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Managing Seasickness

New DMTs and DMs sometimes encounter a seasick person on the boat and it can be a difficult situation to deal with: that mix of tears and vomit is not fun, but you are in charge, you have to do something!  Here is a brief explanation of the mechanism of seasickness and some tips on managing it.

Seasickness is a form of motion sickness characterized by a feeling of nausea and, in extreme cases,vertigo, experienced after spending time on a craft on water.  This condition is caused by the rocking motion of the boat. On rocky boats, most people tend to concentrate on the inner surroundings, or close their eyes and try to sleep. This will cause the worst effect of the disturbance as the brain receives conflicting signals: while the eyes show a world that is still, our body, and in particular the equilibrium sensors located in our inner ears, send signals of a moving environment. This discordance causes the brain to send to the whole body a general alarm signal, in order to stop all activities, in particular the most complex of all, the digestion process.  This is actually an evolved process as most of the time these disturbances would be caused by ingesting poison – hence the inevitable turn towards nausea and vomiting.

So, what to do?  Share these tips with your divers!

Avoid it:

  • Pop a pill. All the pills are about the same in effectiveness and side effects. But if one of them—Dramamine, Bonine, Marazine, etc.—seems to work better for you than the others, stick with it.
    Although it will entertain your friends, being seasick at a wrong time can rob you of an amazing experience.
    Although it will entertain your friends, being seasick at a wrong time can rob you of an amazing experience.

    The placebo effect is very strong with seasickness.

  • Start taking pills early. Pills are better prevention than treatment. After you feel queasy, it may be too late for pills to help, so start 12 to 24 hours before going to sea. This builds up a level of the drug in your body.
  • Try the patch … Scopolamine patches do work better than pills and have fewer side effects for most people. They are available by doctor’s prescription.
  • … Or the bands. Some people like “Sea Bands.” They are bracelets with dots that purportedly touch acupressure points on your wrist. They have never been proven effective, but some people swear by them. Placebo effect is an amazing thing!
  • Bigger is better. Bigger and wider boats have a slower roll than smaller ones.
  • Stay on deck. It helps to be able to see the horizon, possibly because your eyes then agree with what your middle ears are saying.  If you can’t stay on deck then at the very least…
  • …stay near the centre of the vessel.  The biggest amount of movement will be at the front (bow), and then at the back (stern). Additionally, if you stay near the stern, you might be inhaling some noxious exhaust fumes which will not help. Stay near the centre and try to look out through the windows.
  • Don’t try to read. Focusing your eyes on an apparently stationary target makes them even more convinced that your inner ears are wrong.
  • Close your eyes if you must go below. You may have to go below and lie down, in which case you should close your eyes so they aren’t giving a no-motion message to your brain.
  • Be clean and sober. Even a mild hangover can easily degenerate into seasickness, besides increasing various diving risks. Likewise, fatigue predisposes you to seasickness.
  • Relax. Anxiety contributes to seasickness. Those who are frightened by the ocean and the movement of the boat, or anxious about the diving later in the day, are more likely to become seasick.
  • Watch for symptoms. Early signs include chills, headache and frequent burping. Now is the time to go on deck, or move to the lee rail if you’re already there.

Manage it:

  • If you feel the urge, let it rip. You’ll feel better almost immediately. Prolonging the inevitable only prolongs the pain.
  • Don’t use a toilet. Nor a trash can! Go to  lee (downwind) side of the boat or use a bucket if one is designated.  Don’t be embarrassed; you’re not the first.  Also, try not to tumble overboard, that’d be embarrassing…
  • Get over it. After a few hours, most people feel better. For some it takes a day or so. Just about everyone gets over even the most acute case of seasickness within two or three days.

Good luck!  😉