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Seasickness

Seasickness is caused by the inner ear mechanism that tells you which way up you are being in conflict with what your eyes are telling you. This is why looking at the horizon usually works, as it allows your brain to work out what's going on from a fixed visual reference. This is one reason why anyone who feels a bout of mal-de-mer coming on should quickly get himself or herself into the cockpit. If you have to stay below, then stay horizontal, in your bunk with your eyes closed so there is no conflicting visual input. The good news is that most people recover on a voyage because the brain learns to ignore the unwanted signal the same way that it learns to ignore things like traffic noise that are always there.

Take seasickness seriously, it can lead to dehydration and hypothermia and makes people careless of their own safety, so making them much more likely to fall over-board. If it affects the entire crew the boat is very much in danger. If you have never been sick yourself, try to appreciate what the crew is going through - you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy.

Symptoms may creep up gradually, often signified by yawning and quietness. If it does set in with a vengeance, then be careful about making the individual stay on deck. They can become lethargic and unaware of what's going on, inviting a crack on the head from the boom, or even hypothermia if it's cold. If they do go below make sure they lie down - and (obviously) try to make sure they have a large, convenient receptacle handy. There's nothing more likely to bring on a recurrence than an odiferous reminder of a previous bout.

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Seasickness Remedies, Hints and Tips

1. Drugs.

Common drugs are:

Hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells). Dose 0.3mg. Onset of effect - within one hour. Duration of action - up to 6 hours. Also available, by prescription only, as a skin patch (Scopoderm TTS) to wear behind the ear with a duration of action up to 72 hours.

Meclozine Hydrochloride (Sea Legs). 12.5mg Promethazine Hydrochloride take an elixir of 25mg at bedtime on the night before travelling followed by a repeat dose in the morning, if necessary.

Stugeron (cinnarizine) is another drug that some people swear by - although it doesn't work for everyone. Beware of Stugeron tablets available abroad as they may give a much larger dose (up to 75mg) than that provided by UK 'over the counter' tablets, which are 15mg and should have "S/15" stamped on them if you need to check.

All the above are antihistamines, and may cause drowsiness. Do read the instructions if using any drugs - they won't work unless taken in the prescribed quantities at the prescribed times. Some may need to be taken well in advance, so don't wait until you are on board before reading the instructions. If pregnant or suffering from any chronic medical condition (other than seasickness! then you should consult your GP before taking any medicines.

Note that Dramamine has now been withdrawn from the UK.

2. Food.

Avoid fatty foods for a good 12 hours before, and during sailing. Painfully enough, that means laying off bacon sandwiches. Make sure that there is a steady supply of non-fatty food handy in the cockpit to stop hunger setting in. Yoghurts, apples, Nutrigrain bars, bread are all good. Best of all is hot food. If setting off for a voyage of 12 hours or more or doing a long night watch, prepare a big thermos flask of hot soup beforehand and preferably also a separate one with tea. Cooking down below in a small boat with a lively motion is not a good idea if you are beginning to feel queasy - forget the heroics and let someone else do it.

3. Water.

Drink a small amount of water regularly, don't allow yourself to get dehydrated. Don't drink large amounts or the weight in your stomach may make you feel strange.

4. Diesel.

Diesel fumes are a very bad thing. Try to keep the bilges sweet at all times - being down below in a diesely boat is horrible if you feel unwell. Sufferers should likewise avoid exhaust fumes.

5. Rest.

If you set off for a longish trip when you are tired, your brain will become befuddled quickly and you will become sick. Later on you'll get tired anyway, but don't start off like that during the getting your sealegs phase at the beginning. If sailing through the night, make sure that everyone is in his or her bunk except whoever is on watch. A common mistake if doing say a 24-hour passage is for everyone to sit in the cockpit during the day. It is a good idea to keep the watch system going day and night to maximise resting time.

6. Clothing.

Don't let yourself get wet and cold. Make sure that a big supply of warm clothing can be reached from the cockpit.

7. Traditional/Folk Remedies.

Why not try the traditional remedy of ginger, like Nelson? The Chinese have used it for thousands of years. Ginger biscuits are great to munch on. Some people like ginger or lime flavoured drinks, and these can also be used as a mouth rinse after being sick. Some people find special wristbands that exert gentle pressure on a specific acupressure point on the underside of each wrist are effective, and there is certainly no harm in keeping a pair of these in the chart table. Fancier ones use a magnet to apply the pressure. You could also try applying pressure to the appropriate spot manually.

8. It Will Get Better.

Things will improve. If you're around on the boat for a few days/weeks/frequently then you'll become more accustomed to the motion and less vulnerable. Try spending more time at anchor rather than in a marina. The rolling motion may help you to get your sealegs while you're asleep. Try to avoid doing a lumpy wind-over-tide passage as your first of the season. If possible arrive on the boat a day or two before starting a cruise, giving you time to acclimatise and provision.

9. Heaving To.

If things get on top of you, heave to for a while. The motion will suddenly become bearable. Put the kettle on, make hot food, use the heads, take reefs in, deal with any problem that is causing you anxiety. Carry on when you're ready. Driving blindly on with the feeling that things are out of control causes stress that causes sickness.

10. Be Prepared.

Being prepared. Reading below is one of the things that can bring it on. Navigation has to be done, but in some ways you can minimise the burden. Make sure you have the relevant charts ready and open in the right place before you set off, pencil, parallel rulers etc. ready to hand. You might want to keep the logbook and pencil next to the companionway so they can be filled in from the cockpit. Paper Navtex beats electric read out because you can tear it off and read it in the cockpit rather than fiddling with buttons below. Make sure that everything that you are going to need is in a handy place in the cockpit to hand before setting off, to minimise scrabbling around in lockers below: hand bearing compass, torch, lifelines and lifejackets, oilies, food etc. etc.

11. Keep People Busy.

One of the best things you can do with a crew member who is starting to feel sick is to put them on the helm. They have to concentrate, they are focussed on the horizon and they are getting plenty of fresh air.

12. Web Links.

http://seasickness.co.uk - Excellent site with lots of links

Sea Sickness Prevention and Treatment Mark R. Anderson, M.D. 2000
Motion Sickness - Dr. Galingher Very detailed, especially on drugs
Sailor Doc's Seasick Page Short but excellent article

Many thanks to Simon Crofts for a lot of the advice given above (originally posted on YBW, and reproduced here with Simon's permission). If you have any other useful information you think should be on this page, or any seasickness anecdotes to pass on, please e-mail us and we will consider it for inclusion (with acknowledgement or anonymously, whichever you prefer).