Over the Rail

SinC Seasickness Caldwell

Jun 1, 2022

Thankfully I’ve never been seasick. Just tired. lol. Geoff on the other hand was VERY sick for 3 days. I finally got him up and that was his first time on the helm. He was reborn after that mercifully.

by Penny Caldwell

Seasickness is the elephant on the boat that everyone is thinking about but trying to ignore. Dictionary.com defines seasickness as: “nausea and dizziness, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, resulting from the rocking or swaying motion of a vessel in which one is traveling at sea.” What does this mean for your sailing adventures? If you are someone who is not affected by the motion of the boat, wonderful. However, if you are, this could really put a damper on your sailing plans.

Ideally, you learn your triggers for seasickness and get to know how to avoid them. However, this is not always possible, so I have pulled together some prevention methods to hopefully help lessen your woes.

Pre-Departure Prevention

There are several things you can do to set yourself up for a fun trip prior to leaving the dock. Depending on how much time you’ll be spending on the boat, you can use some of these ideas to help set yourself up for success.

Cut out stimulants like alcohol and coffee (gasp) – Yes, I know. Cutting out coffee is a no-fly zone for some of you, but if you end up in a situation where you are unable to have your sacred cup of coffee due to miserable weather, how will this affect your abilities on the boat? Are you going to get a raging headache and turn into the Hulk? If that is the case, perhaps you can cut down on your consumption a bit prior to your departure.

Get a good rest – This one is probably self-explanatory, but getting a good rest prior to your departure will really give you a leg up. I know it can be hard with the excitement and nerves, but try to lay low for a day or two before you board the boat.  

Organize your gear – Making sure your gear is well-packed and easily accessible. This will ensure that you spend minimal time down below searching for that tuque or extra pair of gloves. I like to use coloured packing cubes to keep things organized. I know yellow is socks, green is shirts, etc. If you are spending time down below searching for gear in your bag instead of up top breathing in the fresh air, you could start feeling blah pretty quickly. 

Test medications prior to trip – If you are thinking of potentially using any medication during your trip, be sure to test it out well before you leave the dock. The last thing you want to do while out on the boat is take a new-to-you medication and realize you have an allergy or nasty side effects when using it. Test it out on land in the comfort of your home with someone who can help you if there are issues.

How do you know seasickness is coming on? 

Aside from the projectile vomit flying across the cockpit, there are several signs that you, or your crew, may be headed down the green road. Symptoms of seasickness include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of balance
  • increase saliva production
  • loss of appetite
  • pale skin
  • sweating
  • tired
  • headaches
  • shallow breathing

One of the most common things I see on the boat is if someone is starting to feel ill, they will get embarrassed and go down below to “use the head”. This is the worst thing a person can do when they feel seasick. If you notice a crewmate looking pale, distracted and drinking lots of water, get them on the helm and provide them with a task to focus on. Ideally, they are looking at the horizon or focusing on a fixed stationary object. Do not let them go below unattended.

What is happening to your body?

Your inner ears, in particular, help control your sense of balance. They are part of a network called the vestibular system. This system includes three pairs of semicircular canals and two sacs, called the saccule and the utricle. They send information about what’s going on around you to the brain. The semicircular canals hold a fluid that moves with the turns of your head. The saccule and utricle are sensitive to gravity. They tell the brain whether you’re standing up or lying down.

Your brain takes the data coming from your vestibular system and it normally comes together and makes sense. But sometimes your brain gets confusing signals. On a boat, for example, your body is moving, but when below, your eyes tell your brain that you don’t appear to be going anywhere! 


SinC Seasickness 400Prevention – During Trip

There are several things you can do during the trip that will help you avoid seasickness. Some of these include:

  • Don’t talk about it. I find when people start talking about seasickness, they start to feel seasick.
  • Start trip in daylight. Getting everyone acclimatized to the boat prior to a night shift is ideal.
  • Fresh air. Have meals and snacks prepared so you can be up on deck as much as possible.
  • Watch the horizon, take the helm or focus on a job on deck.

There are also several natural remedies that you can use to help keep seasickness at bay while on the boat. These include having ginger root or mint, wearing acupressure bands (such as Sea-Bands), or taking over the counter medications such as Gravol. Discuss with your doctor if you would like to use medications, and as noted above, try them out on land first to make sure you do not experience any side effects.

Unfortunately, seasickness is often a part of boating life. However, there are ways to prevent and manage it. Many a skipper have disregarded the severity of having a seasick crew only to have to turn the boat around and end their voyage prematurely. Hopefully using this information your boat is not one of them! Happy boating.

SinC Penny 400Penny Caldwell is the host of Your Pocket Sailing Instructor podcast and also runs a sailing school in the BC Interior called Sail Nelson. She has been a coach with Sail Canada since 1995 and enjoys sharing her boating knowledge with others.









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