Sea sickness (aka “Mal de Mer”) is, undoubtedly, one of the most miserable ailments that can overcome a sea kayaker. The up and down, side to side, and gyroscopic motions that occur while paddling in confused seas are the perfect receipt to insight a bout of sea sickness. Unfortunately for some of us there is no way to avoid this and it can be a frequent issue. Thankfully for others it’s something that never or only rarely has to be dealt with.
In all of my years of kayaking I have been so very lucky to only have been sea sick once. It was in 8ft + and confused seas where I kept losing sight of the horizon. A quick trip to the beach solved the problem and I was able to get back on the water and on my way within about a half hour. This experience made me a much more compassionate instructor which has been much to the benefit of my participants. When anyone on my trips appears to be suffering from sea sickness I make sure to give them the option of getting off of the water and I dip into my bag of “sea sickness tricks” to try to make them more comfortable in the meantime. So what’s in this bag of tricks??
Signs and Symptoms:
Everything starts with recognition of the signs and symptoms of sea sickness and being able to differentiate it from other, more serious conditions. The signs and symptoms of sea sickness include:
- Sensation of dizziness, spinning, or falling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale skin
The following symptoms are not associated with sea sickness. If any of these symptoms are present then you should be alert to the possibility of a more serious condition being responsible for the victim’s apparent dizziness:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weakness in one arm or leg
- Decreased vision or ringing in the ears
Unfortunately, sea sickness is one of those things that once it starts the fun don’t stop! This is unless you are able to remove the victim from the water’s motion or if you spend enough time on the “rollercoaster” to get used to it and have the sickness fade on its own. The following treatment strategies may or may not do much to ebb the symptoms a bit.
- Keep your vision fixed on a stationary object in the distance. The horizon or shoreline work well as a stationary visual reference (assuming that the waves are not too big!). Avoid focusing on anything close up like maps or writing because this will make things worse.
- Splashing water on your face will sometimes help.
- Try to promote fluid intake especially if the victim has been vomiting. Sipping Gatorade or another sports drink may help.
- The only thing that will stop the sea sickness is taking the victim to shore or calmer waters where the motion is less extreme. If the victim is vomiting or struggling to maintain balance in their kayak then consider designating someone in your party to stabilize the victims kayak while you perform a tandem tow.
There are a few things that you can do to prevent sea sickness from happening in the first place. These should be implemented by paddlers who are prone to developing sea sickness or as a preventative measure for those entering bigger conditions for the first time.
- There are over-the-counter motion sickness medications that can help prevent sea sickness including Dramamine and Bonine. To be effective, these drugs must be administered one hour before you experience motion. Dramamine is a popular choice but can cause drowsiness. Bonine tends to be “less drowsy”. These drugs are safe and have few side effects when taken appropriately.
- Pre-hydrate for your paddling trip so that you can afford to lose some fluids in the case that you get sea sick.
- Do not drink any alcohol before paddling. This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons but it will surely exasperate sea sickness.
Hopefully this bag of tricks will help keep sea sickness at bay and you on happily in motion on the water!
Happy and Safe Paddling!