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Sea Sickness and how to prevent it
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Avoiding Sea Sickness while Boating,
is easier than you might think, especially on a sailboat, rather than a power boat.
Going fishing on a power boat involves long periods of drifting, and you are subjected to roll and pitch, the smell of bait, diesel or gas exhaust fumes, and possibly fuel vapors. None of these unpleasant items is present while sailing with us! Roll is the side to side movement, much more prevalent on a power boat while fishing, pitch is the fore and aft movement. While sailing, you will always be moving, driven by the wind, in unison with the tide and swells, a very natural feeling.
Because a sailboat has a keel, (a weighted fin projected down underwater, not visible while sailing), to oppose the force of the wind, roll is eliminated. And roll, is the biggest cause of motion sickness.
During the summer of 2003, Goddess of the Sea Cruises had 39 sailing reservations of 1 - 3 day sailing adventures. Not one person became sick, or ended their cruise with us early!
At first you feel that you may die, then you worry that you won't.
Nothing can spoil a day on the water like a case of motion sickness. When it happens at sea, we refer to it as mal de mer or sea sickness. Whatever you call it, it feels miserable when it besets us. This page then is dedicated to reducing or eliminating its severity or occurrence, or possibly preventing it altogether, so we you may enjoy your sailing adventure.
What it is:
Motion sickness is a conflict between your senses. A fluid filled canal in your inner ear that controls your sense of balance tells your brain that your body is moving, while your eyes, looking into the cabin of the boat, tells your brain that you are not moving. That conflict can cause your body to be out of balance, and we know how the digestive system feels about that.
Here, we will concentrate on prevention. We will also look at the mind, body, spirit as a whole. A disharmony among them is what causes practically any illness.
If your systems are out of whack, your meals may come back.
Our metabolisms are nearly as unique as our personalities. Some preventatives will work for some people and not others. Others will work, though with varying degrees of effectiveness. You may have to do some trials and experimenting to find what works best for you. Nothing works the same for everybody.
There are two symptoms of seasickness, dizziness and nausea. Since a number of factors contribute to sea sickness and can trigger either or both parts, it makes sense to adhere to the following guidelines to reduce the chances of succumbing to it.
1. Get plenty of rest before you go out on the water. Weariness and exhaustion can make you more susceptible to other things that can bring on motion sickness. Do your gear preparation early the day before and take care of other business well before a proper bed time.
2. Do not eat greasy or acidic foods for several hours before your sailing adventure. This includes having coffee also. You don't want to have a lot of acid or heavy, slow to digest foods rolling around in your stomach while you are rolling around on the sea. Heavy, greasy foods like bacon and eggs, sausage, waffles or pancakes with syrup, alone or combined with acidic juices like orange juice, can wreak havoc on your system and end up recycled as lunch for fishes. Consider less acidic fruits (apples, bananas, pears, grapes, melons, etc.), breads (muffins, croissants, rolls), cereals and grains as alternatives. Milk, water, apple juice, cranberry juice and other low acid beverages are gentler alternatives to orange juice or grapefruit juice.Caffeinated beverages (including soft drinks) should be avoided as they are diuretics (make you urinate) which accelerates dehydration. The gas in carbonated beverages has negative responses in some, avoid them also.
3. Do not skip eating before sailing. An empty stomach can be almost as bad as one with the wrong types of food in it. Give your stomach acids something to work on other than your well-being. Give your stomach time to begin digesting you meal. Get up a little earlier if you must to eat relax and an hour or more before going out on the water. Don't overeat and get bloated either. Easy does it.
4. Drink plenty of water. Even partial dehydration lowers your body's resistance to the stressful factors caused by the boat ride. Take lots of water with you and drink often.
5. Do not drink alcoholic beverages for several hours. Alcohol tends to dehydrate the body. Its other symptoms are not desirable either. Alcohol can prevent the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, the one in which you dream and your brain rests. You may feel tired and not alert from just a few drinks, two qualities not conducive to safe boating. If you do plan on drinking, make every third drink a glass of water. It will reduce dehydration and your chances for a hangover.
6. Avoid gasoline or diesel fumes. They can put you over the edge literally and figuratively. Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Avoid becoming overheated and dehydrated.
7. Again, if possible, avoid the cabin and other enclosed spaces. Sometimes, a breezy spot in the sun may be preferable to a shady spot in a stuffy cabin. The open air and ability to look out over the horizon are often more important than being in a shady spot, which can be stuffy and enclosed, limiting your view of the horizon and perhaps making you more prone to motion sickness.
There will be less motion towards the center of the boat, both horizontally and vertically, and it will increase with the height of the waves. Avoid the upper decks as the higher you go, the more you will experience swaying back and forth. Horizontally, you want to be amidships, towards the center, rather that at the bow or stern. The more sensitive to motion sickness you are, the closer you need to be towards the center, which is the calmest part of the boat.
8. If you are beginning to feel a bit queasy, stand up and look out over the horizon. Despite what you might think, sitting or laying down is the worst thing you can do at this point. Don't do it. This is a critical moment. You will get much worse even faster and may reach a point of no return if you make the wrong choice. Soda crackers seem to help some people by calming their stomachs and reducing nausea.
Steering the boat is an instant remedy.
9. When the boat is rolling with the waves rather than moving under its own power and you are standing on deck, possibly getting hot, your resistance to motion sickness diminishes rapidly. Reduce that exposure time to an absolute minimum.
11. Have some water and fruit before. It can help by rehydrating you.
12. If someone in your party is overcome by sea sickness, get away from them at once! Unfortunately, many of us can do fine until someone else loses it. Then we have a sympathetic reaction and succumb as well. It could be the sound, the smell, the sight, or a combination of them that triggers the same response in us. You don't have to be close to your buddy at this time. There is nothing you can do to help.
If you feel nauseous and about to succumb, please avoid the entry and exit areas of the boat. Hang your head over the gunwales.
Medications and Natural Preventatives
Ginger is a natural preventative. It soothes a queasy stomach and has no side effects. You can get it in pill form, tablets or powder, as ginger root in many herb and health food stores, or as pickled ginger slices at Japanese food marts and even at many Japanese restaurants. Most serve it pickled with sushi, hand rolls, and other of their dishes. It puts out the fire that too much wasabe can start.
Some doctors recommend that you can take it 12-24 hours before, as preventing sea sickness is easier than curing it. Somewhere from 1 gram up to 4 grams per day of powdered ginger is recommended. Some studies seem to indicate that ginger is more effective in the reduction of vomiting and sweating than nausea and vertigo, although they reduce those symptoms as well. You can try gingersnap cookies and ginger ale, although their lower ginger content may not be as effective. They do work for many sailors though.
Eating peppermint in conjunction with ginger is reported by as being even more effective. Since mint does have some of the same calming qualities as ginger, this may be true. Perhaps it is just the belief that it works that is effective. Regardless, it is an inexpensive and pleasant addition. An added benefit is making your breath sweeter.
Another treatment is an accupressure wrist band. It applies pressure to a particular point on your wrist which can prevent the feeling of nausea.
Here's an interesting treatment that was found. It is a treatment that works on some after they are feeling queasy, rather than as a preventative. Immerse your feet in ice water. Anecdotal reports indicate it helps some people.
There are other preventatives, such as over the counter and prescription medications. Most should be taken in advance and not on an empty stomach. Be sure to read the instructions. Dramamine is one that has been used for years. Meclizine and bonine are also effective. You can find them at most pharmacies and drug stores. Scopolamine was used for awhile in the Transderm patches, but was taken off the market because of quality control problems, though it is now available again (as of fourth quarter 1997). Be sure to read this warning about sea sickness medications. It might give you more reasons to try other methods of prevention than medication.
Scopolamine is a prescription drug in the family of chemicals known as belladonna alkaloids (belladonna from the Italian for beautiful lady. Renaissance women took belladonna to get dilated pupils, an effect of scopolamine). Scopolamine should not be used by people with glaucoma. Its side effects can include dry mouth (the most common side effect,) dilated pupils with blurred vision, drowsiness, disorientation, confusion, memory disturbances, dizziness, restlessness, hallucinations, and difficulty urinating. When you stop using the patches you can also get disorientation, confusion, memory disturbances, dizziness, and restlessness.
Scopolamine's side effects are not predictable. You could have used it without problems many times before and still develop an untoward reaction. Some of the side effects are similar to the effects of nitrogen narcosis, and even if you're having a mild reaction to the scopolamine (and maybe not even know it) the reaction could be more pronounced at depth.
There is no one I know of who can't get seasick if the conditions are right, but there are some things that can be done to reduce the possibility.
1. Don't drink liquor excessively the night before departing. The slight morning after feeling can be many times compounded on a boat.
2. Be careful to avoid greasy foods. The first sign of seasickness is indigestion and it often never gets past that point.
3. Drink Coke or Pepsi. These two drinks help reduce the chances of getting sick because they contain phosphoric acid, which is an ingredient in Emetrol, a drug to control vomiting. That's the medical explanation I received from a doctor when I asked why a Coke seems to settle the stomach. Eat Saltine crackers. They absorb the excess acidity very well. If the indigestion is really bad, take an antacid.
4. Stay up on deck where the air is fresh and you can see the horizon. The worst thing is to focus on a near object that is moving around in relation to the background like making an intricate repair below decks in the forepeak of the boat. When you stay on deck you can see the horizon and it greatly helps maintain your equilibrium and orientation. Also, since the smell of diesel fuel can aggravate seasickness, fresh air helps.
5. If you have a choice of berths, don't choose one in the forward cabin if sailing at night. At anchor, the forward stateroom is fine! There is less pitching motion in the center of the boat and the quietest berth from the point of view of movement is often the quarter-berth, if there is one.
6. Sleep on your back. This seems to support the stomach better from bouncing around, though, not being a doctor, I couldn't tell you why.
7. Keep busy on deck. Some say seasickness is completely psychological. I know of people who have gone asleep feeling well, only to wake up seasick, so I doubt that it's all psychological. However, if you sit around worrying that you might get seasick, it's apt to happen. Seeing and smelling others seasick doesn't seem to have an effect on me, but it may cause others to feel sick. If you're very busy on deck steering, or trimming and changing sails, you are less apt to feel bad, but once you do feel sick, activity tends to make it worse. You'll feel much better if you tickle your throat over the side and get rid of it. Obviously, this has to be done on the leeward side of the boat and it's best to have someone hold onto your belt in back, because you don't have much control while vomiting.
8. Have your ears cleaned before a long race or cruise. This has helped many people reduce their proneness to seasickness by allowing the balance mechanism in the ears to work better. I've never had it done myself, but I've heard it helps.
9. Be in good physical condition. It reduces your chances of becoming seasick and also reduces its debilitating effects on you if you do.
10. Steer. This even helps the crew members that have already started to feel queasy. Steering necessitates looking at the horizon (#4) and keeping busy (#7), and provides anticipation of what the next movement of the boat will be.
When you encounter very rough weather early in a distance race or long cruise, particularly early in the season or before you have had a chance to get much sailing in, your chances are higher you'll get sick. If you have a couple of days to get your "sea legs", (this term applies to maintaining your balance and insofar as balance affects your tendency towards seasickness, it has come to apply to that also), you should have no trouble.
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