Nothing can spoil a great day on the water faster than a severe case of seasickness. While a common problem for many, this uncomfortable condition occurs when a boat’s rocking motion disrupts the inner ear’s vestibular system. Motion sickness has troubled mariners for centuries. In fact, the word yacht is roughly translated from the Dutch verb jacht, “to throw up violently.”


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Even seasoned salts take measures to avoid seasickness. Photo: Steve Dougherty

If you’ve ever been seasick, or close to someone who has, you know all too well that this condition is no laughing matter. While not a life-threatening situation, severe dehydration can lead to serious medical conditions. The inner ear features numerous fluid-filled canals that send signals to the brain via the bodies chemical receptors. A constant rocking motion results in mismatched signals, which is exactly what leads to queasiness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Instinctively, your brain knows that some objects are supposed to be still, however, your eyes tell a different story. Fortunately there are numerous common sense strategies, homeopathic preparations, over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications that can combat this unpleasant sensation. It’s important to remember that seasickness is easier to prevent than cure, so a few proactive measures will help you out in the long run.

Instinctively, your brain knows that some objects are supposed to be still, however, your eyes tell a different story.

Before your departure it’s important to eat a light meal. Heavy, greasy breakfast foods like bacon and eggs, alone or combined with orange juice or coffee can wreak havoc on your stomach. Instead, consider fruits and breads as breakfast alternatives. Milk, water, apple juice, cranberry juice and other low acid beverages are gentler substitutes for orange juice or grapefruit juice. Caffeinated beverages, including soft drinks, should also be avoided as they only accelerate dehydration.

Poppin’ Pills
While everyone’s body reacts differently, some of the most popular and effective over-the-counter motion sickness remedies include Dramamine, Bonine and Trip Tone. These are actually antihistamines, which weren’t originally used to prevent seasickness, however it was discovered that allergy-prone ocean travelers experienced fewer motion sickness symptoms. While the aforementioned products contain dimenhydrinate, which can cause drowsiness, there are newer formulas that use meclizine HCL, which has fewer side effects.

If over-the-counter drugs haven’t helped you in the past, the most commonly prescribed medication for motion sickness is the anticholinergic compound scopolamine, commonly referred to as The Patch. This medication resembles a tiny band-aid and is worn behind the ear. Essentially, scopolamine blocks key signals at cholinergic nerve terminals, which nullifies the visual/motion-mismatched signals.

Au Natural
For a natural solution there are numerous homeopathic preparations that contain ingredients devoid of side effects. Found in Sailors Secret, Queasy Pops and On The Move capsules, ginger can help settle stomachs by speeding digestion and blocking nausea. Another product, MotionEaze, is composed of lavender, peppermint, birch, frankincense, chamomile, myrrh and ylang-ylang. Acupressure is yet another option, as numerous products are available that work by reducing nerve impulses emanating from the wrist’s median nerve. Queez-Away is one option and prevents nausea by exerting gentle force on the pressure points of each wrist. ReliefBand is based on the same principle, but this product emits an electrical stimulation, which interferes with the nerves that cause motion sickness.

Fear and anxiety are foes when it comes to seasickness. Most of us have had one or two episodes that provoke anxiety and this can precipitate symptoms and physiological changes that contribute to seasickness. It’s importatnt to remember that different remedies work better for different individuals and you may need to try a few to figure out which is right for you. Remember to check with your doctor to make sure that any remedies do not conflict with medication you are currently taking.

It’s Too Late…Now What

When seasickness takes hold, closing your eyes and lying on your back seems to help. This reduces head movement and gives your muscles a chance to relax. Antacids such as Maalox, Tums or Pepto-Bismol can also help once seasickness kicks in. If all the preventions and cures fail and nothing can stop you from gripping the rail and praying for shore as you heave ho, it may be a good idea to stop drinking fluids and eating. However, dry heaving leads to severe dehydration, which in turn escalates seasickness. Sports drinks, water, and caffeine free energy supplements such as Clif Shots and PowerBar GEL can help manage this cycle.

Additional Tips

  • Avoid cramped spaces and engine fumes.
  • Eat stomach-soothing foods.
  • Keep your eyes fixed on the shoreline or horizon.
  • Don’t look through binoculars for an extended period of time.
  • Keep fresh air blowing on your face.
  • Drink water in sips, not gulps.
  • Avoid alcohol.