Scuba Diver Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans
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If there is one thing guaranteed to ruin a day, a weekend or a week of diving, it is feeling seasick. There is no magic bullet or cure-all for seasickness, but I will offer up some hints and advice gleaned from 25 plus years of dive travel to help you deal with the demon of seasickness.
There can be nothing worse than feeling seasick. I have seen far too many burly blokes reduced to dribbling wrecks on dive boats because of the effects of seasickness. I thank my lucky stars that I seem particularly resilient to seasickness, and however rough it gets, I seem to be fine. The same cannot be said for some of my boat mates over the years, and I thought collating all of the tips and tricks I had seen used in that time to combat seasickness would be very useful for anyone who is prone to this ghastly condition.
Seasickness can mean the difference between an epic day of diving and wishing someone would put you out of your misery. I distinctly remember two young students who joined us on a boat for a great white shark cage dive out of Gansbaai in South Africa. They looked a little green about the gills when they got on board, and given we were in the calm of the harbour, I didn’t think this boded well for the rest of the day. Sure enough, as we left the confines of the harbour and headed out towards Dyer Island across huge rolling swells, they curled up in fetal balls on the deck and make quiet mewling sounds.
Things only got worse for them when we reached our dive site and moored up side-on to the swell. Once the chum was being ladled into the water, and the scent of fish guts and other delights blended with the smell of thousands of cape fur seals sat on the nearby rocks, this heady aroma had them retching over the side of the boat for what seemed like hours on end. They felt so lousy they didn’t even attempt to suit up and do a cage dive, and instead alternated between barfing and wanting to die until we returned to the harbour. I swear one of them crawled on to the shore and kissed the ground. You really don’t want to be in that position.
So, how can deal with seasickness?
Firstly, don’t be afraid to turn to your friendly neighbourhood pharmacist to tackle seasickness head-on. Trying to prevent the onset of seasickness in the first place is by far the better plan of action than attempting to deal with it once you are well and truly in its throes. There are a multitude of seasickness pills available wherever you are in the world, but the most important thing you need to look at is whether it causes drowsiness. Many meds have this warning, and you do not want to be drifting off for a nap while you are on a dive, so it is vital you only use motion-sickness medicine that doesn’t cause drowsiness.
Once you have found pills suitable for use while diving, it will be a case of trial-and-error. You will probably find that certain products will work better for you than others. I have the same issue with hayfever – most of the big-name brands do not work, but a cheap-and-cheerful one-a-day pill from a local discount store sorts me right out. So try different pills across a few dive trips and whichever one comes out on top for stopping any queasy feelings, make that your go-to medicine.
Regardless of the brand of pill you opt for, make sure you give it time to work! It is no good taking it as you step on the boat, you need it to be in your system, so either take it early that morning, or if you are having a particularly early start, even pop one the night before.
My wife Penney can suffer from seasickness and routinely takes pills as a precaution – the way she sees it, better to have the assistance of proven medicine and have a great time out on the water than risk her trip being ruined. She also utilises bands which go around her wrists. These have a little plastic fitment which presses on to pressure points on the wrists and is supposed to ease motion-sickness. She leaves these on right up until it is time to kit up and get in the water, and puts them back on as soon as she is out of her wetsuit after the dive. Pills and bands might seem overkill, but she says if she can stack the odds in her favour of not feeling any effects of seasickness, she is all for it.
Where you sit on a boat makes a difference
Right, let’s move on to actually being on the boat. Where you sit can also make a big difference to how queasy you will feel out on the water. If you are on a small boat, like a RIB, obviously your seating options are limited, but I would suggest aiming for being halfway down the tubes on either side. You don’t want to be near the bow, which will be going up and down the most, and you don’t want to be right at the stern as you will be near the outboard, and fuel fumes are not the most pleasant smell at the best of times, never mind when you are feeling rough anyway.
If you are on a bigger day boat, then you have a bit more scope. I’d suggest avoiding the flybridge and the bow, and if there is a cabin of sorts, stay out of this in the fresh air. Being cooped upside where it can get hot and sticky, and there is no through-flow of air, is a sure-fire way to bring on seasickness. Stand or sit where you are in the breeze, and don’t sit with your head down or looking at the deck – try to look at the horizon.
There are even more options on a liveaboard. Again, I’d suggest trying to avoid the higher deck levels – yes, you might get a nice breeze up on that top sundeck, but you will also be more susceptible to whatever swell you are motoring into. Aim for a lower deck where you can still feel that fresh air. I\ have seen people retire to their cabins when underway and they are feeling a little nauseous, and to me, this is the worst thing you can do – be closeted away in an enclosed space.
What to do when you reach the Dive Site?
Ok, so that’s travelling on the boat, but what do you do when you reach the dive site? My business partner Ross says that the best place to be is in the water, and he is like a lemming when we are diving off a boat – as soon as the boat is anchored up and the crew have said the pool is open, he is over the side and into the water. Even just floating on the surface he feels substantially better than being sat on the deck of the boat, even though he will still be moving with any surface swell.
However, actually being underwater away from any surface conditions is the ideal place to be, so if you are prone to seasickness, don’t faff about getting ready. Make sure you are kitted up and ready to go so you can be among the first off the boat. That said, don’t be fully ready too early – sat down in full dive regalia and starting to overheat is a surefire way to start feeling ill even if you aren’t prone to seasickness!
Once the dive is underway, you should be over any effects of seasickness, but if you do take a turn for the worse and the urge to chunder becomes too much – keep your regulator in your mouth! Yes, you can throw up through your second stage. No, it is not pleasant, but at least when you retch and then take involuntary gasps, you will get air, albeit not particularly tasty air. Once you have finished being sick, you can calm yourself down, swap over to your octopus while you give your primary a good purge and slosh about to clear away any final bits of barf debris, then go back on to your original second stage and continue the dive. Do not under any circumstances take the reg out of your mouth while you throw up.
If you suffer terribly from seasickness and the thought of going on a boat fills you with dread, then you might be better off sticking with shore diving. As you will have seen from our top shore dive video, there are many places around the world where you can dive world-class sites without ever setting foot on a boat. But I’d urge you to try all of the above before you ditch boat diving forever – you are shutting yourself off from some amazing diving destinations.