Seasickness, Finding Your Sea Legs, & Living On A Sailboat

Sailing Kittiwake

One of the worries I had when I considered sailing away into the sunset with Ryan was seasickness. I had been seasick before a few times – in the Med, in the UK, and in California; pretty much all over the place!

You’ll think I’m mad: how can I live on a boat, if I get seasick? The truth is: I found my sea legs and I have developed strategies to cope with seasickness when it hits. How often do I get seasick? Very rarely nowadays.

You see, unless you get heavily seasick every time you step on a boat of any size, I wouldn’t worry about becoming a liveaboard so much. Most people need to be on the water for days to find their sea legs, so you’ll only know how you truly feel onboard if you spend at least a week sailing. Renting a charter boat or going on a sailing holiday may be good tests for you.

Nearly Anyone Can Get Seasick

No one is truly immune to seasickness. Even the saltiest sailor can get the mal de mer when in rough seas, especially if they’re down below cooking or reading. A lot of sailors will feel unwell during the first few days of a passage, before they find their sea legs. You can read up about some science behind the phenomenon here.

There Are Different Levels of Seasickness

When you’re seasick, you don’t always vomit. Wonder why? Because there are different levels of seasickness – from light to heavy. You could feel queasy when you go down below to go to the loo, or very nauseous when you’re at anchor and it’s swelly, or very seasick when sailing in heavy weather. Not all these conditions are the same.

Queasiness is easy to shake off and can sometimes go away by simply getting back out on deck. Nausea can be defeated if you act fast. Seasickness though… if you get to that point, you’ll have to brace yourself and endure it. Sometimes it can be over with one vomiting session, sometimes it’ll last for days.

Finding Your Sea Legs

Sailing Kittiwake

Getting used to the movement of a boat takes time. Ideally, you’ll want to sleep on board first, before heading out at sea. If you can, spend an evening and night in a marina, where the water is very calm, to get used to being on the water.

You may feel queasy or even seasick the first few times you sail or are at anchor. This should go away after a few days, unless the seas are pretty rough. You can find comfort in a protected anchorage, on a mooring ball, in a river or at a marina if you need a break.

Everyone’s sea legs are slightly different – everyone builds up a certain level of tolerance to seasickness. So even though you may feel comfortable on a boat in calm weather, you might still get seasick in rough conditions. That’s ok though – you’ll want to hunker down on those days anyway.

The Best Ways To Prevent and Cure Seasickness

Here are some of the methods you can use to prevent and cure the mal de mer. Remember though: each person responds differently to each of these, so you’ll have to experiment with your own stomach and find what works best for you.

Try to relax – If you’re all rigid and worried that you’ll get seasick, guess what: you’ll feel unwell. Try to relax and enjoy the ride, look out to sea, and check out the coast. Put some music on and try to relax. If you struggle, you can try a podcast.

I find it helps if we don’t allow ourselves to talk about seasickness at all – we’re only allowed to ask each other how we are if we admit we feel queasy first.

Ryan and Elena Sunset

Stay in the cockpit – The cockpit is the best place to be, if you’re worried about getting seasick. There is fresh air there, you’re usually in the most stable part of the boat, and you can see the horizon. Don’t go down below – keep food on deck and, if you are travelling with loved ones, wee in a bucket (life saver!).

Look at the horizon – It’s not a myth, looking at the line of the horizon will stabilize your balance. This isn’t so much a cure, but rather a prevention method. Whatever you’re doing while sailing, look at the horizon every few minutes.

This is also helpful when you’re cooking at anchor and there is a light swell – look out of the window every few chops and stirs!

sunrise

Eat plain, “dry” food – Eating is ok, as long as you have plain foods. Avoid instant noodles, canned stews, and any other flavourful food. Crackers, hard cheese, nuts, dry fruits, plain pasta, biscuits, and bread are possibly the best things you can eat. I don’t need to mention that you shouldn’t drink alcohol while sailing, right?

Helm – Just like a person suffering from motion sickness can’t get carsick if they drive, a sailor can’t get seasick if they helm (unless the seas are super rough). By being in control of the boat, you’ll anticipate the movements of the waves much better.

This is the number one method for me. It’s nearly impossible for me to feel seasick if I helm, unless I’m on a night passage and focus too much on the instruments. If I start to feel queasy, I simply get behind the wheel and look at the horizon. I’ve helmed in pretty rough seas and while it all felt a little dramatic, I never felt seasick.

Leaving the Isles of Scilly

Wear sea bands – These look like bracelets and are meant to prevent or treat seasickness thanks to the miracles of acupressure. I’ve not tried them yet, but a friend swears by them, so why not try them out? They’re pretty cheap too.

Use one earplug – There’s theory according to which putting one single earplug in your ear will trick your brain and sense of balance, making you feel much more stable. This method didn’t work for me, but it did work for Ryan. As a sailor, you’ll probably want to own a pair of earplugs anyway.

Eat (or drink) ginger – Ginger biscuits, caramelised ginger, and ginger tea can help prevent seasickness, for some people. Ginger biscuits have helped me get rid of queasiness a couple of times. It’s worth giving it a try, especially if you’re a fan of the flavor anyway.

Avoid strong caffeinated drinks – Caffeine can irritate your stomach and make you feel seasick more easily, so avoid having coffee before or during a big passage.

ginger biscuit

Lie down – If you’re feeling very nauseous, run down to your bunk and lie down, fully dressed, with no hesitation. You’ll need to act fast, before it’s too late. Don’t lie down in the v-berth though – that’ll likely make things worse, as it’s the bit of the boat that moves the most.

Take seasickness pills – And finally, the big guns. Some meds don’t only prevent the mal de mer, but also cure it. Make sure you read the instructions fully before taking them – I prefer those that act within 15 minutes.

Pills are usually the most effective remedy once you’ve started feeling unwell, but some people swear by patches – to each their own. Try out different drugs and you’ll find the perfect solution for you.

seasickness

 

Personally, I find drinking Coke with crackers and cheese helps me a lot. I also find chewing on sweets comforting during night passages. But these aren’t proven methods by any means.

It sounds like a lot! But really, since I’ve moved on board Kittiwake I never felt fully seasick, and I only took pills a couple of times (mainly on night passages or stormy days). Now I can sometimes even make sushi in a rolly anchorage in 50mph winds! So don’t be put off living on a boat because of seasickness, but be well prepared to prevent it at all costs and cure it.

Fair winds and following seas!


2 COMMENTS
  • peter
    Reply

    Thankfully I’ve never been seasick (touches wood) but I do get sea legs as it where when on large boats\ships for more than several hourse, get off onto land walking like a drunk, it’s funny.The main points you have covered although hairy fairy things like bands have zero scientific credibility, the no alcohol, light eating and pills seems the best route

  • Andi
    Reply

    Great blog XXX. Mum xx

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