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Preventing and dealing with sea sickness

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What is the issue?
Seasickness beleaguers recreational sailing and occupational seafarers alike. Although there are varying degrees to its level of affliction and each individual's susceptibility, in the worst of situations, everyone will get seasick and it is a totally unpleasant malady.

The old seafaring comment 'at first you fear that you might die, and then later, as it continues, you fear that you might not' captures the sensation all too well. It can debilitate a crew so badly that the boat is left to fend for itself in dangerous seas. Likewise, the dumbest of sailing mistakes that have needlessly and recklessly endangered craft have often been made by brightest people, simply because they are so struck down that they have lost the will to apply thought to anything anymore.

Why address this?
Knowing what causes seasickness, how to prevent and deal with it will help a vessel to be well run, and it can make the difference between the ship's party having a thoroughly miserable time or a great day’s sailing.

How to address this?
Seasickness is a sailing nuisance. But it can be vastly reduced by having a good understanding of its causes, taking care of oneself to reduce personal susceptibility and the many situations to avoid that only serve to trigger it once aboard. Likewise, a well-informed skipper can execute many preventative strategies, handle the vessel and its crew in such a fashion as to ward off seasickness and greatly reduce its effects should it begin to manifest itself.

This experience serves to provide a comprehensive and practical guide to avoiding seasickness from all perspectives. The first step is to develop a deeper understanding of what it is, how it comes about and why it should occur at all.

Seasickness on board a steamboat to Margate England
Photo: CC0


Seasickness is a form of motion sickness. It is caused when the senses that process spatial orientation send streams of conflicting information to the brain. This is sometimes referred to as the 'sensory conflict theory'.

Our innate ability to self-propel our bodies in a three-dimensional world is achieved by the brain interpreting information from four sets of reporting receptors:

  • (i) Our eyes monitor our body relative to its surroundings and its relative bearing.

  • (ii) Our inner ear’s vestibular system sensing three-dimensional motion and motion direction.

  • (iii) Neural receptors distributed throughout our physic informing the brain of the bodies activity. For instance when we are standing still, turning, in motion and that motions relative direction.

  • (iv) Skin sensors in our feet and buttocks monitoring our physical orientation such as if we seated, standing, lying face down and are orientated to gravitational pull.

All four of these sensory inputs send a constant stream of positional and inclination information to the brain. Some, however, like the eyes, do so much faster than others but this is perfectly fine in the natural land-based environment where this system has evolved over billions of years. But this highly tuned land-based system has not had time to adapt to the relatively recent development of seagoing craft.

The word 'nausea' itself owes its origins to the Greek words nausia or nautia which have the same meaning, ‘ship sickness’. A swaying, pitching, yawing boat in a seaway sends a prodigious wave of alternating balance data to the finally tuned land-based system and one that thoroughly exploits the feedback lag between the eyes and the ear's vestibular system. The result is an overload of conflicting information that the brain simply cannot process.

Unable to marry these streams the brain begins to malfunction and sets off spatial orientation alarms. These messages are then transferred by the release of 'neurotransmitters', such as histamine or acetylcholine, to the control centre for vomiting located in the brainstem. Alas, the vast majority of us know exactly how that feels!

You might wonder why on earth a physiological process would see vomiting as the solution to anything? But the human body is a remarkable thing. Vomiting serves as a means to protect us from poisons or foods that have gone off by removing unwanted contents from the stomach. The land-based brain concludes that the sensory conflict is a function of hallucination taking out the vestibular system which means we have eaten the bad mushrooms. So expelling the stomach contents in this situation is the bodies way of taking the safe route. The vomiting response can also be triggered by other stimuli such as pain, fear and smells which may if they present themselves during a sailing outing will serve to exacerbate an underlying motion sickness problem.

Admiral Lord Nelson was highly susceptible to seasickness
Photo: CC0
Looking on the bright side, we are also a highly adaptive species and have a remarkable capability for habituation and adaptation. After some time the brain learns to process this conflicting sensory data. Typically this is within two to three days when most, but not everyone, will grow a pair of what is affectionately known be sailors as ‘Sealegs’.

One has to be somewhat careful here as these fabled 'sea legs' do not in any way make you immune to sea sickness, just less susceptible to it. If the sensory data dramatically changes, such as a sudden storm or a passage moves off a downwind passage and onto that of a more challenging upwind beat, the brain has to relearn that altered sensory pattern and it will send its alarms again to the vomit centre, if perhaps not as severe.

'Sealegs' are all but completely lost in just about the same amount of time it takes to acquire them once you are back on land. But the more you sail, the more your brain learns to adapt its response to the sensory conflict and the more quickly you will acclimatise to the conditions.

Oddly we can also adjust all too well to the motion of one's vessel, resulting in a corresponding condition called ‘land sickness’ or ‘mal de débarquement’, or the most common name 'disembarkment syndrome (MdDS), in which a persistent sensation of motion is felt for some time after coming ashore. If you go into a tightly confined room after being out sailing and pause you get a sensation that the room is moving. What is happening here is the mind is continuing to process the errors coming in. However, this is scarcely perceptible in most cases and once ashore or in tranquil waters, the sensory data returns to normal and recovery from any motion sickness is thankfully rapid.


Susceptibility to seasickness varies from person to person. No one can totally escape it as research has shown that everyone who enters a liferaft in a seaway will get seasick – something that should be noted alongside the Fastnet 79 lesson that a liferaft should only be entered when it floats off the deck. Even seasoned sailors such as Admiral Lord Nelson, who spent weeks on end at sea executing naval blockades noted ‘I am ill every time it blows hard, and nothing but my enthusiastic love for the profession keeps me one hour at sea'. Animals also share the same broad balance and poisoning protection mechanism and are also vulnerable to seasickness.

Asians and females have higher degrees of susceptibility
Photo: Devon B. Allen
Broadly speaking, around one-third of people will suffer to a sufficient degree that they need to take precautions prior to sailing, but most should acquire their ‘sea-legs' after a few days. It is truly a personal rating and on a scale of 1 ‘Highly Susceptible’ to 10 ‘Scarcely Touched’ I would personally place myself at just above the median, something like a ‘6’. Research has shown that young toddlers are virtually unaffected up to about two years of age and preteen children and females have a slightly higher rate of susceptibility which peaks at the age of eleven. At the height of their susceptibility, they will be 1.5 times as high as male ratings, which peak at an age of twenty-one. As people age the susceptibility decreases to only 20% of their maximum, reducing gender differences to zero.

Certain groups of people are also more prone to motion sickness. People who are subject to migraines, Asian people, poor sleepers, women who are menstruating or pregnant have all got increased susceptibility. There is a wide variety of elements that increase susceptibility which makes it difficult to predict what will happen. There is also a high degree of variability in how it affects people. For some, a quick vomit will provide a good period of relief. But a significant minority may be reduced to a miserable state for a prolonged period.


Mention the word seasickness to most people and they immediately conjure up an image, or a memory, of a sad victim hanging over the rail physically vomiting. But this is too narrow a definition that can cause a skipper to inappropriately judge the capability of the crew and their own capability to make good decisions.

Seasickness, in reality, is far less binary. Its hold over someone should best be measured across degrees of affectation that can be characteries as follows:

  • • Feeling slightly tired

  • • Deep yawning

  • • Concentration challenged

  • • Lethargy

  • • Fatigue

  • • Warm flushes

  • • Apathy

  • • Confusion

  • • Drowsiness

  • • Slight sweating

  • • Excessive saliva

  • • Pallid colour

  • • Belching

  • • Queasiness

  • • Headaches

  • • Dizziness

  • • Nausea

  • • Shivering

  • • Hyperventilation

  • • Dry-heaving

  • • Vomiting

  • • Complete debilitation

The key observation to make here is an individual does not have to be vomiting to be seasick, mal de mer’s effects come on early and escalate by degree. How fast or how slow that happens depends upon the conditions and susceptibility.

Likewise, the fact that a crewmember is not throwing up does not mean they remain untouched by its effects, that the vessel's procedures are being attended to and the passage plan is on track. People are more likely to be affected by the early listed stages of motion sickness than the latter and you have to only go one-third of the way down the above list before key tasks, that one could assume are being taken care of, are been put off because they are too much to endure.

We all know of very strange decisions being made on boats by very bright people. The old mantra of sailor’s mantra to ‘reef, and reef early’ is one of the first to go. How many times have we all lethargically delayed that timely reef in the hope that the wind would back off? The reason, as often as not, is that our bodies are off and we know that the physical exertion involved would throw us over a tipping point - puns not intended. How often have we found that we could not get our mind around a certain plot location or course to take? How often have we said the course was good enough because of the thought of going below and doing a manual plot to check it was accompanied by some fruity burps?

It is important to be vigilant of one’s own decision making capability and that of the crew based upon this broader perspective of seasickness. Only then can you truly apprehend the capability of the vessel to deal with developing situations.


As always, prevention is infinitely better than a cure. Anything that lowers your body's general sense of well-being, lowers its resistance to the stressful factors the motion of the boat will cause and increase the likelihood of seasickness. The first aim has to be to reduce the factors that lower your personal threshold for seasickness:

  • 1. To step aboard in good physical condition. Try to be well rested before you go out on the water. Weariness and exhaustion can make you more susceptible to motion sickness. Have all your gear prepared and other business matters sorted well in advance of the sailing trip and have a good night’s sleep.

  • 2. Don't consume an excessive amount of alcohol the night before departing or in the day before sailing. These may present somewhat of an insurmountable hurdle in intensely sociable sailing circles. Once a crew gets together and goes out on the town it is almost inevitable a party is going to break out. Alcohol contributes to seasickness in many ways:

    • • Alcohol inhibits the deepest dream stage of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) where the brain derives most rest. Even just after having a few drinks the night before one can feel tired the next day which increases susceptibility.

    • • Alcohol dehydrates the body which again lowers its resistance to the stresses and strains of the motion.

    • • The debilitation of a full-fledged alcohol hangover is practically putting out the welcome mat to seasickness if a boisterous boat ride is in the offing.

    This is the case if the drinks were consumed the night before or in the hours preceding embarkation. Of course, we rarely plan to drink too much and social events tend to sweep us away in their own momentum. If caught up in a social session involving alcohol, make a fast rule that every third glass you drink will be a glass of water. This will give you a chance to avoid the hangover and dramatically reduces dehydration.

  • 3. Carefully avoid rich and spicy foods the day before sailing and greasy or acidic foods in the hours before setting sail. A digestive system that is already stressed digesting slow to break-down heavy acidic foods will be highly vulnerable rolling about in a seaway. It is best to substitute the hearty traditional ‘full-fry-up’ for the ‘continental breakfast’s’ selection of breads, pastries, croissants, rolls, milk, cereals and grains. Likewise, avoid the traditional breakfast’s orange or grapefruit juice as they are very acidic. Exchange them for gentler low acidic alternatives derived from apple, cranberry, pear or melon.

    It is also best to reduce the intake of coffee, and caffeinated drinks before leaving the dock. They are hard to cope with and are diuretic. This increases urination which accelerates dehydration which is another contributing factor. This also lessens visits to the ‘heads’, boat toilet, below decks which is positively the last place you should be when trying to acclimatise to conditions at the start of the journey.

  • 4. But do have that ‘continental’ breakfast. Skipping eating before sailing is just as bad. Remember motion sickness tends to exploit any weakness or lowered resistance. If you are feeling hungry it will take hold of that. A good and gentle meal to digest and sense of well-being is the best defence.

  • 5. Bring your own bottle and keep it close by. Even feeling partially dehydrated lowers resistance which increases vulnerability.

  • 6. Have good gear and wear it. Getting cold and wet is miserable at the best of times and it will predispose you to double down on the misery by getting seasick.

  • 7. Avoid heavy weather or choppy conditions. There is just no valour in going out and taking it head-on. If you are prone to seasickness, why go out when you know conditions are too rough for your current capabilities and only cause you or your crew to feel rotten. Life is finite, make your apologies, and stay at home those days.

  • 8. I cannot vouch for this but, reportedly, having your ears cleaned before setting out on an extended cruise helps. Helping the inner ear’s mechanisms that sense three-dimensional motions operate and acclimatise better has made the difference for many people.

  • 9. Finally, be calm, relax and enjoy the trip. Being anxious or fearful of succumbing to seasickness or any events about the vessel, sends unwanted messages to the vomit centre of their own accord.

I know that final point might sound a bit rich, especially as you are only halfway through this extensive piece that is probably only serving to build upon your concerns. However this is all common sense and the art of strategy is often knowing what not to do, as much as what to do. Pick up a few tips implement them and go out and have a great time, keep reading.

The close confines of the cabin should be avoided if one feels in any way 'off'
Photo: Michael Harpur


Thorough preparation goes a long way to preventing seasickness and reducing its grip. But sometimes it just gets you and you know you are on the lower scale of its effects and you need to prevent it climbing:

  • 1. Avoid going down into the cabin. Keep in the open air where there is a nice breeze and a clear view out over the horizon. If you are prone to motion sickness being in the cabin is the worst possible place to go. In the cabin, the four sensors are at their most conflicted. The eyes see nothing but the fixed lines of the cabin that are in dramatic contrast to the environment sensed by all the other senses. Down below decks is the danger zone and if you are feeling off you should only plan to be lying on your back preferably with your eyes closed if you are there.

  • 2. Pick a nice spot between the centre and two-thirds of the way back in the boat. Preferably as near to the centre line as possible. This is the calmest part of the boat, receiving the least of the changing horizontal and vertical motion caused by the bow rising and pitching into the waves. This, in turn, reduces the amount of movement that the confused brain is struggling to interpret and you will be the better of because of it. If night sailing and you have a choice of berths, again aim for aft of the centre and two-thirds of the boat and ideally if the vessel has one, the much sought after quarter-berth.

  • 3. Avoid tasks that require a close focus on near objects such as reading, chart plotting, or staring at close and moving objects such as the compass or, more realistically, smartphones or tablets. Making intricate repairs below decks is positively the worst thing you can do particularly so on the engine. If you are not feeling up to it, just say so. It is far better that you are available to attend to other tasks that are less inclined to aggravate seasickness than to wind up totally debilitated.

  • 4. Do keep busy above decks and get involved in the activity on the boat. Immersing yourself in what is going on, as opposed to thoughts of your wellbeing, will place you in a better psychological place to resist seasickness. Being involved in the running of the vessel keeps your mind alert and prevents the early stages of motion sickness taking hold.

  • 5. Steer the boat if possible. Being at the helm keeps your mind active, your eyes focused on the horizon and an autonomy and anticipation on what’s going to happen next on the motion of the boat. Ever noticed how you can never feel car sick when you are doing the driving? This can really help if you feel like you are starting to succumb.

  • 6. Avoid boat positions where the engine exhaust is apparent and stay well clear of diesel or petrol fumes. The vomiting centre can also be triggered by intense smells. The occasional and prolonged whiff of the exhaust or just a couple of drafts of diesel or petrol fumes will be enough to cause anyone to be overcome by seasickness. Likewise, avoid bilges or areas where any pungent odours exist.

  • 7. If possible try finding some shade from direct sunlight. Feeling overheated and dehydrated will just make you uncomfortable and reduce motion sickness tolerance.
  • 8. Avoid coffee and all caffeinated drinks, tea should be weak. It is better to have water instead and it avoids the cabin and heads.

  • 9. If you are on the edge and one of the crew is starting to become sick but clipped-on safely, move as far away as possible. In just a few minutes the smell, the sound, the sight of it, will most likely overcome your resistance. This sounds less than friendly but you may be needed to take on their roles if they are entirely debilitated. If you were to capitulate too it only presents a larger problem aboard.


There is a mal de mer tipping point that there is little immediate return from. If at all possible, you must not let it, well literally, tip as preventing sea sickness is easier than curing it. Once you have gone beyond the point of no return you will feel bad for quite some time, albeit marginally better than the moment before you cut loose. The key is to fight it and if you can do so you could overcome it and be less debilitated later.

  • 1. If the early effects of seasickness are starting to become manifest, stay on deck in the fresh air initially and take slow deep breaths. Absolutely do not risk going below and do not overexert yourself. Once you have begun to feel sick, any form of physical or mental effort tends to make it worse.

  • 2. If the sensation is persistent, stand up, and if is safe to do so, take a secure handhold. Look out over the horizon. Lethargy and feeling ill make it tempting to lie down but this is more likely to make the ill feelings advance. You can still fight it at this point and avoid passing the point of no return.

  • 3. Nibble some ginger biscuits or Saltine crackers. They help calm stomachs reducing nausea and absorb acidity. Strangely whilst eating nausea backs off. Make certain to drink water.

  • 3. Have a ‘Cola’. Yes, this is caffeinated and a dehydrator but at this point, the phosphoric acid the cola contains helps reduce the likelihood of getting sick. All colas contain an element called 'Emetrol' that is a vomiting controlling substance.

  • 4. If you have done fair battle and you have passed the point of no return, let it go over the side. Just be careful you are on the leeward side of the boat and you are not in an unsafe position. Clip-on, once you start to vomit you will have limited self-control.

  • 5. Most people recover somewhat once they get rid of it. If not, keep going until you feel there is nothing more to go.

  • 6. If you are completely debilitated afterwards and feel no signs of recovery don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is best to go to a berth down below to rest.

  • 7. The transition to the berth should be in one swift motion as any loitering down below in that condition is only going to aggravate the sensation. If you have heavy weather gear on request help to remove it outside the companionway then go straight to the berth.

  • 8. Lie down on your back with your eyes closed. This will make things much better and the motion at this stage may even lull you off to sleep. Remember to replace the nutrients lost from your system when you recover.

A skipper that is mindful seasickness can do a lot to ward it off
Photo: Marco Verch via CC ASA 2.0


First and foremost if choosing a vessel to rent or buy keep motion sickness in mind. A traditional deep keeled cruiser that is ‘in the water and not on it’ with a centre cockpit is the best. This arrangement will offer the most sea kindly motion to the crew. A stiff racing boat will be rough on the system. Then when at sea:

  • 1. Be confident in command. Fear and anxiety can make people vomit of their own accord. Keeping the crew confident about the running of the vessel and active and engaged in the process with specific tasks of their own, can do a lot to stave off seasickness.

  • 2.Try to provide readily-available light snacks and water. Eating and drinking small amounts frequently is a helpful strategy. Wholesome light snacks of mixed carbohydrates and protein are ideal and ginger based snacks, in particular, can be more than helpful. This is a natural remedy as we will discuss shortly.

  • 3. Monitoring all aboard for the early signs of seasickness. This is best done as a quiet vigilance as questioning only brings people’s minds to it or, on the opposite end of the scale, elicit a degree of dismissive bravado. All you have to do is look out for the uncharacteristic quietness, rapidly followed by skin pallor or the dreaded 'green tinge'.

  • 4. If anyone is looking off-key do not give them tasks that are critical or could aggravate their condition. If they are not wearing a harness, or a jacket with an integrated harness, get one and help them to put it on without making anything of it. If they look capable of helming, offer it to them.

  • 5. Avoid sending crew members that are prone to seasickness to any task below decks.

  • 6. Keep the boat under power at all times, by sail or motor. A stalled boat bopping about on the waves will dramatically accelerate seasickness aboard.

  • 7. If on a long passage let the crew members that are more susceptible rest for the first days to help them acclimatise.

  • 8. If enduring boisterous conditions be prepared to go hove-to for during meal times. This allows crew respite from the conditions to get some good food and collect themselves before moving on. Anything that affects the general wellbeing of the crew reduces the likelihood that they will become seasick.

  • 9. If someone is about to be sick, make certain they are not a danger to themselves. Immediately clip them on with a safety line and take off their glasses, dentures or anything they may lose overboard should they start to reach.

  • 10. If they continue to be in a bad way, and have completely expelled themselves over the side for some time, vent the cabin by opening the hatch. Set up lee cloths in the calmest berth and leave a plastic bowl or bucket to hand for their peace of mind. If the bucket is used it should be regularly emptied to avoid others having to deal with a cabin smelling of vomit. As already mentioned, the move to the berth should be in one swift motion. Remove all their heavy weather gear above decks so there is no final task to be administered to below decks before entering the berth. Leave a bottle of water to hand to ensure that they have adequate water to replace that lost through vomiting and a light fan will help if it is hot. If they are in a particularly bad way it may be best to lay them out on their back on the cabin floor and above the keel, with their eyes closed. This is the point if the boat where the motion is the least violent.

  • 11. If it is a short journey the total cure of ‘standing under a tree’ is close at hand. But if it is a long journey you can use fast acting ‘Kwells’ medical remedy. Swallowing will probably no longer work at this stage but Kwells can be chewed or left to sit under your tongue or against the inside of the cheek when it can get absorbed through the lining of your mouth. Likewise Stugeron but this is not a fast-acting drug. You can entirely avoid the ingesting problem by patching them with Transderm Scop that will get absorbed directly into the bloodstream albeit it after several hours - see medications below.

  • 12. Monitor people who are in a particularly bad way carefully. They need firm direction in order to prevent them falling into a state of hypothermia and dehydration. It is good to have a stock of oral rehydration solutions, such as Dioralyte, that come in tablets or sachets to mix with a specified volume of water. Readily available in all pharmacists they provide balanced solutions of isotonic fluids that replace essential chemicals lost during vomiting. These are easily absorbed by the stomach whilst also supplying critical fluids. Taking small amounts of these drinks regularly tends to work best.


Unfortunately, there is no panacea. The mere fact that a range of strategies is required probably gives the clue that no single cure has been found. What works for one will not work for others or at least with varying degrees of effectiveness. It is best to personally trial and experiment to find what will be your best personal defence. The benefit of non-medication based defences is they do not prohibit you from advancing to medicated alternatives should they fail to be effective.

  • 1. Ginger is the most widely used and successful natural preventative. It seems to soothe stomachs and has no side effects whatsoever. It is available in tablets, capsules, powder, or as pickled ginger slices. Recent studies present Ginger capsules as being almost as effective as some of the below medications without side effects but, everyone is different. It is recommended that you take ginger 12-24 hours beforehand. Between 1 to 4 grams per day of powdered ginger is all that is required and it should also be taken about half an hour before setting sail. Ginger biscuits and ginger ale help but their limited content and purity mean they are dramatically less effective. However, no boat should depart without a good stock of ginger remedies.

  • 2. Acupressure wristband. Commonly sold as ‘travel bands’ they apply pressure to a particular point on your wrist which can prevent the feeling of nausea. The pressure point is at the Nei Guan (P6) median nerve acupressure point that is located on the underside of the arm about three finger-breadths above the wrist and between the two prominent tendons. I have never personally found this to work for me and which may be down to my inability to keep the bands in position under oilskins. Many however do and would not go sailing without them.

  • 3. Peppermint accompanying ginger is also said to help. Although far less powerful, mint has similar stomach calming qualities to that of ginger and can be used alongside ginger.

  • 4. Place your feet in a basin of ice water. Reportedly it helps. As there are a lot of sensory receptors in the feet it makes sense that this would have an impact on the condition.

  • 5. ‘ReliefBand’. This is a new electronic solution that many people find to be highly effective. The watch-like device is strapped to the above described Nei Guan acupoint administers small pulses of electrical stimulation to the median nerve. This stimulus sends messages to the brain to settle the stomach and most people say it stops nausea cold. The electric pulses are variable so you may find a level you are comfortable with.


This is a personal decision as many people have deep concerns about the side effects of seasickness drugs. For others feel the side effects are nowhere near as bad as the illness they prevent. You have to read the instructions carefully as they nearly all have side effects. This also makes it advisable to 'test drive' a medication on dry land, or at least in moderate circumstances, prior to using it in earnest in rough seas and find what works for you.

  • 1. Transderm Scop (based on Hyoscine, also known as scopolamine,) is my choice and broadly accepted these days as the best defence for seasickness. Hyoscine is the most effective medicine for travel sickness. It works by anticholinergic (anti-acetylcholine) drug that prevents the confusing messages going to your brain. This particular version of it is a prescriptive drug and only available for adults. The drug is administered in the form of a circular flat patch placed on the skin behind the ear and slowly releases Hyoscine into the bloodstream through the skin, thereby minimising the side effects. The patch is stuck on at least 5-6 hours beforehand and removed at the end of the journey with each patch lasting for 72 hours. Care needs to be taken to wash your hands carefully after handling the patch, as inadvertently getting hyoscine in your eyes as it has been known to cause pupil dilation and inability to focus the eye.

    If I know I am going to go out on a long passage after being ashore for a season, or if I am caught out when there is a storm approaching and I am going to have to fight it out, I will patch up. Its side effects for me were the widely experienced slightly dry throat or mouth, but apart from that nothing else except the odd feeling of being largely invulnerable to seasickness. However, when my father-in-law patched up he had what almost seemed like a stroke in the following hours! So everybody is different.

  • 2. Stugeron® (Cinnarizine). This is the old British reliable and is an antihistamine drug that blocks histamine receptors in the body, including an area in the vomit centre. It works by preventing the brain from sending nerve messages to the stomach that would make it vomit. It appears to be effective but I found when I tried it made me so drowsy that I would rather run the gauntlet with seasickness to skipper the vessel effectively than take it. The stronger the version you get increases this tendency.

  • 3. Dramamine®, Gravol® (Dimenhydrinate). Similar to the above this is an over-the-counter antihistamine. It is most effective when taken to prevent motion sickness rather than waiting to treat symptoms that have already started. It is not known exactly how it stops seasickness but thought to work on the inner ear. Again it has the drowsiness effect amongst others.

  • 4. Kwells and Joy-rides (Oral Hyoscine). These are amongst a number of different brands of tablet available which contain hyoscine as a salt, called hyoscine hydrobromide. It is probably the most effective drug available and works quickly, but its use tends to be limited by side effects of a dry mouth. You can buy these without a prescription at pharmacies. There are two strengths of tablets available: 300 microgram tablets for adults, and 150 microgram tablets for children which may be achieved with ½ a tablet or ¼ of a tablet for eight years or younger.

Most remedies should be taken in advance and not on an empty stomach. The commonest error when taking drugs for seasickness is to take them too late. It should be remembered that some of the above remedies are potentially powerful drugs. If you have other medical problems such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy or prostate trouble you need to take advice from your doctor before taking any of these.

Skippers should also note that antihistamines can be used as sleep aids and the stronger they get at dealing with seasickness the more drowsiness they can induce. This is not a good thing to take if you are preparing to do a night watch or expecting a crew member to take over. It can, on the other hand, be very useful if you have a crew member that is in a miserable condition and the safe haven is about six hours away.


At the start of my sailing endeavours, I became somewhat of an unwilling practical authority on this subject. Oddly, over time, it has eased its grip on me. I am not that susceptible anymore, so there is hope for us all.

There is one final recurring final viewpoint that occurs in sailing circles whenever I raise the subject of seasickness. It is an observation that Charles Darwin noted in a letter to his father many years ago… “The misery I endured from sea-sickness is far far beyond what I ever guessed at… If it was not for sea-sickness, the whole world would be sailors’. In short, we have it all largely to ourselves thanks to seasickness' 'hurling hurdle', and many people are thankful for that.

If anyone has any additional information or corrections that they can add please do place a comment below and I will be delighted to add it to the collective piece. Otherwise, take as much from this as you can, as it should improve sailing for someone who suffers and you can reduce your anxiety on the subject as know you have done your best by acting on this information. Then you can just go out and enjoy sailing with your friends and not worry about it, and you will be the better for it.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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