Saturday, November 26, 2011

Seasickness - Jacht! Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Article by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

My first brush with seasickness was on the charter boat Mijoy out on Long Island Sound fishing with twenty or so other offshore anglers.  The seas were steep, rolling fifteen footers, most everyone getting sick but me and a handful of others.  I've never been very good at enduring the smell of someone else's spilled cookies and my gagging from the wafts to windward never disengaged my stomach contents that day. I was too busy fishing on deck in fresh open air, rocking with the pitch and roll of the boat, unlike many who took refuge from the strong wind and sea spray in the cabin at their peril. Save the airborne vomit, I was enjoying it.

I've done some research on the subject of mal de mer, the French term for seasickness, a debilitating miserable affliction aboard a boat.  What I've learned is that if you know you might become seasick you need to take preventative measures before you shove off and if you become seasick while underway, even though you never thought it could happen to you, you need to treat the symptoms with defensive strategies, medication and yes, maybe even acupressure.  I'll go over ways to minimize the effects of seasickness, but first let's be clear about what it is and the cause of the symptoms.

What is Seasickness?
Seasickness is not an illness but rather a disturbance of the middle ear, in the vestibular apparatus, which controls balance and equilibrium. It sends information to your brain about your relative position in space.  If the signals do not match what the eye sees or what is expected from previous experience, there is a mismatch and the brain becomes confused.  This sets in motion series of unpleasant symptoms.

The Progressive Symptoms of Seasickness
At first, you may wonder why you're beginning to yawn with increasing frequency and you're feeling drowsy with growing fatigue and lethargy. In fact, you may hear yourself muttering, "Hey,  I thought I was supposed to be enjoying my time on the water like everyone else aboard. Jeeze, I don't want to move, I just want to get off this bloody boat!"

You feel helpless as the boat yaws and rolls with endless unpredictable surges up down,  left and right. You may feel queasy, look a pale green and feel cold and clammy to the touch.  A belch or more is usually forthcoming along with excessive salivation leading to the inevitable "ralph" in the head or "ralph" over the rail if you have been thoughtful enough to have foreseen the predictable product of your misery.

A lot of elements can effect your condition adversely via the senses, triggers that seem to exacerbate the condition. I'm talking about any or perhaps all of the five senses, e.g., a hint of perfume or engine exhaust, the sight of someone hurling, the repeat of the taste of your morning breakfast, the sound of the wind and thrashing waves, the feelings of cold hands and a sweaty brow.  You get the picture.  It doesn't help that you might be in a confined space in the bow.

How to Minimize the Effects of Seasickness
What can you do about this horrible, relentless condition, "mal de mer" that strikes and hangs on mercilessly?  First let's start with prevention.

If you know you're susceptible to seasickness or you haven't been on the water for quite awhile, seriously consider the following before climbing aboard:

  • Get Plenty of Rest.  If you're well rested you'll be less likely to succumb to seasickness.
  • Hydrate with Plenty of Water
  • Keep Alcohol to a Minimum.  Alcohol is dehydrating and can exacerbate dizziness inducing the symptoms described above.
  • Pills.  Over-the-counter medications (antihistamines) like Dramamine, Benadryl and Antivert can help by sedating the balancing organs.  Be aware however, they commonly cause drowsiness.
  • The Patch.  The drug Scopolamine in an adhesive patch worn behind the ear minimizes the effects of seasickness over a period of several days, but you need a doctors prescription for it.  The only reported side effect is dry mouth.  The company Transderm Scop makes this product.
  • The Wristband.  Some wristbands have acupressure points which are touted to ameliorate the symptoms of seasickness, however their effectiveness is questionable.
  • Ginger.  Bring some ginger along with you on your trip in the form of capsules, tablets, powder or tea.  Ginger has a soothing effect on the stomach.

 While underway and you're beginning to experience the effects of seasickness you should:

  • Stand Up.  Sitting makes you feel worse.  Scan the horizon or look to a faraway spot to get your bearings.
  • Move to Amidships.  There is less pitch and roll amidships and toward the stern.  Stay away from the bow.
  • Get Some Fresh Air.  If you're down below in the cabin or salon, go up on deck for some fresh air.  Staying in a confined space only makes matters worse.
  • Nibble on Dry Crackers.  Dry crackers may help to settle your stomach.
  • Busy Yourself.  Find a task or something to take your mind off of how you feel.
  • Close your Eyes.  This shuts down some of the mixed signals to the brain that cause the symptoms of seasickness.
  • Stay Away from others who are Seasick.  Nothing can make you feel worse than seeing someone else vomit.  Stay clear as best you can.
 These suggestions should help to ameliorate an extremely unpleasant situation that can occur on any body of water.  In fact, weather conditions don't always have to be formidable for you to become seasick.  Prevention is the best cure, but taking steps to lessen the effects once aboard can make for a better day on the water. 

Also, take heart in knowing that many an experienced sailor has become "green in the gills" from the time man took to the boat as a form of transport.  Truth be told, the word "yacht", one of the preferred sea going vessels, derives its name from the Dutch word, "jacht" which translates to mean, "throw up violently".  "Jacting" is just a natural occurring phenomenon on a boat and it's not just you, it's the yacht too. 

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill is the author of the book, Lubber's Log published by Llumina Press; a boating primer and adventure story about a couples experiences in moving up to a bigger boat.  

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