Scroll Top

Coping with Seasickness

Seasickness on a dive boat (or underwater) is no fun. Why does it happen, and what’s the best way to prevent it or deal with it if you do feel sick?

Seasickness on a dive boat can ruin anyone’s day out. Sometimes you feel sick on the boat and sometimes you feel sick underwater. This can lead to that dreaded occurrence: throwing up into your regulator. We’ll address that situation in a later article, but first let’s discuss why you get seasick in the first place, and how to prevent it in the first place. 

Why do we get seasick?

Having a better understanding of what is causing us to feel queasy before and during a dive may help us problem-solve so we can react calmly. There are a few theories as to why both scuba divers and astronauts experience motion sickness when experiencing abnormal atmospheres.

One idea holds that there is miscommunication between our senses. When we take a charter out to a site or hover in a swaying kelp forest, the inner ear, which functions as an internal balancing system, may tell us one thing while our eyes say something different. This can cause dizziness, nausea, sweating, or the feeling that the world is spinning. Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield explains space-sickness in a similar way, “what you see doesn’t match what you feel, and you want to throw up.”

Tom Stoffregen, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, suggests a different theory. His research shows that postural instability precedes motion sickness. Our muscles are actively working to stabilize our balance, and our bodies naturally sway slightly when standing still in our familiar settings. When we’re in an environment that acts in visually and physically unfamiliar ways, such as a ship, we compensate by moving our bodies in ways we normally would not. When we lose that relationship with postural movement and postural outcome, we feel motion sickness.

Dive professionals are trained to observe and help divers experiencing dehydration, decompression illness, oxygen toxicity, contaminated air, and other medical issues whose symptoms can mimic seasickness. Ultimately, we train divers on how to prevent these scenarios from happening, and we should do the same with motion sickness. 

How to prevent seasickness

If you’ve planned a day of diving, it’s always best to take precautions before boarding the dive boat. Your actions the day before and on board may affect how you feel while you’re out at sea. Here are some tips from professionals working in the industry.

Get plenty of sleep

Make sure that you are mentally and physically rested. It’s a great idea to visualize and breathe slowly and deeply from the diaphragm before bed.

Choose your sites wisely

If you notice that you primarily get seasick on smaller vessels, switch to larger charters or seek sites that offer shore dives with short surface swims.

Take a non-drowsy motion sickness medication or remedy

Stroffegen thinks that most of these medications make us feel tired and want to lay down, which helps relieve symptoms. Many seasickness-prone divers take a non-drowsy medication the day before and the day of diving. I prefer to use alternative methods, such as dabbing peppermint extract behind my ears. Also, drinking hot water with ginger and/or chewing ginger gum works well for me.

Lay down and close your eyes

When your stomach starts churning, it’s best to remove yourself from other ill divers and tune out some of the senses causing your discomfort. I tightly bundle up in my Surf-fur and cut myself off from the world.

Try singing or humming

This works well for me above and below the water. When my belly begins to cramp and I can feel fluids coming up, I will sing or hum a low note. So, if you see me singing the blues on the lee side of the boat, I’m managing my seasickness until I hop in the water.

Hang leeway and watch the horizon

Think about where you are standing on the boat, and act fast. Keep your eyes on the horizon and avoid reading. Also, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing and vomit on the leeway side so you don’t bespatter your buddies.

Breathe fresh air

Avoid standing near the engines’ exhaust or near the head on your dive boat. Also, always be cautious of the air you’re breathing out of your cylinder. If it tastes or smells bad, it may be contaminated and this will only worsen underwater.

Eat small meals

Don’t avoid eating to avoid throwing up. Make sure to hydrate and feed your body the fuel it needs to power your muscles. Diving takes a lot of energy and we want to plan our meals accordingly. Nutritionist Sue Guzik suggests that we eat smaller portions and chew our food thoroughly. It’s always a good idea to avoid spicy, greasy, acidic foods. Lean towards grains, vegetables, and fruits. Here are a few of Guzik’s suggestions:

  • Peanut or almond butter sandwich with a banana
  • Vegetable wrap with avocado and a peach
  • Egg white and cheese whole-wheat sandwich with a kiwi
  • Hummus and pita bread with sliced apples