Apr 2015

Combating Sea Sickness

By Mike Waddington

On the medical forms for diving you will find a section asking you if you suffer from severe or frequent motion sickness. Most people who are new to boat travel may assume that as they are fine in cars or on planes they will be fine on a boat too. It’s only when they get on a boat in the rough seas that they realise that they actually do suffer from sea sickness. In fact most people who frequently boat will get sea sick at some point. Some will get it easier than others, but we will all start to suffer when it gets really choppy out there.

We get sea sickness because our feet are telling our brains that we are on solid ground, but the boat we are standing on is moving in almost every direction, up, down and side to side. Basically our brains get confused, and we get sick. If you are one of the unlucky few who frequently suffer from motion sickness, or you are planning a dive but the sea doesn’t look as friendly as normal, hopefully these tips will help prevent sea sickness from ruining your day.

Use Medication
There are many medications that are available over the counter that can help even the most sea sick prone divers. Dramamine is one of the most common but even antihistamines can help. They work by interrupting the information passed from places such as the middle ear (used for balance), to the brain. This is great, except they can also cause drowsiness and mild confusion. Because of this it is recommended that you have a dose the night before to see if you are sensitive to them, as you don’t want to dive whilst being half asleep! You should start taking them long before you even see the boat, preferably 12 hours before so your body already has a base level of the drug in your body. If you don’t want to take them so early, try to take a dose at least 1 hour before you board the boat. This will give your body time to absorb the drug and let it start working with the brain.

If the pills make you drowsy, or a dose just isn’t strong enough, don’t worry. There is another medical way to control it, and most people who suffer from strong motion sickness find it to be the most effective method. It is a patch that contains the drug Scopolamine, which reduces nerve fibre activity in your middle ear. You wear it behind your ear and it is slowly absorbed into your skin. Just watch out for some mild side effects such as dry mouth.

Focus on the Horizon
Put that book down, and stop playing with your dive computer. Sea sickness is basically just that your body is getting confused by the different messages being sent from different senses. Your body, inner ear and eyes are all disagreeing with what is going on, and you start to feel sick. You need to find a big stable object to look at, so your eyes aren’t all over the place. Generally the biggest and most stable thing you will find is the horizon. Doing this will allow your brain and body to make better sense of the situation.

If you feel the need to lie down and relax then make sure that you find a place in the middle of the boat (where there is least motion), and close your eyes. This way no ‘no motion’ messages will be sent from your eyes to your brain.

Prepare your Stomach
Personally I am less likely to get sea sick if I have a little something in me before I go out to choppy waters. Try having a light, plain snack such as bread or something similar, but avoid foods that have a strong flavour. Also avoid drinking acidic juices or coffee as they might exacerbate the problem. Try not to drink too much alcohol the night before, as even the mildest of hangovers can turn into severe sea sickness in minutes.
Many people find carbonated drinks such as Cola, may help settle the stomach. This is because it contains phosphoric acid and sugars that are found in anti-nausea medications.

What can I do if I am already feeling sea sick? First of all if you feel like you need to be sick, do it as soon as possible. Holding it in will only make you feel worse, and most people feel much better when they have emptied their stomachs. If you do need to be sick then don’t do it in the toilet (small confined rooms will magnify the nausea feeling). Go to the leeward side of the boat (downwind), if you are not sure where this is then ask one of the boat crew, they will know from first-hand experience the best place to go!

Unfortunately taking sea sickness tablets now will not be very effective compared to taking them before the trip. Closing your eyes while lying can make a massive difference in reducing the effects, and once you are in the water you will feel much better. Just make sure when you finally can get in the water that you don’t look at the boat moving up and down, as this might make it worse.

Luckily it doesn’t last that long once you are back on solid ground. Most people find that the worst of it is over within a few hours, although you may feel a bit wobbly for the rest of the day.

‘Combating Sea Sickness’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia