Seasickness can be debilitating and ruin a full day’s diving on the ocean wave. It can occur on the way to the dive site, during your surface interval and even underwater. Waves, surge and the movement of seaweed and kelp can bring on an unpleasant green feeling. Even famous explorers like Charles Darwin and Christopher Columbus suffered from the miserable malady!
What is motion sickness?
Biologically, it is sensory confusion. You are on a moving platform which requires your muscles and joints to work, but your feet are on what your brain thinks is solid ground. This is why we use the phrase “sea legs”. Your eyes see a still view, but the fluid moving within the labyrinth of the inner ear is affecting balance. Your brain gets confused with the mixed signals, which causes nausea.
“Prevention is better than cure” - Erasmus
Seasickness tablets work by blocking sensory-nerve transmission. The clever ingredient Meclozine controls nausea, however Cinnarizine is an ingredient in many antihistamines that can make you drowsy. Try to avoid meds that contain that one, as drowsiness can affect your reaction times and judgement when diving. Don’t wait until you are on the boat, take your meds a couple of hours before boarding, so they have time to get working. Some physicians advise taking them earlier (up to 24 hours) so you build up an effective level of the drug in the blood. Patches (which go behind the ear) are also available, but will need to be prescribed by your GP.
Sea Bands are like mini 1980s sweat bands! They touch the pressure point between the two wrist tendons, which in acupressure is thought to relieve nausea.
Eat a good, healthy breakfast that contains proteins and carbohydrates, NOT grease and fats. Avoid alcohol the night before. Alcohol can also cause dehydration, which won’t help your motion sickness and can affect sleep.
Find your happy place on the boat prior to leaving the jetty, preferably in the middle of the lower deck, outside and facing the direction of travel.
Stay hydrated. Hydration helps in dealing with stress factors like the confusing stimuli signalled to your brain when seasick. Electrolytes and rehydration salts can help replace essential fluids if you have long bouts of vomiting.
“Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always” - Hippocrates
If seasickness has already set in, your instinct is to bend over. Try not to slouch and look at the horizon. This appears stable and tricks your brain. Go somewhere in the fresh air, keeping away from the fumes of the engine, cigarette smoke or other vomit! Lying flat and closing your eyes can also help. Keep off your phone and dive computer as that will make the symptoms worse!
Emetrol is an anti-nausea medication that contains phosphoric acid, which is also an ingredient found in cola. So throw back a can of the fizzy stuff if you are feeling green. Sugary food may also help.
Ginger in pretty much any form – tea or sweets, for example – is a good homeopathic remedy. It is thought that ginger root contains the right chemicals that relax the intestinal track. Quease Ease is an American formula originally developed by a nurse for post-surgery queasiness. It is used by many sailors today to quell seasickness and contains essential oils including ginger and peppermint.
If one does have to “chuck one’s cookies” - do! Go to the leeward (downwind) side of the boat, so you don’t hurl your breakfast over everybody’s dive gear. Don’t use the tiny Head on the boat, no matter how embarrassed you are. Being thrown about in a wet, smelly cubbyhole will do nothing for your illness or your dignity!
If someone tells you that you will feel better underwater, consider whether you are hydrated enough to dive. Dehydration is the leading cause of decompression sickness. The act of vomiting puts a lot of strain on your body and will make you fatigued. Being tired can affect judgement and cause panic underwater. If you do dive and feel the urge to blow chunks underwater, never remove your regulator. You will need to take a hard breath in directly afterwards!
Planning for the future
If you are one of the hundreds of divers affected by seasickness, here are some tips for planning future trips:
- Go shore diving
- Don’t go to very far offshore reefs or seamounts
- Choose larger sized liveaboards and request a mid-ship cabin
- Don’t go boat diving in the “off” season when the weather can be unpredictable
- Get a considerate, trustworthy buddy to help with setting up your equipment
Finally, believe in the statistics – 100% of people have recovered from seasickness! It will go away eventually when you are back on dry land, and hopefully you will return to boat diving again. If you decide you are not cut out to be a salty sea dog, then take comfort in this famous quote by author Mark Twain: “At first you are so sick you are afraid you will die, and then you are so sick you are afraid you won’t die”!