updated 9/11/16


Just hand me an anchor and throw me over the side. That is what I think every time I get seasick. Oh yes. I am one of the many unfortunates afflicted with Mal de Mer. People sometimes ask me "How can you get seasick if you live on a boat?" or the reverse, "How can you live on a boat if you get seasick?” Now, I am not one of those who get seasick walking on a floating dock but I have been seasick many times so I believe I am qualified to expound on the subject.

First, what is seasickness? Seasickness happens when the body, inner ear, and eyes all send different signals to the brain. Your vision system is telling your brain that the world is stable, while the inner ear is screaming that it is not. The good news for sufferers is that the condition often disappears without medical treatment within a few days (That's right. DAYS!). As your brain learns to compensate for the swaying and pitching of the boat, you will get your “sea legs”.

I was once seasick for three days. It was on my honeymoon, no less. It happened on HM Bark Endeavour in the North Pacific three days out of Vancouver bound for Kealakekua-Kona. At the change of the Midnight watch, we were called to reef topsails. The wind was kicking up and seas were running better than ten feet. There was no Moon. We were sent up the foremast and lay out on the yardarm, ninety feet above the deck. That is when it hit me. The ship's rolling and pitching was amplified considerably that high above the sea and I could feel it creeping up on me as I climbed the ratlines. The higher I went, the worse it got. I knew what was coming and I was not looking forward to it. I was able to hold my supper until I made it back in to the fighting top. Wouldn't want to soil the sails now, would we? Then, when the vertigo passed, I made my way down to the deck and spent the rest of my watch curled up with one of the blue plastic buckets provided for that purpose. Next morning Laura went up with a bucket and cleaned up my mess. All that night and for the next three days, I stood my watches with a blue plastic bucket nearby. Then, like magic, on the morning of the fourth day I climbed out of my hammock feeling ravenously hungry. I wasn't going to die after all, no! I felt great! I was never bothered with seasickness for the rest of the voyage.

Who gets seasick? Virtually everyone they say; although I swear, when it happens to me everyone else seems to standing around laughing at my misery. Still, medical authorities say that almost anyone who has normal inner ear balance function can suffer motion sickness. I am told that Sleepiness can often be the first sign and some people who think they don't get seasick actually do without realizing it. People who love to take a nap the moment they get out onto the water are probably feeling the effects of mild motion sickness. On the other hand, for many unfortunate souls the symptoms escalate to extreme nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, pallor and cold perspiration. That's me. When it hits, it hits hard, although I do not always get seasick.

I have been seasick on a Trojan 30 Sport fisherman but not on a Grand Banks 42. On the other hand, on another trip on the same Grand Banks I was violently ill immediately after leaving the dock. Again, on a seven day fishing trip on the Grand Banks, in some rough conditions I was not afflicted. On the 151 foot Endeavour, I was sick for three days but I rarely get sick on my Vega 27. Rarely, but it does happen. On an overnight trip from Honolulu to Molokai, I kept Laura awake through her watch below heaving chum. On the return trip three days later, I was fine. I have been seasick on the troopship USS Paul Revere and once while paddling my kayak from Kailua Bay to Kaneohe in thirty-foot swells. Imagine my horror when I got that old familiar feeling while taking flying lessons in a Cessna 152. Update: In 2007, while crossing the Pacific in Lealea, I was seasick for a new personal record of 23 days.

Is there a cure? Sure. Jump overboard. You will feel better instantly! The Captain may not appreciate your antics and just sail away and leave you for the sharks but trust me, that would be far better than the suffering you will endure with Mal de Mer. Besides, as soon as they drag you back aboard you will be seasick again. Better to just drown. Dramamine only works if you take it well before you sail, several hours at least. I know of nothing that works once you get sick (Except jumping overboard). On Endeavour, I found that lying in a free-swinging hammock alleviated the symptoms and allowed me to sleep but there is no room for a hammock on most yachts.

Antihistamines such as Dramamine and Bonine are effective preventives but they cause drowsiness and I do not relish the idea of taking any drug, let alone for a voyage of several weeks. Again, you must take these before going aboard to achieve the desired effect. I have used Dramamine and I know that it is effective but I prefer a more natural solution. (Edit: I have since relented and now take Dramamine every time we leave the dock)

Experienced sailors swear by many remedies and placebos. Navy men I know say to eat saltines or soda crackers. At least that gives you something to throw up besides bile and so eases the suffering somewhat. Wristbands are popular purchases at West Marine and several fishermen I know insist that they work. Many charter boats in Hawaii carry wristbands for afflicted lubbers (Available at a nominal fee of course). Special wristbands, Sea Band for Kids, are also available for children.

Ginger seems to help. An old folk remedy for nausea, ginger ale, the good stuff, not the mass-market brands you buy at the discount store, works pretty well. So does ginger tea made from sliced or grated ginger root, and of course homemade ginger snaps. I much prefer a cup of ginger tea and a pocket full of ginger cookies to any drug. We always have a supply of ginger ale, fresh ginger root and some freshly baked ginger snap cookies on board when we go sailing for more than a few hours. If you do not have time to bake cookies, you might try Sailors Secret Ginger Caps or Ginger Anti Seasick Gum

The good news is, of course, that seasickness is rarely fatal, unless you decide end it all and jump overboard. Mal de Mer usually goes away on its own in a few days or when you set foot on solid ground. I am only half joking about jumping overboard too. If it is possible to stop the boat and go over the side for a swim, the seasickness will subside...


…until you get back aboard.

One unfortunate aspect is that after a prolonged period at sea it may take a while for you to adjust to being on terra firma again. Oh yes, the dreaded "Land sickness".