won’t feel sick if you are asleep. Or decongestants, if your tubes are blocked your inner ear balance will be affected which will cause sea sickness.

Medication must be taken early, it’s usually too late once you feel the start of symptoms (Stugeron may still word if taken when you start to feel queasy).

If you are not keen on pharmaceuticals there are other natural remedies available to you. The best is ginger, many sailors swear by ginger tea and ginger biscuits. There are lots of other wives tales and herbal remedies that you can try, maybe just believing it’ll work is enough.

Once on the boat the main advice to prevent the onset of sea sickness or at least minimize the effects is to stay on deck and look out to sea. Going inside a cabin where it’s often hotter and smellier can be a bad move. If you have to go below try to stay by a window or porthole. Look at the horizon (but don’t fix on it) so that your brain can adjust to the sea’s motion with the horizon as a reference. Staying near the centre of the boat will reduce the effects of the boat’s roll. Many people find that laying down helps and closing your eyes takes away one of the senses reducing the brain’s confusing inputs. Lay on your back to prevent your belly being pushed up.

Avoid strong smells like near the engine exhaust or the galley or a passenger with strong perfume. Stay away from others being sick, that’s sure to set you off. Seek out fresh air.

Try to avoid greasy food but eat lightly and drink some water. Some people like to chew gum or suck a boiled sweet. Drinking ginger tea is good advise but others find the a carbonated beverage settles the stomach. Coca cola contains phosphoric acid and sugar which is the same as in some anti nausea drugs. Alcohol is probably not a good idea, if it makes dizzy on land imagine how you’ll feel on a boat. Also a hangover or tiredness from a night on the tiles will increase the symptoms.

Try not to focus on anything small and stationary like reading a book or typing on a laptop computer. Looking through binoculars can also set off sea sickness.

Having something to do can help, may be the skipper can let you take the helm for a while?

If you are going to be sick do it on the leeward side downwind) or at the back of the boat. Don’t puke in the toilet or the trash can, the toilet could be blocked and the smell from the bin will set everyone else off. Don’t try and hold it in, you are only delaying the inevitable and once it’s out you’ll feel a lot better.

One of the best cures for sea sickness is to jump in the water, most people find that symptoms disappear as soon as the jump off the boat. So even though you may just want to curl up in a ball and die if you can force yourself to enter the water you will feel a hundred times better.


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