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Seasickness ~ Rockin' the Boat

by Linda Coffman

Seasickness Remedies

Rockin' the Boat - If all else fails, find a sympathetic bartender

Mal de mer...

That's a fancy French way of saying seasickness, motion sickness, upset stomach... and all that goes with it. Those who are afflicted claim only dying will relieve their discomfort. Many first time passengers are anxious about whether they'll be stricken with it.

Will you get seasick? Until you actually sail, there's no way to tell. If you start turning green around the gills just looking at a Jacuzzi, you might get seasick... if you have a problem with motion sickness in automobiles and airplanes, you may be more prone to seasickness. On the other hand, if you get nauseous in a smallish sailboat, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll get seasick on a cruise ship.

Modern cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers that eliminate much of the motion responsible for seasickness. And, unless your cruise includes the open sea and wind-whipped water, you may not even feel the ship's movement--particularly if your ship is a mega-liner.  

For first-time cruisers concerned with seasickness, a mega-liner is precisely the ship of choice. I've missed Bon Voyage deck parties on ships of over 70,000 GRT because I never felt them leave the dock. They are very stable in calm seas. Where do you find a cruise on a mega-liner in calm seas? The Caribbean is most benign in winter and spring, but you might want to avoid the height of hurricane season when tropical storms can whip up a frenzy of waves from late-August until November.

If you have a history of motion sickness, do not book an inside cabin. For the terminally seasick, it will begin to resemble a movable coffin in short order. Being able to view the horizon can help restore your sense of balance. Select an outside cabin in the middle of the ship on a low deck where any extreme motion will be less noticeable.

What is it?

Seasickness is a balance problem generally attributed to overactive nerve fibers in the inner ear. Your sensory perception gets out of synch as these nerve fibers attempt to compensate for the unfamiliar motion of the ship moving through water. This condition often disappears on its own in a few days, once you get your "sea legs," but by that time you've seen far too much of the inside of your bathroom and are ready to bolt the ship at any cost. You needn't suffer--there are a number of remedies available to help align your gyros.


Even those sailors who "never get seasick" have been known to avail themselves of medications on occasion. The most common drugs are Dramamine, Dramamine II, and Bonine. They are all essentially anti-histamines and are available at most pharmacies over-the-counter. Anti-histamines make most people drowsy and Dramamine will almost certainly have that effect. Dramamine II and Bonine are non-drowsy formulas but they still put some people to sleep for a few hours. Considering the alternative, that's not necessarily a bad side effect.

If you want to beat mal de mer before it has the chance to sneak up on you, it's recommended that you take one of these remedies a couple hours before sailing. Rest assured that if you don't bring your own, an ample supply will be available onboard your vessel, either in sick bay or at the Purser's Desk.

Scopace, which is scopolamine in pill form, is another effective medication, although a prescription is needed just like the Transderm Scop® patch (described below, it contains the same medicine).

The "Patch"

Worn behind the ear, the "patch" dispenses a continuous metered dose of medication (scopolamine) that's absorbed into the skin and enters the bloodstream. Apply the patch four hours before sailing and it will continue to be effective for three days. You'll need a prescription from your physician for the patch and, while wearing it, be vigilant for possible side effects including blurred vision, dry mouth, and drowsiness. Additionally, alcohol should be avoided and you shouldn't drive or do other things that require alertness until you discontinue using the patch.  

Other Alternatives

No one wants to be drugged up and drowsy when they should be enjoying a cruise. There are nearly as many remedies for seasickness as there are sufferers, so dive in and explore a few homeopathic and natural cures.

Bitters: Have the bartender mix up a couple tablespoons of Angostura Bitters in a half glass of water or club soda. Do this right away and you probably won't need the rest of these remedies.

Sea-Bands: These wristbands work on the principle of acupressure. Each elastic Sea-Band has a round button on the inside and when positioned to press a particular point on the inside of the wrist, the nausea associated with seasickness disappears. I swear by these little gems, although they look rather tacky with cocktail dresses. They are sold in many pharmacies, luggage stores, and even some travel agencies. Many ships' sundries shops also have them but if the ship begins to rock and roll, they'll sell out in a heartbeat.

Ginger: My mom always gave me ginger ale for an upset stomach and it can't hurt if you can keep it down. Ginger capsules and crystallized ginger, available in health food stores and supermarkets, are supposedly even more effective.

Food: You won't feel like it, but you should try to eat something. Crackers, broth, and ginger ale might do the trick. Any woman who's lived through morning sickness knows the virtues of saltine crackers. My travel agent recommends crackers and apples for those who can't keep liquids down--the apples replace vital body fluids.

Lying Down: Spending valuable cruise time in bed isn't fun, but a prone position should alleviate some of your symptoms. So, don't lie down in your cabin, instead find a deck chair and get some...

Fresh Air: If nothing else, fresh sea air smells good and is bound to improve your mood. Again, keeping an eye on the horizon can also help restore your sense of balance.

Some insensitive people (usually spouses) will tell you seasickness is "all in your head." In a way it is--it's that inner ear thing and a very real problem for many unfortunate passengers. There's no better vacation than a week or more at sea, so give these methods a try.

If all else fails, there's "sick bay"--the ship's infirmary--where you'll find Cruise Care.

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