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The feeling of seasickness has to do with the inner ear, where the organs responsible for balance and equilibrium, sight and proprioception (perception of movement and special orientation) are located.

These organs become overstimulated due to the rocking motion of a ship or a boat and send irregular signals to the brain. This is a matter of habit, mainly “emotional”, with very few exceptions when it is due to other physical causes, on which of course I give no opinion

So, whether you are at sea on a sailboat or a motor boat, waves are the same for everybody.

Before talking about more or less widespread remedies, let’s know more about some factors affecting this feeling.

Boat’s stability and its centre of mass

The technological design of a hull and its propeller (sail or motor) permits the boat to proceed with its forepart partially out of water depending on the boat’s speed, thus causing higher or lower friction.

A distinction must be drawn between displacement hulls (more of its hull below the waterline) and planing hulls (less of its hull below the waterline) both in sail and motor boats. Without going into technicalities, a planing hull “surfs” better than a displacement one, which, on the contrary, is mainly supported by buoyancy and therefore more in contact with waves. This first difference can, alone, stimulate the unwanted effect, which is due to different kinds of oscillations. Let’s list them here below.

Pitching and rocking

A boat swings more or less frontally (pitching) or sideways (rocking) according to the hull speed and the current sea waves.

You can easily be aware of pitching when sailing on a motorboat at high speed. In this situation your “sensorial system” can feel the pitch motion as more or less acceptable, depending also on your state of euphoria.

The sideways motion, on the contrary, affects more a sensation of nausea. This motion is experienced more in case of waves even at low speed – e.g. when a motorboat has to sail slowly for safety reasons – and mainly when in roadstead. And now it’s time to introduce another concept: the centre of mass.

The keel is a peculiarity of sailboats. It shifts the weight of a sailboat (i.e. the centre of mass) more downwards compared to a motorboat (no keel). Thus the sailboat is less affected by side motions and is therefore more stable.

When sailing in confused sea, a sailboat benefits from the above mentioned condition and can handle sea waves “more gently” (under affordable conditions, not in rough sea). Important is also the “damping” effect of sails. These have to be left open to stabilize the boat, even if to a lesser extent and depending on the strength of the wind.

If under these conditions you feel a sensation of nausea, stay in the most central and lower place of the sailboat, where there oscillations are less felt. On the contrary, on a motorboat you have to stay in the cockpit or in the fly, if any, as in motorboats the centre of mass is not so low as in sailboats.

It is said that you don’t have to stay under deck to avoid or ease this discomfort, as this is the place where the dynamics concerning equilibrium mentioned above come into play.

But, on a sailboat, this could be a real solution as you are staying near the hull area, which is less affected by oscillations. If you decide this is a convenient solution, get quickly to the dinette and lie there in prone position (face downwards). Close your eyes and try to sleep. While you are sleeping your brain won’t perceive the “discomfort” caused by unstable balance.

Natural or not, here you are some practical measures

It must be assumed that “the worst” can be avoided on board by being constantly engaged in different activities such as sculling, trimming the sails or just talking. Be aware that the discomfort will cease as you will get acquainted with the motion of the boat.

If in the meanwhile you choose not to take full part in the group life and you prefer to read a book or chat on your mobile, do it when you are sure you feel ok and surely not in rough sea. However, if you can’t avoid it, stay front-facing and give a look to the horizon from time to time.

Remember that digestion is no doubt the most decisive factor.

Food may be differently digested by different individuals depending on if they chew slowly, on their gastric acidity and gastric motility. In addition to this, food passes through the stomach more or less slowly. Who knows our digestions better than ourselves?

And now here you are some tips. Feel free to manage them as you wish.

  • Breakfast: it is better not to have milk, too much juice and cream doughnuts or all what may make digestion difficult. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is not a good idea for many people. Highly subjective. A politically correct proposal?  A lemon tea, dry biscuits or zwiebacks with marmalade and/or some fruit e.g. a peach or an apple – as you prefer. Bananas, as you know, are hard to digest. If, on the other hand, you prefer savoury food, a nice sandwich or toasted bread dissolve any doubts. Don’t eat mayonnaise and tomatoes as they may cause acidity. Eat what you know you can digest normally and, most important, pay attention to sea conditions outside the port and behave accordingly. It is better, however, not to start navigating on an empty stomach.
  • Have small meals several times a day based on crackers, bread, zwiebacks, breadsticks, anchovies (if you like them) or savouries. The basic idea is the same: never have an empty stomach for too long.
  • Drink water frequently, in small sips and not too cold.If you don’t drink, you dehydrate and may feel lightheaded or faint, thus increasing the feeling you are trying to avoid.
  • Don’t eat too much at lunch or dinner and avoid too fatty food: it also helps to keep you fit!
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol, especially if you are the skipper. Ah, yes. This is the rule. Manage the situation according to how you feel. Remember that the day after is always hard for everyone. Let alone in rough sea.
  • A piece of candied ginger to suck can be a very effective remedy, as well as cocculus, marjoram and sesame seeds. Natural remedies.
  • Don’t catch cold and wrap up warm before feeling cold. This a rule at sea, apart from anything else.
  • As soon as you feel that “something” is not as it should be, don’t wait. Have immediately something to eat and try to relax. Look at the horizon, have a talk, find an activity to keep your mind busy. If you feel, go under deck as suggested above. Breath deeply and try to sleep, thinking about nothing. If you cannot stay under deck, go in the cockpit. Stay in the open air but not exposed to the wind. Don’t be worried about other people. They will understand and try to support you.
  • But if something has gone wrong, you don’t need to be a hero. Throw up leeward, not windward, of course, as you can imagine what the consequences may be!
  • On the market there are medical remedies such as chewing gums and tablets that help to reduce the sensation of nausea or of feeling sick. It is a helping hand to let our body get used to navigation. Of course, any improper use is to be avoided. Some people say anti-nausea bracelets work. Pay attention to wear them correctly i.e. two fingers above the wrist bone. Scopolamine plasters are no more commercially available. Also antihistamine remedies can be used, however they may cause dryness, sleepiness and poor eyesight. In this cases sun exposure is not advisable. I recommend to check the content of any medical treatment with your doctor or ask the pharmacist before taking or using it.

If such a realistic approach has not shocked you, do not deny yourself the possibility to enjoy a beautiful experience: this “myth” has to be dispelled as seasickness can be easily managed. What is needed is a good motivation and spirit of adventure!

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Aldo Lavezzo
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