Motion Sickness

Whenever the British naval hero Admiral Nelson encountered a seasick sailor, he suggested his own foolproof remedy: “You’ll feel better if you sit under a tree.”  Not bloody likely to find one on the bay though.

The first step in dealing with any ailment is understanding what is wrong so that you can rationally deal with the problem.

Understanding the problem:

Seasickness happens when the body, inner ear, and eyes all send different signals to the brain, resulting in confusion and queasiness. It is a problem generally attributed to disturbance in the balance system of the inner ear. Your sensory perception gets out of synch as these nerve fibers attempt to compensate for the unfamiliar motion of the ship moving through water.

The visual stimulus contradicts the inner-ear as the eyes report things like cabin walls and furniture in such a way that the brain’s sense of stability is confused. The brain is being told by the eyes that the world is stable, while the inner-ear is screaming that it’s not.

Some foods should be avoided: anything greasy, rich, or pungent.  A rule of thumb is: things which make your stomach feel uneasy on land will make it feel much worse on a rolling and pitching boat. Doctors strongly recommend that alcohol not be consumed by anyone who is prone to seasickness, as it affects the function of the inner-ear.

Some Helpful Tips:

Some things to remember – fresh air is good and you want to stay low, centered, and to the stern of the boat. That is where you will encounter the least motion. The bow of the boat pounds through the waves, up and down; the stern slips through the water parted by the bow. The ride is much smoother. The boat rocks from side to side, but the center of the boat rocks the least. The higher you are the more movement you encounter. So, you want to be low, to the stern, and close to the centerline, but in the open air.

Look at the horizon and try to get your balance. Take some deep breaths. Rock your shoulders back and forth. Realize that your body is probably tight and stiff. Try and roll with the boat instead of sub-consciously stiffening up and fighting the motion. It’s called getting your sea legs.  Try to take your mind off how bad you feel and focus on something else. Remember, the first step to controlling seasickness is to realize what is wrong with you and deal with that, not concentrate on how sick you are.

If you begin to feel sick:

1. Focus your eyes on the horizon
2. Try to stay in fresh air
3. Apply cold packs or ice to the eyes & neck
4. Avoid spicy or greasy food and acidic juices and sodas.
5. Avoid strong odors
6. Take slow, deep breaths
7. Don’t read or look at instruments
8. Eat frequent small quantities of soda crackers

Preventing Sea Sickness:

There are several good medications on the market. One highly effective choice is the scopolamine patch by Transderm Scop. It is a prescription medication but usually easy to obtain with a simple call to your doctor. Dry mouth is a usual side effect, but that is true with most all seasickness medications.

Some common over-the-counter drugs are Dramamine, Dramamine II, Marezine, and Bonine, which are essentially antihistamines available at most pharmacies. Antihistamines will make most people drowsy. Dramamine II and Bonine are “non-drowsy” formulas but they still have some effect. Bonine seems to be one of the most popular.

To be effective you should take the first pill 8 hours before you board the boat. If possible sleep on it; that way, it’s in your system and working when you wake up.  Take more before you board the boat.

There is some evidence to suggest that ginger has a beneficial effect on motion sickness.  It appears to affect the gastrointestinal tract rather than the central nervous system. The usual recommended dosage is about a gram. Some ginger drinks may work well to settle your stomach: Smooth Sailing (Smooth Sailing Beverage Co. 851 Coho Way Bellingham WA 98225-2066 360-671-0604) or Reed’s Ginger Brew – 17 grams per bottle (Reed’s Inc. 13000 South Spring St. Los Angeles, CA 90061 800-997-3337). Combining ginger and antihistamines can work well.

Solutions to mild seasickness include eating saltine crackers and drinking cola or ginger ale.

Better be safe, than Sorry:

If you’re not sure how you will react to the motion of the ship, then taking one of the medications described above is a great idea.  It’s better to play it safe, if you can’t find a tree.