How to Avoid Getting Seasick on a Boat

Your friend invited you for a day of fun and leisure on their boat this weekend. You’ve only been on a boat once or twice, and each time, you got nauseous. You’d love to take your friend up on their offer, but how do you avoid getting seasick?

Here are some suggestions that can prevent seasickness on a boat:

  • Rest up
  • Ride on calm waters
  • Use a seasickness patch
  • Try an acupuncture wristband
  • Limit strong scents
  • Eat light and bland
  • Watch the activities you do
  • Avoid direct sun
  • Stay in the middle of the boat
  • Focus on the horizon
  • Breathe fresh air

In this article, we’ll first talk about seasickness, including what is it and what causes it. Then we’ll delve into the above 11 ways to stave off seasickness so you can have a fun boat ride today and in the future! 

What Causes Seasickness?

First thing’s first, what is seasickness? 

When someone is seasick, it means that the motion of a vessel like a boat on the water makes them feel nauseous. They might only feel sick to their stomach, or they could vomit depending on the severity of their seasickness.

Seasickness is a specific form of motion sickness. If traveling by car, train, or bus makes your stomach queasy, you might be more likely to be seasick as well, says the National Ocean Service through the National Oceanic Administration or NOAA. 

What causes someone to feel seasick when another person on the same boat can be perfectly fine? Motion sickness has nothing to do with your stomach, even if that’s where all the symptoms manifest. Rather, it starts in the ear, specifically, your inner ear.

In your inner ear is the vestibular system. This system includes otolith organs (the utricle and the saccule), which are pockets, as well as three canals. 

The vestibular system communicates with the cerebellum in the brain, telling the brain where your head positioning is and whether that positioning has changed. Since your cerebellum controls balance and movement, it can indicate to the muscles to move in certain ways so you remain balanced.

When you’re on a boat that’s moving from side to side on the sea, your inner ear’s vestibular system knows something is amiss, as you’re not on stable ground. However, your eyes see it differently since your body moves as one with the boat. 

The brain isn’t quite sure how to respond, so it releases hormones that cause the unpleasant symptoms of seasickness. 

Anyone can get seasick, although pregnant women and children are the most likely to have it. 

11 Methods for Preventing Seasickness on a Boat

Now that you understand what causes seasickness, you can take preventative measures to keep your boat rides nausea-free. Per the intro, here are the 11 methods we most recommend. 

Rest up

Although you might be nervous about your motion sickness flaring up during tomorrow’s boat ride, the more rested you are, the lower the likelihood of that happening. The physical and mental fatigue from sleeplessness has been known to worsen symptoms, so go to bed earlier than you usually do. 

You want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for your boat trip! 

Ride on Calm Waters

Hiding your seasickness from your friend or family member who owns the boat is not within your best interest. Let them know that you get motion sick ahead of time and then ask if they can chart a balanced course where the waters will be calm. 

The choppier the movement of the waves, the more severe your motion sickness can be. Of course, the boat operator can’t control whether the waves are stronger or more placid, but they can choose to ride in bodies of water that are known to be gentler, such as a lake versus the ocean. 

Use a Seasickness Patch

You can also try medications to prevent and/or treat motion sickness. One of these is Scopolamine, which is available as a transdermal patch. 

According to MedlinePlus, Scopolamine inhibits unpleasant seasickness symptoms such as vomiting and nausea. As an antimuscarinic, the medication limits how much acetylcholine is in your central nervous system. 

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter. You know from the last section that motion sickness requires communication between the inner ear and the brain. With fewer neurotransmitters available, that communication can’t happen as abundantly, which means fewer seasickness symptoms for you.

For best results, you’re supposed to wear the Scopolamine patch behind your ear. You should first clean this area and then dry it. Next, remove the protective strip from the patch and put the patch on your head. The adhesives will keep it in place. Then wash your hands.

The effects of Scopolamine are long-lasting and can continue for up to three days. However, by using the patch for that long, you’re at a higher risk for withdrawal symptoms, says MedlinePlus. These symptoms can include reduced blood pressure and heart rate, weak muscles, confusion, headache, sweating, stomach cramps, vomiting, and nausea.

Scopolamine is a prescription treatment, so you’ll have to see your doctor first. 

Try an Acupuncture Wristband

If it’s too late to get a prescription for Scopolamine, don’t panic. You can wear an acupuncture wristband to prevent seasickness on the boat.

You might wonder what an acupuncture wristband has to do with motion sickness. Allow us to explain. 

When wearing the wristband, it applies pressure on your wrist, more so than when wearing a bracelet or a watch. The pressure is said to limit the onset of nausea in some wearers, which will make your seasickness less severe. 

Sea-Band is an acupuncture wristband for those with seasickness. The band puts pressure on your P6 or Nei-Kuan point, which is in the middle of your wrist. You can find this area by putting three of your fingers on the crease of your wrist. 

The plastic stud of the Sea-Band should go right on the Nei-Kuan point. Put the bands on both wrists and wear them throughout your boat ride. The Sea-Band is also recommended for pregnant women going through morning sickness. 

Limit Strong Scents

When you’re already on the verge of nausea, you don’t want to be around any odors that will worsen your upset stomach. 

Strong scents can be anything from the food spread on the table to someone’s cologne or perfume. Even scents from the boat can be enough to churn your stomach such as a blast of strong exhaust.

If you’re around any of these odors, move away quickly and breathe in some cleaner air. By staying in the area, your nausea will worsen, and you’ll be running for the bathroom before you know it.  

Eat Light and Bland

Since food can often worsen nausea, you might think that it’s better to forego eating until after your boat ride. Yet boating on an empty stomach doesn’t prevent nausea. If anything, it intensifies it. 

You must eat something, so choose your meal carefully. Bland snack foods will sit with your stomach best. Munch on pretzels, plain bread, and unflavored crackers. 

Ginger and peppermint can calm the stomach. Even if you bring a few peppermint candies to suck on, that should be enough to prevent stomachaches and vomiting. Drink ginger ale as well, which is a remedy for upset stomachs. 

Don’t eat too much of the above foods, as if you’re overly full, your nausea can feel worse. Avoid ingesting alcohol and citrus as well as fatty, spicy, and greasy foods before getting on the boat and while on the boat. That food is all too heavy for you. 

Watch the Activities You Do 

Once you get the grand tour of the boat out of the way, you can be left with a lot of downtime. How you spend that time matters if you want to prevent motion sickness. 

Activities that your eyes deem as stable can confuse the brain, as your inner ear is telling your brain that your body is moving. As you learned earlier, that’s how motion sickness begins.

Leave your books at home. If you want to take photos, use your smartphone rather than a real camera. Looking through the lens will make you feel nauseous if you do it for long enough. That goes for using binoculars as well.   

Avoid Direct Sun

Ask the captain where you can relax on the boat that’s away from the harsh, direct rays of the sun. Too much time exposed to the heat can leave you dehydrated. When you don’t have enough water in your system, your motion sickness symptoms can increase in severity. 

Sip water consistently but slowly so you don’t get overly full of fluid. 

Stay in the Middle of the Boat

When you’re on either side of the boat, you’re going to feel its see-sawing motion far more strongly than you will in the center. A mid-ship spot to rest will be more relaxing for you, especially if that part of the boat is close to the waterline. Stay here for as much of the ride as you can.

Focus on the Horizon

As you go boating, the horizon is your best friend. You want to watch for it continually but try not to stare. 

The point of doing this is to keep the horizon within your line of sight. You’ll rely on it as a reference point for the duration of your ride. 

Keeping your eyes on the horizon especially comes in handy when you’re nearer the front of the boat or when you’re facing forward. Should you lose the horizon, or you can’t get to a window to look at it, the next best thing is to close your eyes. Since your eyes won’t focus on anything stable, you might be able to resist seasickness.  

Breathe Fresh Air

If the boat you’re riding in is enclosed, take the time every now and again to get some fresh air. Since you’ll be overlooking the ocean or bay from your perch, your eyes might be able to adjust to the motion of the boat. This can improve the signals between the inner ear and the brain for less motion sickness.

Can You Train Yourself Not to Get Seasick?

What if you tell your body not to get seasick? Does that work too? Not quite like that, but there is mounting evidence that you can teach yourself to stave off motion sickness. 

One such study on the topic is from a 2021 report in the journal Applied Ergonomics. The study included 42 adult participants female and male. The researchers had the participants ride in a virtual 3D simulator to determine how motion-sick they are.  

Then the researchers divided the participants into two groups. The first group trained every day by doing visuospatial exercises for 15 minutes. The second group did not. 

Then the two groups both rode in the 3D simulators. The group that didn’t train had no differences in their motion sickness while the group that did train reported reduced motion sickness in the simulator by a rate of 51 percent.

Are you wondering whether the training applied to riding in cars and other vehicles in real life? It did indeed. The participants had reduced motion sickness by 58 percent in those applications.

The kind of training the participants did certainly had something to do with it. As the study stated: “visuospatial ability has a causal effect on motion sickness susceptibility…Improving one’s visuospatial skills is an effective method of reducing motion sickness.”

The training tasks included matching 3D items that were rotated in different directions, detecting which drawings had embedded items as well as what the embedded items were, and doing paper folding reasoning.  

This kind of training could be worth replicating if your seasickness is particularly bad! 

Final Thoughts

Seasickness is a common affliction that can make it hard for some people to ride in boats and other moving vehicles. Understanding the inner ear-brain connection can help you mitigate your motion sickness.

Even if the above tactics don’t work and you still get sick, don’t be embarrassed. It happens! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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