Seasickness when sailing
We get a lot of questions about seasickness and how it can interfere with your sailing holiday. People mostly worry about nausea, especially ones that have a history with car sickness. But fear not, in our experience the two are not synonymous.
What actually is seasickness?
Seasickness is a form of motion sickness that occurs at sea. Its symptoms consist of restlessness, loss of energy, yawning, pallor, cold sweat and vomiting. The reason behind it is mostly neurological, it occurs because your brain is trying to interpret conflicting data. The brains functions as human computer, interpreting data or information from its different “sensors”, like our, eyes, ears, skin and nose.
In rough seas, when the boat is rocking and rolling our, brain gets confused. On one hand we have the inner ear, which gives us a general sense of direction and orientation, tells us which way is down and in which direction any acceleration is happening. This organ senses every movement of the boat on the roaring waves. On the other hand we have our eyes, telling us that our surroundings (e.g. the boat) are somewhat stationary. Your brain is being fed two conflicting bits of information and in response you feel seasick.
Most of us are affected by this at least to some degree. About 5% of people never experience seasickness and about 90% get it in some shape or form, but get their “sea legs” after 24 to 72 hours. After this period our brain learns to discredit one of the conflicting inputs and just “goes with it”. Kind of like when you put on a sweater and it feels too tight and itchy, but after a while you forget that you are wearing it. Similar principles apply, we are wired to get used to things. The funny thing is that this can also happen in reverse. After being exposed to various sea states for sometime, your body gets so acclimated to the rocking and the rolling that sailors get “landsickness” when they step on a pier after a long voyage. This “landsickness” can manifest as an unusual or “drunk” walk, or even as symptoms of seasickness itself (restlessness, yawning, pallor, cold sweat and vomiting).
A major part of seasickness can be purely psychological. Thinking about the “what if” scenario before even setting sail can be enough to stress you out and become a trigger for seasickness. It is interesting to point out the so called “herd effect”, where seasickness can spread from one crew member to another. It shows how powerful our psyche can be.
Seasickness and sailing
You shouldn’t think of car sickness and seasickness as the same. Although both derive from motion sickness they are triggered by different motions and effect every individual differently. Movements caused by heavy seas are not in any way similar to the motion of a car going down a winding road. If you are used to one it is impossible to predict the other and vice versa.
An experienced sailor, immune to seasickness, will feel unwell as a backseat passenger looking at his phone. His central nervous system is very well adapted to the sea, but not so well to forces exerted on his body while driving around. And the other way around is also true. Someone that is very well adapted to the motion of driving around can get seasick very fast. The motions experienced in both cases are miles apart. It is comforting to know however that human beings will get accustomed to a variety of situations in no time.
Plan your voyage. Especially if you have a feeling you might get seasick or you know you have problems in nausea. A good place to start is not to think about it too much. Dismiss any bad thoughts with optimism and good spirits… You are going on a vacation. If you want to really be prepared you can always get some over the counter medication to help prevent seasickness.
Our golden rules
We have compiled a simple list of rules based on our own experiences we have gathered trough the years:
- Don’t stress yourself before you set sail,
- Stay in the cockpit, going below deck will only make it worse,
- Look at static objects (island, mountains, etc) or the horizon,
- Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and fatty foods,
- Don’t smoke, it makes it worse,
- Take nausea medicine (dimenhydrinate e.g. Dramamine) with you – make sure to take them before the sea gets heavy.
Historically speaking seasickness wasn’t the worst condition professional sailors had to endure. Amongst bad weather, navigational challenges and viruses, one of them stood out. Scurvy, caused by vitamin C deficiency, was extremely common and fatal among sailors up until modern times. Its symptoms manifest as bleeding gums, loss of teeth and scarring of the skin which can later turn into heart failure and eventually… Death. The disease was officially discovered in the beginning of the 18th century, a cure was first proposed by Scottish surgeon James Lind some years later. The proposed medicine were fruits and vegetables, especially citruses and other produce with a high vitamin C content. You can imagine that at the time a seamen’s diet wasn’t the most nutritious over all.
Scurvy still known to occur, though it is not common and will mostly effect children.
Every sailboat is equipped with a keel. A large counterweight on the bottom of the hull that helps to stabilise the vessel when under sail. Simply put the keel makes sure that the boat doesn’t deviate from its upright position too much. It also makes sure that the boat doesn’t turn over on its head when in rough conditions. The keel also contributes to a special type of motion we attribute specifically to sailboats and from there on to seasickness.
In this regard catamarans (cats) are favourable, since their design consists of two hulls which make the vessel’s profile much larger and more resistant to bad weather. But in general, for both cats and monohulls a simple rule applies. Bigger is better. A bigger boat will be more resilient and stable in high seas than her smaller sisters. Better stability equals a smoother ride equals less chance for you to get sick.
Even though we spend a lot of our time out on the water, we have never had problems with seasickness during our events. Sickness happens from time to time but our crew is always there to help. Either with medication, or by adjusting the course of the boat in such a way it reduces roll. Our crew is trained to give special attention to guests in need, whatever that might be. Like we mentioned earlier on: Don’t worry too much, no one has ever abruptly ended their holiday because of seasickness.
If you have any questions regarding this (or any other) topic, feel free to contact us at anytime. Don’t stress out, let us take care of your needs and take you on your very own sailing experience. The one you deserve.