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What to do if you get seasick: A seafaring doctor's advice

You’re out sailing for the day with friends and you’ve been feeling a bit peaky for a while. You thought it might pass, but now the seasickness is overwhelming you to the point where you’re starting to feel incapacitated.

Illustration of sailors being seasick on a yacht

Illustration: Mike Peyton

There’s no seasickness medication onboard.

Do you:

a) Ignore it and try to carry on?

b) Go down below, lie on your bunk and keep still?

c) Go down below but keep moving?

Expert answer

Gordon Dickens: GP, Sailing Instructor and Shore Crew at Ramsey Lifeboat Station

Gordon Dickens
Gordon Dickens

Semicircular canals within your ears record the movement of your head in three directions. When a boat lists one way and you move your head another, your sense of balance becomes confused and it can make you sick.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t just push on. Go and lie in a bunk with a lee cloth to stop you from rolling and keep your head still (so the correct answer is b).

It’s better to catch seasickness earlier. Stop it in its tracks:

  • Stand up and take the wheel.
  • Bend your legs to compensate for the movement.
  • Keep your head still and level with the horizon.
  • Only go below if necessary, as your ‘horizon’ will become the moving interior of the boat.

Even experienced sailors can get seasick and severe seasickness can be frightening. Never be embarrassed to put out a Pan Pan call to ask for assistance.

Mythbuster: I’m always seasick

Gordon shares his view that most people can acclimatise to overcome seasickness:

If you’re regularly seasick, every time you get on a boat, your brain is telling itself that it’s going to happen again.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!

My friend and Crew Member Ray suffered seasickness. I invited him on a 15-day delivery trip down to Gibraltar. The first day he was seasick and sceptical, the second day he was a bit queasy and by the fourth day he was over it.

He got used to it with no special treatment from me; I was just telling him about posture and stance! His confidence grew and he’s not had any issues since.

Try following the tips above and build up your own tolerance with frequent short trips.

We'd love to hear about your tried-and-trusted ways of combating - or preventing - seasickness. Post your comment below the line or tweet us @RNLI.

Get more RNLI advice on staying safe on or near the water here.

Main image picture credit: Mike Peyton, 2012, World of Peyton, Thomas Reed UK, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc