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Dealing with seasickness

Amongst the many great things about sailing in the British Virgin Islands is that most people who are prone to seasickness or motion sickness often don't experience this truly horrible malady here! Because the BVI provides the shelter of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, our seas are often quite calm, so sailing from point A to point B can be quite pleasant. But that's not to say it can't or won't happen!

Recognizing the Symptoms:

One of the very first signs of the onset of seasickness is that the unfortunate crew member afflicted with this nasty illness will experience a general malaise or drowsiness which is often combined with dizziness. This may be followed shortly thereafter by a slight headache or sometimes eye ache and the undeniable feeling of nausea. Then all at once, the cold sweats and pallor will strike, often followed by violent and uncontrollable vomiting.

I always thought it was just a saying that someone would "turn green" when sick ... until I actually saw somebody turn green from seasickness. It was quite a remarkable sight. He actually had a greenish "tinge" to his skin!

Why some people become seasick while others don't is a mystery to me. It has to do with the inner ear (equilibrium) and visual signals sent to one's brain. Each individual's ability to adjust to motion aboard any moving vehicle, boat or plane varies.

However, for those who do experience seasickness or for those who are worried about the possibility, following are a few precautions you may want to try.

Precautions and Prevention of seasickness:

Tips from my Mom:

When I was a child, I suffered from severe car sickness. For any car trip in excess of about 15 minutes, my mother always fed me Saltine crackers and a glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale just before getting in the car. Ginger Ale (or Ginger tea) was my mother's solution to almost any stomach malady and (as odd as it may sound) it really did help!

My mother knew many things about natural remedies for all sorts of maladies and while writing this page, I read in a medical journal that ginger is a recommended remedy for seasickness and other forms of motion sickness. My mom was one smart cookie!

Aside: Oddly enough, I was only seasick once in my life. It was during an offshore sailing race (around the BVI) ... on the way to Anegada. However, I suspect I was only sick because one of the crew who was seated next to and upwind of me (on the rail) managed to launch his lunch squarely in my face. I immediately lost my lunch as well. It was not a very pleasant race after that!

Remedies for Seasickness:

There aren't really any after-the-fact remedies! There are only preventative measures and there is no such thing as "one cure for every person". Everyone is different and each individual needs to find what works for them. Once someone is seasick, the only thing which will stop their misery is to get off the boat and onto dry land.

There are however preventative antihistamine medications such as Dramamine and others which only your doctor can prescribe. Patches work for some and are worn behind the ear, but also require a prescription. Some say that Sea-Bands work for them, though I have some doubts about this one. I bought some for a friend and they didn't work at all. Bonine is available over the counter and some swear by it. Of course, you may also want to try my mom's cure-all and drink some home made ginger tea or eat some candied ginger! You can even make your own if there are no stores with candied ginger around.

I know there are ginger pills available, but I have no clue which ones work or even if they work at all.

If anyone in your crew is prone to seasickness, you may want to consider chartering a catamaran or powercat instead of a monohull yacht. The additional beam of a catamaran provides greater stability with less yaw and rolling motion, which can exacerbate the symptoms of motion sickness.

*Sea Legs: Having the ability to cope with the motion of a yacht, boat or ship while underway without becoming seasick. This can sometimes take several days at sea.

Important Note: If nothing works, and it becomes apparent that vomiting is inevitable, be sure that the unfortunate victim of seasickness is strategically placed as far aft as possible, on the leeward rail ... and that anyone else who may be feeling queasy is kept well away from them. A chain reaction is the last thing you want!

Last updated: Jan 5th 2015
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