Strategy to Fight Seasickness


Getting over seasickness as quickly as possible must be the focus and responsibility of all on board. Having dealt with 400 seasick sailors (out of 1,200 sail-training students) on ocean passages over the past 42 years, I have become very experienced at prevention and treatment. The following steps to avoid or lessen the severity of seasickness has served well over those years.


Prior to Sailing

Avoid coffee, black tea, colas and alcohol, fatty foods including tuna, tomatoes, salami, hard cheeses and sauerkraut at least 2-4 days before the passage.

Increase your water intake to two liters per day. Give each crewmember their own one-liter water bottle labeled with their name. Start appropriate seasickness medication at least 24 hours prior to departure: 2-3 grams of Vitamin C, Berocca, Stugeron tablets, Compazine suppositories or TransDerm Scopolamine patches.

Whether or not you feel any symptoms of seasickness, it is essential to maintain a steady fluid intake of one liter per 2- to 3-hour watch ensuring a total of 2 to 3 liters per day. As soon as seasick symptoms appear (mild headache, queasiness, sweating, drowsiness, depression) a more disciplined response is required.

Add Emergen-C, (available online) Berocca or a similar electrolyte replacement vitamin-mineral drink mix to your drink bottle. The electrolyte replacement helps your cells absorb fluid more quickly and completely. Gatorade and similar sports drinks lack Vitamin C, which counteracts histamine production that causes seasickness.

Eat small amounts of food on a regular basis: crackers, cookies, crystallized ginger, canned fruit or hard candies. Bananas provide potassium and are an excellent first choice if available.

Stand your watches no matter how you feel, as this will speed your recovery faster than lying in your bunk.

Effective Seasick Medication

Stugeron (cinnarizine) 15 mg tablets are only available by mail order from in the U.S., but are readily available in many countries including the United Kingdom. Stugeron, an over-the-counter antihistamine has consistently proven to be one the most effective anti-seasick medication causing less drowsiness than other antihistamines. Avoid Stugeron Forte 75 mg tablets, which are unnecessarily strong.

Compazine (prochlorperazine) 5, 10 or 25 mg. suppositories (not oral) have, from my experience proven to be the most effective prescription anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medication that causes the least drowsiness. As anxiety can cause nausea and since Compazine treats both it is an important drug to carry aboard. Suppositories are far more effective than tablets once vomiting has started.

Transderm Scopolamine 1.5 mg. patches may work when no other drug does, but one MUST first test this drug out on land as documented side effects can be severe. Avoid using for more than three days. Scopalamine is also available in tablet form (Scopace 0.4 mg.) but this is much less effective once vomiting has started.

CAUTION! With any drug, prescription or over the counter, there are published side effects. For more on prescription and homeopathic remedies see Cures for Seasickness, January 2009, and Drug-free Seasickness Solutions, December 2009.

Feeling Queasy?

Take the helm and steer the boat, focusing on the horizon. If the boat is overpowered, reduce sail. If you are sailing close-hauled, ease sheets and fall off.

Minimize time working below if possible. When going below, take your foulies off in the cockpit rather than below decks. The faster you either get back on deck or lie down, the better youll feel. Avoid lying down in your foulies for an extended period of time to lessen the chance of hyperthermia.

Maintain medications and review whether additional or different medications are required. If you feel like vomiting do not lean over the lifelines to vomit; use a 2-liter plastic container with tight-fitting lid that you can use on deck and below.

Most people feel considerably better after vomiting, but it is essential to maintain a steady fluid-electrolyte intake. Take small sips, stay hydrated, and keep your blood sugar level up.

Prolonged vomiting causes dehydration surprisingly quickly, hypothermia (even in the tropics) anxiety, confusion, depression, and shock. Once in shock, an enema or intravenous is the next step to rehydration and your survival.

After departure, coastal wave refraction and associated choppiness are frequently followed by more regular ocean swells, so do not be initially discouraged by seasickness. In almost all cases sailors recover from seasickness within 1 to 4 days if they follow the above advice.

John and his wife Amanda Swan Neal, a former Whitbread racer and author of The Galley Companion, have more than half a million miles at sea combined. Through their company Mahina Expeditions they conduct sail-training expeditions aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 46, Mahina Tiare III in oceans around the world.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here