Feeling a Little Green?
The Anatomy of Sea Sickness
Although I had been fishing since I could hold a rod, I had never been fishing on a boat. The family had chartered a private charter boat out of Orange Beach, Alabama for a full day of red snapper fishing. I was eight years old, just making the age cut-off, while my younger cousins and siblings stayed behind to participate in land-loving kiddie activities. Feeling pretty confident at my ripe old age, I was ready for an exciting day of hot snapper action with the grown-ups. Unfortunately I did not anticipate the sneaky, water-born party-pooper called sea sickness. I spent most of my maiden snapper voyage perched in the doorway of the cabin next to my doting sea sick-prone Grandmother, nibbling Saltines.
As the years passed, I attempted several boating excursions, with similar disappointing results. I am not sure if it was my love for fishing or just sheer determination, but after one particularly queasy day on the water, I promised myself that I would never again allow sea sickness to interfere with my fishing adventures. As I researched the particulars of this condition plaguing my angling outings, I managed to eradicate the issue from my life. Now after developing my sea legs, my friends liken my scrambling about the boat to that of a little squirrel. It just took a little effort!
What Is It?
Very few anglers have been fortunate enough not to endure the wrath of this dreaded condition at least once among their sea going experiences. When it hits you, you think you will die, and then you just wish you would. Sea sickness is a miserable form of motion sickness, responsible for ruining seagoing activities since the beginning of maritime history.
It is amazing that a condition that can be so severely incapacitating is not a sickness at all. Sea sickness is merely a state of imbalance. Simply put, when your inner ear (the area responsible for your balance), and your body do not perceive the same movements in relation to your environment, a confused mechanism contributing to motion sickness is set off. If this spatial misperception is not corrected immediately, a quick spiral into a devastating feeling not soon forgotten by you, or your crewmates takes over. Individuals often describe sea sickness as the worst feeling of their lives, and many will actually appear to have a green hue. The only good news is that once you hit dry land, you will be instantly cured.
Sea sickness can present at different levels of intensity, depending on the circumstances and the individual. These levels can range from a marked uncomfortable sensation, to severe reactions that can be completely debilitating.
Usually, the first sign something is awry is a distinct feeling of queasiness, headache, and maybe some mild sweating. The person may appear pale, and even green. If this initial indicator continues without intervention, it is likely that within minutes the feeling will set in, and worsen. Next, the symptoms will often evolve into an awful plaque of severe nausea and vomiting-violent, projectile vomiting is not uncommon. Once this occurs, full-blown sea sickness has locked in, and the unfortunate victim is out for the count, so don’t expect anything other than a useless, sick passenger for the duration of the trip.
Prevention Before You Go:
I have helped many grateful passengers overcome seasickness, so although the outlook may seem a little grim, all is not lost when you are planning a trip in questionable seas. Luckily, sea sickness is often easily prevented with a little planning. If you wait until you are already on the water, it’s too late.
The two most contributing precursors to a day of unsolicited chumming over the side are by far, dehydration and fatigue. When planning a trip offshore, I always concentrate on hydrating by drinking water the night prior, as well in the morning. Soda, alcohol and coffee are diuretics, so they are off limits until I am sure the day will be a calm one. If you anticipate a night of drinking it up with your pals, expect to reap the reward of a nasty case of sea sickness once you embark your vessel in the morning. A good night’s sleep is the best approach to avoiding fatigue. Hitting the hay at a reasonable time will lessen your chances of becoming vulnerable to motion sickness due to weariness.
Many sea sickness victims are oblivious to their proneness to this condition, and make the mistake of eating a large breakfast with greasy and heavy foods. If you do this once, you won’t do it again. Either don’t eat until you feel comfortable onboard for awhile, or eat very lightly.
There are many different products available for the prevention of motion sickness. The most well known are the over-the-counter meclizine-containing compounds such as Bonine and Dramamine II, although they will probably make you drowsy. Take a dose before you go to bed, and then another dose when you wake up. This will ensure the drug is already in your system, and will help you sleep soundly at the same time. Some prefer to take an antihistamine such as Regular Dramamine, containing dimenhydrinate, Benedryl which contains diphenhydramine, or Sudafed with pseudoephedrine. Make sure you read the directions, and the possible side effects and precautions on the package.
The scopolamine patch is a popular preventative which is a trans-dermal patch worn behind the ear. They were taken off the market for a while to correct a manufacturing problem, but can now be ordered online. Many find the patch to be very effective for preventing a miserable day on the water.
There are two different types of motion sickness prevention wristbands available. One exerts pressure on an acupuncture point on the underside of the wrist, while the other wristband releases an electrical pulse which is helpful for some people. I have tried the electric version, which runs about $80, and found it to be a helpful adjunct for the prevention of mild sea sickness.
Herbal remedies containing various combinations of natural ingredients are available, although you may need to do a little searching to find them. A few examples include “Sailor’s Secret”, which contains ginger, and “Motion Eaze,” which claims to prevent motion sickness by applying natural oils behind the ear. I am not familiar with the effectiveness of these products, but ginger, which may be eaten in the form of ginger snaps, is a favorite old-time preventative used by sailors and old salts for years.
If you take special care and precautions before your trip, you are already way ahead. But, sometimes sea sickness will still take you by surprise, so a few general guidelines will help you fight that feeling as long as you act quickly.
If you are prone to sea sickness, be sure to locate a cool spot on the boat towards the stern if possible, allowing you to breathe fresh air and see the horizon. Avoid smokers, bait smells, and diesel and gas fumes. Never, and I mean never, take your eyes off the horizon for more than a few seconds until you are completely confident. This is the number one method for keeping your eyes and brain on the same page, avoiding the imbalance reaction leading to sea sickness. Never go down into the cabin for more than a minute, and avoid other small spaces such as enclosed heads. Do not lie down, or take a nap. Do not concentrate on small tasks such as tying rigs, or rigging baits; do this before you leave the dock. Stay hydrated with water, and snack on light foods such as crackers. Decline other’s offerings of jerky, potted meat, and other heavy “boat” foods. Stay far away from other crew members already afflicted by sea sickness. The sight and smell of another person vomiting is usually enough to catch your sympathetic responses off-guard, and you will follow suit. I have actually seen this happen to three people on a single trip!
If you begin to feel queasy, stop what you are doing immediately, and get away from other crew members who can distract you. Sit in your special spot out of the sun, and find the horizon. Concentrate on the horizon, and take deep breathes of fresh air. Sip on ginger ale, Sprite, or 7-Up, and do not lie down. Within a few minutes, you should regain your orientation, and feel better. Just be prepared as the day goes on to react quickly again if needed.
If you do succumb to the dreaded sea sickness monster, and the above guidelines don’t work, you will feel miserable to say the least, but remember it won’t last forever. Find a place to sit or lie down with a direct path to the gunwales, so you have access to chum over the side if needed. Try to take on clear fluids to avoid dehydration from vomiting, and nibble on light snacks if possible. On occasion, once vomiting occurs, the symptoms can subside. If you can manage, try to fight a fish or take the helm, sometimes a pleasant distraction will help alleviate the symptoms. If all else fails, maybe the captain will give you a break, and call it a day a little early. Once you are back on land, you will feel tired, but you will no longer feel sick.
As with most things in everyday life, common sense prevails in the prevention of sea sickness. Experiment with the different remedies and prevention steps to find what works best for you. In no time, you will develop confidence along with your sea legs, and sea sickness will become a nominal concern in your boating and fishing adventures…until someone else on your trip falls victim to the green monster!