On Getting Sea Sick


Sailing_Seasick_remedyAs “crossing season” is fully upon us, I’ve been getting a few questions about sea sickness. Honestly, one of the first questions people ask me when they find out about our sailing adventure is, “Did you get sea sick?” Yet, they always look surprised when I immediately answer, “Yes.”

The truth is that sea sickness was always a big concern of mine starting way back before this sailing journey was even an idea. I’ve always been prone to motion sickness, getting sick during road trips and on the tea cups ride at Disney. It was never a matter of if i was going to get sick – that was inevitable – but more of a matter how I was going to manage it. 

My line of the defense during road trips of the past had always been to throw back a few Dramamines and call it a day. Only problem with this plan is that Dramamine knocks me out. Like, out for 6 hours and still wake up drowsy. Clearly this wasn’t going to cut it. I needed a new solution.

My research consisted mostly of talking to other cruisers over sundowners, but these men and women had miles and miles of cruising under their belts! And, hey, who am I to argue with fully researching a topic as important as trying not to throw up every time we pull anchor?

I can honestly say that I have tried pretty much everything. Below is an account of what worked and didn’t work for me. Battling seasickness is personal and what may work from one sea sick sailor does not mean it will work for another. Most remedies are best when used as preventative tactics as opposed to once sickness has already settled in

1 Staying hydrated and full: This is the first “trick” I learned. When our friend Tonia from the Beautiful Nation Project taught me how to sail, her pep talk simply involved making sure I drank enough water and ate enough food. Things start to break down when you are not properly nourished. This tactic alone worked perfectly for our first sail, not so great other times. But, this is a good general life tactic, so I try to abide by it.

2 Drinking an Emergen-C: I’m not sure where I read this nugget of a suggestion, but I immediately bought a Costco-sized supply of Emergen-C. I had enough Vitamin-C onboard for the off chance I would never again encounter an orange. I’m not really sure it helped at all but given my supply levels I drank this stuff as often as possible. Super Orange Emergen-C and rum anyone? I kid (although, now I’m curious)

3 Ginger Gum: Ginger has long been an all natural remedy for motion sickness. When you start to feel a little off, pop a piece and get chewing. This worked for mild cases, but wasn’t really a good solution for more extreme cases or long term sails.seasick_sailing_bahamas

The Patch: I loaded up on these guys while I still had insurance as you need a prescription to get ahold of them. The idea is that you stick on a tiny patch behind your ear, leave it there for 3 days and don’t throw up. The simplicity seemed to have been lost on me because during my first trial of the patch I spent approximately 26 of our 30 hour crossing with my head over the side of our boat. (see the beauty shot above? Not my best look.) So, who wants my left over patches?

5 Stugeron: Like all good stories, this one started over cocktails. I was speaking with a seasoned British sailor who had spent much time aboard her sailboat in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Apparently there was this miracle pill called Stugeron that wasn’t available in the states. The minute I got to an island that had a drug store (which I believe was the 6th island we visited), I picked up a supply of this stuff. This stuff is awesome. The second you can find it, buy it. Even if you don’t get sea sick. Your guests will thank you. The first picture in this post is of me happily cruising along from Nassau to the Berries thanks to Sturgeron.

6 Motioneaze: This is an all natural herbal remedy that you dot on behind your ears. Once it soaks in (about 10 minutes) you are good to go. Our friend Lisa on SV Windfall told me about this. She keeps it on board for all her charters and it is always a crowd pleaser. I also read this works for pets! This product worked well for me, but was generally used as a supplement for Stugeron.

7 Wearing an earplug in your non-dominant ear: I’m right handed. The idea is that I would put an earplug in my left ear to even out the imbalance of my inner ear. This was supposed to make me feel less likely to vomit. This has proven very successful for some cruisers, but it didn’t really do much for me. You also have the side effect that I only had one ear available for hearing Jason. Or, is that a benefit? (I joke!)

So all you unfortunate seasick cruisers, what have you found to work for you? How do you keep the cruising dream alive and vomit free?

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  1. Great post! I get terrible sea sickness…I haven’t tried the ear plug yet so I’ll give that a go next. Regarding the patch, it worked for a while for me but it removed at least a couple layers of skin where the patch was positioned. The area became very sensitive and took a while to heal… My latest cure has been to make macromae bracelets – it keeps my mind off the turbulence! Thank you for sharing your experiences 🙂

  2. I can add a couple more possibilities. The bands that apply pressure to the acupressure points of the inner wrist work very well for some folks – particularly once they learn where those points actually are! Putting them in the wrong spot won’t work, and on some sailors (my wife) that spot is much smaller than the directions suggest. It takes a little practice.
    And also the homeopathic remedy for motion sickness also works well for some – including my wife and co-captain and me! Both seem more likely to work if applied/taken before getting underway.
    Glad to hear you’re out there anyway, making the best of it. Carry on!
    -Keith, s/v Honfleur

  3. From what I understand, the cause of sea sickness (alias motion sickness) is caused by confusing signals sent to the brain from the inner ear and the eyes. Your inner ear senses motion – your eyes, especially if you are below deck or reading charts, or gauges or a book. Did you ever notice that the driver of a car never gets car sick? The helmsman never gets seasick either – if he is an active helmsman and not relying on an autohelm. My advice is if you tend to get seasick, before it even starts to rock and roll, get up into the cockpit and keep your eye out on the horizon.

    • Larry – I definitely do that! When we are underway Jason better hope we have snacks already made. I can barely stay below deck long enough to grab a windbreaker, I’m always in the cockpit looking out.

  4. My mom gets seasick at the dock and had good luck with the pressure point wristbands, but we’re not sure how much of that had to do with the power of suggestion and how much of it was real. Maybe a little bit of both.

  5. Here are some things that I came across, not trying to be egghead or anything;

    Source: http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f90/sea-sickness-and-stugeron-18110.html

    “Well, it’s illegal in the US and the FDA has no plans to allow it. Apparently it is a serious drug that affects multiple systems in the body and if you are going that far, using scopalamine (by patch, or the Scopace brand pills) is about equally effective versus dangerous.”

    “While it is not registered in Canada or the USA, it is approved in the UK and Bermuda. The pharmacy I bought mine from while in Bermuda ( Robertson’s in St George (tel:441-297-1736, fax 441-297-8140)) told me that they would mail Stugeron to Canada ( and to the USA I assume), when I called them after my sailing trip.”

  6. I vote yes to Stugeron! I have only ever been seasick once, but have certainly felt queezy many times, so I always take one if I am going on a passage as we can’t afford to have one of us out of action. Other seasickness medications make me really drowsy but not Stugeron. They don’t sell it in New Zealand either but I bought it online from Chemist Direct in the UK and they sent it over.
    I also find eating constantly also helps. Have lots of snack foods in the cockpit and the first days meals already made so you don’t need to be fussing around down below.
    Great post!:)

  7. What always helped me was fresh air and watching the horizon. Also, stay away from coffee! (although, I’m not sure which is worse, coffee depravation or sea sickness)

  8. I’m fairly prone to motion sickness.

    We went out for a day of deep sea fishing when on a vacation in St. Lucia. I was vomiting over the side of the boat for the majority of the trip.

    Ever since then I’ve tried to be proactive and take medication prior to any activity that might cause motion sickness. In fact, our sailing instructor said that he takes Bonine every morning that he’s going to be out on the water, no matter what the sea state. Being proactive has worked pretty well so far.

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about Bonine, but I usually take whatever is available. Dramamine is what is most usually available and I try to take the Less Drowsy Dramamine. I just looked up the active ingredients for Bonine and Less Drowsy Formula of Dramamine. They share the same active ingredient – Meclizine HCL 25mg.

    So, before we went to the BVI for our sailing classes I went to the drug store and stocked up on motion sickness medicine. I actually purchased the drug store’s version of the motion sickness medicine and I made sure that the active ingredient was Meclizine HCL.

  9. I also must make sure I stay really hydrated, and eat every 2 hours minimum. Bonine works great IF I take it the night before we sail: Any sleepiness helps me sleep, I don’t wake up drowsy AND the drug is already in my system, so I don’t get sick. Took me a while to hit on this system, but since I did, I found that I have not been sick at all. I only need to do it the first day or so of our passages. If I need a second dose, I take it when I go off watch, and by the time I am up again, any drowsiness has abated. I can not take “non-drowsy” meds, as they make my heart race and I cannot sleep at all….

  10. Thought I’d add that scopolamine patch can lead to REALLY serious side effects. I had absolutely awful withdrawal lasting months with sporadic recurrences for over 2 years. It really messed with my mental well being which was frightening.