Sick of the Sea: Dealing with sea sickness

Sea sick on the open water

Seasick. That was me, last Monday. Not fun.

Taking advantage of the last day of Spring Break in Florida, my little family of four booked passage on a dive boat out of Palm Harbor. The plan was to do a two-tank dive with Tanked Up Dive Shop. We were the only people crazy brave enough to face the sixty-three degree water temp, so it was just us and the crew.

We planned to dive The Sheridan, a 180-ft ocean tugboat sunk as an artificial reef. The site is about a 2-hr boat ride from the marina but the air was mild and the seas were far from rough. We considered the ride a fun part of the day and it would have been, if it weren’t for the wind.

The wind was blowing in such a way that the fumes from the diesel engine engulfed us the entire way out to the wreck dive site.

By the time we arrived, I was feeling sick. I think it was a combination of the increasing pitch and roll of the boat as we got farther from shore combined with the noxious fumes. Luckily, I was able to make the first dive.

The Sheridan is an absolutely fantastic site, complete with resident Goliath groupers and schools of barracuda. But the minute I pulled myself back up on the boat for the surface interval, I was hanging over the edge, sick again. By then I was cold, surely dehydrated, and unable to make the second dive.

What could I have done to prevent seasickness? Maybe nothing, but there are measures I could have taken to stack the deck in my favor. First, I could have taken motion sickness medication. The guys at Tanked Up suggest taking a dose of Bonine the night before the dive and a second dose at least 30 minutes prior to boarding the boat.

Preventing seasickness is best but I could have also been better prepared in case it happened. I plan to put together a “seasick kit” every time we dive. The kit will contain items such as: Wrist bands for motion sickness such as Sea Band, ginger ale, crystallized ginger, ginger flavored lozenges/hard candies, Saltines or pretzels, and peppermint hard candies or peppermint flavored gum.

Those are the things I could have done to be better prepared, but here’s what I did to combat my seasickness:

  1. I kept drinking water. A person who is vomiting will dehydrate a quickly, especially when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. I took little sips often, until we were off the boat.
  2. I sat on the boat in the middle of the deck. The motion of the waves is felt the least at the center of the boat.
  3. I rested my head against the back of the bench and fixed my vision on a point on the horizon. Motion sickness happens when the brain becomes confused by conflicting messages from the eyes, inner ear and sensory nerves as they perceive motion. It can be caused by motion that is seen but not felt, motion that is felt but not seen, or motion that is seen and felt but the two don’t correspond. Making sure you don’t move your head abruptly and watching the horizon minimizes sensory confusion and eases seasickness.
  4. I put on warm clothing. After the 30 minute dive in 63 degree water, I was very cold. The vomiting further lowered my core body temperature. Slowly, I got out of my wet bathing suit and put on yoga pants, a hooded sweatshirt and a blanket-lined boat coat. As I warmed up and the trembling subsided, so did the nausea.

Nothing spoils a fun day of diving like seasickness. I’ve talked to crew members who spend months at a time out at sea working on yachts, and everyone tells me the same thing: Everyone succumbs to seasickness at some time. The best way to ensure your dive day will be the best it can be is to monitor how you’re feeling, watch the horizon if necessary, and be prepared with motion sickness medication or a seasick kit.

If you have other questions or would like to discuss scuba please feel free to contact us directly via phone, email, or fill out the form on this page.

What’s your favorite cure for motion sickness?

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