Fast Facts: Sea Sickness

One of the least pleasant aspects of going to sea is the possibility of getting seasick. A person’s susceptibility to seasickness varies. If you’ve ever had motion sickness when traveling by car, plane, or rollercoaster, you may be more susceptible to seasickness aboard a boat.

Seasickness results from a conflict in the inner ear, where the human balance mechanism resides, interrupted by a vessel’s erratic motion on the water. Inside the cabin of a rocking boat, for example, the inner ear detects changes in both up-and-down and side-to-side acceleration as one’s body bobs along with the ship. But, since the cabin moves with the passenger, one’s eyes register a relatively stable scene. Agitated by this perceptual incongruity, the brain responds with a cascade of stress-related hormones that can ultimately lead to nausea, vomiting, and vertigo.

Additionally, pungent odors from things like diesel fumes and fish can heighten an affected person’s symptoms. Seasickness usually occurs in the first 12 to 24 hours after “setting sail” and dissipates once the body acclimates to the ship’s motion. It’s rare for anyone to get or stay ill beyond the first few days at sea unless the vessel encounters rough waves.

If you get seasick, take comfort knowing that recovery is only a matter of time and the survival rate is 100 percent. There is a cure! Sensible eating, good hydration, and patience are usually required to get past seasickness.

Here are a few tips to help ease the symptoms of seasickness:

  • Maintain your fluid intake. Seasickness and related medications cause dehydration and headaches. Drink water and low-acidity juices like apple, carrot, or clear soup, and avoid milk and coffee.
  • Keep moving. Most people find that being busy keeps their minds off their discomfort.
  • Stay on deck, even if it’s raining, because the fresh air is often enough to speed recovery. The closed-in quarters below the deck magnify the vessel’s motion and worsens symptoms.
  • Carry a plastic bag. This simple approach allows for peace of mind by eliminating some of the panics of getting seasick. If you have to vomit over the side of the boat, check the direction of the wind and waves. Staying leeward (the side of the ship sheltered from the wind) will ensure an unpleasant experience doesn’t worsen.
  • Consider an over-the-counter medication to prevent or minimize motion sickness. A dose is usually recommended about an hour before setting sail, as needed at sea. However, these medications tend to dehydrate, so drink plenty of water.

And lastly, don’t be embarrassed about getting seasick. Many people do—including seasoned travelers, professional anglers, sailors, and marine scientists.


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