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DAN – Avoiding Seasickness


“If you start to feel ill, do not go below to the marine head; that’ll make everything worse. Just go to the leeward side of the boat, plant your hands and feet, lean over the edge and aim for distance.”

Seasickness can be a total drag for everyone involved, and when it strikes it can feel impossible to escape. Some find relief when they hop into the water, but for many the only escape is returning to dry land. Since boating is inherent to some of the best diving out there, any diver susceptible to motion sickness is bound to encounter seasickness at one point or another. Here are a few tips to help you better understand this condition and take steps to avoid feeling miserable on your next dive trip.

By Caitlyn Ruskell, DAN Content Writer/Editor

What Causes It

Motion sickness occurs when there’s a miscommunication between the sensory organs that make up your vestibular system, the system that enables you to keep your balance. This system is a network of sensory organs in your inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints. When these sensory organs receive conflicting signals, it brings on the symptoms of motion sickness.

When you’re at sea (versus riding in a car or flying in a plane), the sensations you perceive can produce some dramatically conflicting signals. For example, if you’re standing on a boat setting up your gear, your muscles and joints feel the movement of the boat on the water, your inner ear is working to keep you balanced, and your eyes see what appears to be a stationary scuba unit. Some scientists hypothesize that these conflicting signals trick the body into thinking it has been poisoned, which would help explain the non-stop vomiting response, but the mechanisms behind some symptoms of motion sickness are still unknown.

What It Looks Like

Motion sickness can strike suddenly, and when it hits it’s never pretty. Sometimes people experiencing motion sickness feel only mild discomfort, but other times motion sickness can bring on dizziness, sweating, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically don’t resolve until the motion stops (or after several days of acclimation), so if you’re out on a 10-day cruise you may struggle for a prolonged period — unless you take some steps to treat or prevent it.

How to Find Some Sweet Relief

Preventing motion sickness is often more effective than treating it, but if motion sickness strikes when you’re unprepared, there are a few ways you can find some sweet relief. If you start feeling bad, avoid tasks such as reading, writing or fiddling with your gear. Step outside of any boat cabins or enclosed areas and get some fresh air, preferably upwind of any exhaust fumes. It also helps to look out at a point on the horizon, but if this fails you may just need to grab a tagline and hang out in the water if it’s safe to do so.

If you’re feeling ill, you can try taking small bites of saltine crackers or a banana to ease your stomach. You can also try to alleviate your symptoms by consuming ginger or peppermint, which may provide some relief from nausea. Alternatively, some people swear by acupressure bracelets, and many others choose to take medications like dimenhydrinate, meclizine or scopolamine (the patch) to treat their motion sickness.

These medications are often even more effective when taken to prevent motion sickness, but before you hit the pharmacy on the way to the dive boat, you should be sure you’ve tried out whichever motion sickness medication you choose several times on land. This way you can make sure that any side effects of the medication, such as drowsiness or confusion, do not impair you or compromise your ability to dive safely. You also want to make sure the medication works for you and actually prevents symptoms.

Along with the cheap insurance that taking medication provides, there are plenty of other ways to prevent motion sickness. Start by getting plenty of sleep and staying hydrated; consuming alcoholic beverages or being hungover can really exacerbate symptoms (and don’t mix with diving anyway). Another way to help prevent seasickness is to eat a balanced meal about an hour before you head out, taking care to avoid heavy or greasy foods.

When you board the boat, set up your gear strategically in the middle of the boat, and on the ride out to your dive site, avoid areas such as flying bridges tuna towers, which move significantly more than other parts of the boat. It’s also wise to avoid others who are nauseated and vomiting.

Even if you’ve never been seasick before, there’s something about dive boats than can push even those with an iron gut over to the edge of the boat. When it comes to seasickness, prevention is key, but understanding the condition and knowing some ways to treat it if it catches you off guard can prevent a lot of suffering on your next dive boat outing.