Green Around the Gills? 20 Tips to Prevent Seasickness

12 December 2008 By Kate Hubert

You may not be surprised to know that the words “nautical” and “nausea” both come from the same Greek word, “naus”, meaning ship. Seasickness can happen to anyone at any time, as Racing Sailor Mia Gillow relates, “I’ve been sailing since I was three months old and I still get sick, so I’m sure it’s not a matter of ‘all in the mind’!”

But why do we get seasick?

Well, humans need a lot of help staying upright.

· Our inner ear detects our movement in all directions; side-side, up-down, etc.

· Our eyes tell our brains how we’re moving in relation to the rest of the world.

· Skin pressure receptors in our feet and bottoms sense gravity – hence which way is up.
· Nerves in our muscles and joints detect the movement and direction of our body parts.

And it’s not just humans who feel like tossing their cookies while at sea, as one name-withheld motor yacht crew found out when the owner’s dog was frequently seasick. After that, the “damn thing” was kept sedated during every voyage.

On board, our eyes are fooled into thinking we’re stationary if we stare at the boat itself. But our other senses are telling us we’re going up and down and rolling side to side. These mixed signals lead to nausea, pallor, even a greenish tinge! Other symptoms include yawning, lethargy, drowsiness, cold sweats and, of course, the dreaded vomiting.

Here are 20 top tips collected from yacht crew, leisure sailors and crew agents to help you – and your guests – avoid getting green around the gills.

Preventive Techniques:
1. Keep mind and body occupied.

2. Gaze (but don’t stare) at the horizon; keep it in your peripheral vision.

3. Avoid going below decks.

4. Stay close to the boat’s center, where the movement is the smallest.

5. Don’t hang on for grim death – rock against the motion of the boat, sit with your back unsupported or stand with knees flexed.

6. Avoid alcohol before and during voyage.

7. Avoid greasy foods, but eat if you’re feeling queasy – It will help.

8. Stay hydrated with sports drinks or water, even if they don’t stay down long. Fluids are quickly absorbed.

9. Relax and try not to worry – fear and anxiety can trigger or exacerbate seasickness.

10. Don’t talk about the “s-word” – just the suggestion might set you or someone else off.

11. If all else fails - lie down and close your eyes.

Medicinal Remedies:
12. Antihistamines: Such as Dramamine in the U.S. and Stugeron in Europe. Look for the new formulations that include caffeine or other stimulants – otherwise you may feel very drowsy.

13. Scopolamine (Hyoscine): Most often used as a patch worn behind the ear before sailing and for 72 hours. Based on a powerful poison that interferes with the balance sensors in your inner ear. You cannot drink alcohol or drive a vehicle with a patch on, and there can be side effects.

14. Phenergan: Available by prescription in the U.S. – used by astronauts to avoid space motion sickness. It's said to have sedative affects.

Homeopathic and Herbal Remedies:
15. Ginger: A natural anti-emetic – chew crystallised ginger, chomp on British gingernut biscuits, sip ginger tea, chew ginger gum or take capsules. Used by fighter pilots to hold onto their lunches without losing sharpness.

16. Acupressure bands: Work on the “P6” acupressure point, three fingers’ width down from wrist crease. Acupressure relieves seasickness for some by altering nerve impulses, which ultimately changes the brain chemistry associated with nausea.

17. Sea-Sik Oral Spray: a mix of homeopathic and herbal remedies.

18. Queasy Pops: made from natural herbs.

19. On The Move: capsules with ginger, liquorice and cayenne.

20. Motion Eaze: a concoction of herbs and oils dabbed behind the ear and probably absorbed by the inner ear, like Scopolamine.

If you’ve never been seasick, count yourself lucky and have some sympathy for others. In his book The Human Body, Isaac Asimov told of a steward who cheerfully told a seasick passenger that nobody ever died from seasickness. The passenger muttered, “Please – it’s only the hope of dying that's keeping me alive.”

How Well Do You Know Your Mal de Mer?

1. What is the origin of the word yacht?

A) From the Dutch “jacht” meaning “to throw up violently”

B) From the old Dutch/German word “jachtschip”, a fast “chase-ship” often used by pirates

C) From the Scandinavian “jatte”, to pierce/throw like a spear – as in “cuts through the water”

2. Whose advice to seasick sailors was this? “You’ll feel better if you go and sit under a tree.”

A) Admiral Lord Nelson (British hero of Trafalgar)

B) Captain Bligh (Mutiny on the Bounty)

C) John Paul Jones (Father of the American Navy)

3. Why might the confused signals in our brain make us vomit?

A) The nerves from our inner ear get confused with signals from our stomach

B) The brain’s fight or flight response makes us lighten the load by losing lunch

C) The brain thinks we’ve been poisoned and tries to get rid of it by throwing up

4. Why does looking at the horizon help?

A) Your eyes can tell the boat is moving and this tallies with your other senses

B) It distracts you because your eyes have to keep adjusting to find the horizontal

C) It means you’re in the fresh air and can see the sky

5. Why does the boat’s up-and-down motion (pitch) make you especially prone to vomiting?

A) Your gravity receptors get confused when G-force increases as you go up, and decreases as you hit the trough

B) Your intestines move up and down inside you, squeezing your diaphragm

C) It’s harder to make keep track of where the horizon is


1: B – it’s just that A feels true!

2: A – and he was famously seasick himself!

3: C – symptoms of poisoning include queasiness, dizziness, confusion, sweating....

4: A – so the brain doesn’t get confused

5: B – the “rollercoaster effect!”