These 3 steps will save you from seasickness

Your dream is to go off sailing but you get seasick easily? This is annoying or intimidating you? Then this post is for you! I will explain how you can avoid to get seasick. Did you know that lots of people out there sailing do get seasick? Of course there are those who don’t have that problem, lucky b*st*rds 😛

I’ve written a post on seasickness a while ago before we actually started sailing full time but since I keep getting so many questions and I have the feeling that I have more insight now into this whole topic as well as into my own seasickness than before I would like to share my findings with you.

Don’t let your seasickness stop you

I know from my own experience how intimidating it can be to be prone to seasickness when at the same time you really want to go sailing. When I first met Ric and he raved on and on about sailing and how wonderful it was and how the stars at night bla bla – I could only think about one thing: me hanging over the railing and feeding the fish. So have I fed the fish? Yes! And it was terrible (even more to my brother-in-law who one time stood next to me and got an unwelcome close-up of my breakfast). But I have learned a lot about my sea sickness and I’m still learning more every time. I want to encourage others not to give up on their dream and instead try these 3 steps.

But before I share these steps with you let’s just have a closer look at what seasickness actually is!

…What is seasickness?

Seasickness is the worst. I get seasick. And carsick. And motionsick when I watch the boys bouncing on a trampoline. Ok, that wasn’t too helpful so here you go:

Seasickness or any kind of motion sickness for that matter, is when your vestibular organ (balance system in your inner ear) is irritated. Your system needs time to adjust. How strongly people feel seasick is mostly inherent. But how bad it gets depends a lot on various external factors (that’s the good news because you can influence external factors:))

What I find very interesting and also super helpful was that the inner balance and the physical balance are very much connected. That means that when you feel out of balance, uneasy and stressed, the likelihood of becoming seasick is so much higher! While in daily life you are so used to ignoring your body and your body signals this is a situation where you just can’t ignore them. And ignoring your body isn’t very healthy anyway so your seasickness might present an unexpected chance for you to connect with your body, which is a good thing, right? So maybe being prone to seasickness isn’t only to your disadvantage.

However, here is what I discovered about my own seasickness:

  • I get sea sick when I feel insecure and the more I feel insecure the more sea sick I get. Unlike the skipper who is practically a fish I didn’t grow up with the sea and on boats. I don’t feel particular safe on a choppy sea (yet). My nerves get very weak and I become extremely sensitive to noise. With a rough sea there is inevitably lots of sounds in the rigg. And there are always things inside the boat you haven’t stored securely enough, drawers that open, banging doors and so on. Ear plugs can be a relief.
  • I get sea sick when I can’t lie down. Before I feel sick there is a fatigue so powerful I can barely keep my eyes open. Whenever I try to fight it and pull myself together for some reason the effect is sea sickness. But when I find myself a place where I can take an undisturbed nap I am fine most of the time. We are lucky enough that the boys are old enough to be of help since I’m not for obvious reasons. Hence for me it’s always of vital importance to know I have a place to retract when that tiredness hits me. Best midship where ship motions are the least perceivable.
  • I get sea sick when I go below deck to do something, bad idea, very bad idea. Note to myself: Just don’t. By all means – stay outside at least until you are certain your vestibular organ has upgraded to boat status.
  • I get sea sick when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before (too late to bed, bad dream, drinks the night before…) and/or had nothing/too much for breakfast. Everything has to be as normal, unobtrusive and unremarkable as possible – center of comfort zone-normal.

3 Steps to not be seasick:

  • Get to know your seasickness

  • Prepare

  • Surrender

So these are the 3 steps I would advise anyone prone to seasickness to take:

  1. GET TO KNOW YOUR SEASICKNESS! My symptoms aren’t necessarily yours and everybody’s comfort zone is different. You need to find out what it is that you need to be able to stay inside that comfort zone. And when you are feeling seasick your comfort zone will be tiny. Smells, noise and any kind of stress are to be avoided where possible. And you need to know your symptoms. My seasickness usually starts with me experiencing a growing lack of drive. I can’t get myself to do stuff like helping with the sails, preparing lunch – just getting up to fetch something will become too much of a hassle. That’s my stage 1. Stage 2 is fatigue: I’ll get very very tired and I just want to lie down and close my eyes. Stage 3 is experiencing nausea and Stage 4… well, go figure 😛
  2. Once you know your seasickness you can TAKE MEASURES to avoid it and PREPARE. If you know that your body will need a couple of hours (0r 1.5 days – like me in not ideal conditions) to adapt before you can fully ‚function‘ again, make sure your partner can cope by himself. Don’t be stressed by dates and plans – better go when the conditions are pleasant enough. It’s really important that you don’t need to feel like your letting people down. And you mustn’t feel worried or occupied or stressed out by anything, get in yoga-mode: ‚There’s nothing to do.‘ Have everything ready so you don’t need to get up and do/get something. Get all the stuff you might need into reach, prepare some food (or make it accessible) for the rest of the family and store everything securely so things won’t be flying around, producing annoying noise and sounds.
  3. And then there is only one thing left to do: SURRENDER. Surrender to your seasickness, surrender to your body and DON’T FIGHT IT. If you try to pull yourself together it will make things worse. The more you push against it the stronger you’ll feel seasick. If I react as early as in Stage 1 (lack of drive) or at the latest in Stage 2 (fatigue) I usually don’t reach Stage 3 or 4. I make it very clear to my family that I’ll be completely useless for at least the first 5 hours (depending on conditions, of course) and that’s just the way it is.

What about medicine?

And of course there is medicine. And sea bands. And chewing gum. And ginger. I normally try to come by without drugs, they make me numb and slow. But there are a two scenarios where I would rather take one than trying without:

  • When we have a difficult passage ahead of us that we can’t postpone and I’m actually needed on deck
  • When we have a shorter passage (anything less than 2 days) ahead of us I would rather enjoy the experience than taking the time getting over seasickness and adjusting my system. If it’s a long passage I’ll gladly give my body as long as it needs to be ok.

We have 3 types of medicine on board: Sturgeron (cheaply and readily available almost anywhere except Germany), Scopolamine pads (subject to prescription) and Vomex. It’s really important to take any of those the evening before or at least 12 hours in advance. With the exception of Vomex none of them seem to help once you are already seasick, so really take them early enough – I know what I’m talking about, I threw caution to the wind and took a pill shortly before we took off and I was terribly seasick.

And the other stuff?

Sea bands didn’t help me too much, the gum was so disgusting it made me feel sick chewing it but ginger is always a good idea anyway if you like it. I make sure we have something salty at hand since that’s the only thing I have a little appetite for when I feel unwell. It’s also the most sensible to eat in case you need to throw up since it will substitute the loss in salt. And last but not least: Don’t forget to drink! I know it’s a dilemma: feeling seasick and needing to go to pee. With me it most often doesn’t end well and I always one of our airplane sick bags next to the toilet. But liquid is just so important so try to take in as much as possible.

Speaking of airplane sick bags: I try to avoid having to throw up by all means because different to when I ate something bad the seasickness-puking won’t stop – it just goes on and on and on for hours until I’m utterly dehydrated and exhausted. In any case I don’t want a bucket, I just find the thought of a smelly and sloshing bucket extremely appalling and I prefer my airplane sick bags that I ‚borrow‘ from the airline every time I fly!

I hope these steps will prove as useful to you as they did to me! Comment if you have different strategies on how to cope with seasickness. Or just tell me what your own experience is!

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