How to Prevent Sea Sickness While Fishing
It was a crisp morning at sea.
The rays from the newly awakened sun were glistening off the reflection of the deep blue water 30 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
In this moment, the sea was accommodating and smooth like glass.
The moment of tranquility unfortunately passed shortly after, however, when there was a shift in the wind.
Suddenly, the blanket-like surface of the water turned to chop, and our single-engine pontoon boat began to succumb to the rocking motion of the waves around us.
It was at this point that my stomach began to feel uneasy, and I felt an uncomfortable lightheadedness take hold.
Every offshore fisherman dreads the onset of sea sickness.
Sea sickness can take a beautiful day on the water and turn it into a gut-wrenching nightmare.
For some fishermen, the affliction is never experienced, not even once in their lives. They are the lucky few.
For others, like me, sea sickness might not be an issue for years and years of fishing, but all of the sudden, out of the blue, you find yourself with your head hanging over the bow of your vessel losing your lunch.
In this article, I am going to explore the causes of sea sickness, questions surrounding the topic, and techniques on how to prevent sea sickness while fishing.
What causes sea sickness?
Sea sickness, or motion sickness as it is officially known, is caused by irregular motions resulting in inconsistent signals being sent to the brain via the inner ear, eyes, and body.
Essentially, the sensations you are seeing are different than the ones you are experiencing, thus causing confusion in the brain that results in the uncomfortable effects motion sickness tends to bring on.
The inner ear is one part of the body’s vestibular apparatus which is responsible for communicating constantly with the brain regarding motion and spatial orientation.
Our visual sensory perception is usually in synch with our inner ear without issue.
It is when these two sensory receptacles are in disagreement with each other that we experience sea sickness while fishing, or in other instances.
These inconsistencies of the senses can be the unfortunate byproducts of riding in a car, flying on a plane, or sailing on a boat at sea; hence the term sea sickness.
For instance, if you are on a boat out at sea and looking down at your feet planted firmly on the deck but you are feeling the rocking of the swelling waves forcing the boat up and down without end, this can cause the exact incongruent conflict between your visual perception and your inner ear that would result in the unfortunate sensation of sea sickness.
Basically, your brain doesn’t like when you are seeing one thing but feeling something different altogether.
Motion sickness also doesn’t have to occur with erratic motion. Simply reading while riding as a passenger in a vehicle can cause the sensation of sea sickness.
This is because your eyes are fixed on a static, non-moving object like the book and don’t perceive the motion that your inner ear is detecting.
Another relatively new discovery regarding motion sickness is that it also doesn’t have to occur with motion at all. According to the National Library of Medicine, motion sickness can even occur from the mere simulation of motion such that you might experience in an immersive video game.
I can think of several instances of surprising sea sickness when I was simply playing a game with my virtual reality headset.
The untimely disagreement between the visual and vestibular perceptions initiate a slew of stress responses from the brain that are the telltale signs of motion sickness.
Some of the symptoms of motion sickness include a person becoming dizzy, nauseous, anxious, or experiencing vertigo, and sometimes all of the above.
Why do some get sea sickness and not others?
Over 66% of travelers have experienced the sensation of motion sickness while riding in a vehicle, so it is a common occurrence.
Despite what many think, sea sickness while fishing is not simply something some people experience and some never do.
In fact, many seafarers can go years without every experiencing sea sickness, and then one day it strikes them without warning. That was certainly my case, having never experienced sea sickness until my offshore fishing trip with friends back in 2021.
With that said, however, sea sickness does tend to affect some more than others, as it appears some are more prone to becoming motion sick.
According to this article by the National Library of Medicine, approximately 33% of people are highly prone to motion sickness.
This leaves the remainder of the population susceptible to motion sickness under more exacerbating conditions.
According to studies, women are found more likely to experience motion sickness than men, and motion sickness is also more common in children than adults. This is potentially due to varying levels of specific hormones.
It has also been observed that certain other conditions share genetic material with that of motion sickness, so that could be another reason some people are more predisposed to getting sea sickness while fishing than others.
These people include poor sleepers, those who experience regular migraines, and people who have other stomach-related issues.
So if you ever experience sea sickness while fishing and your fishing buddy on the same vessel is perfectly fine, it doesn’t mean you just need to grow your sea legs. It could just mean that your buddy isn’t vulnerable to the effects of sea sickness. It could also mean that they just haven’t experienced it yet, but that doesn’t mean they never will.
The old timer who was our fishing guide in the Gulf of Mexico tried to comfort me during my spell of sea sickness by telling me a story of how his son had been fishing for over 30 years of his life without experiencing sea sickness until one day he found himself heaving over the bow of his fishing boat while on an offshore guide trip.
This goes to show that no matter how experienced of a sailor you might be, sea sickness is an unpleasant phenomenon that has the potential to affect anyone at any point in their lives.
How to prevent sea sickness while fishing
As with most things, prevention is better than treatment, though it is not always possible.
If you are planning on a trip at sea, there are certain measures you can take to prevent sea sickness while fishing.
There are both drug prevention and natural prevention remedies that can mitigate the effects of motion sickness, but you will want to do some due diligence to determine which methods work best for you, as not all these methods will work for every individual.
In this section, I am going to discuss both medications and natural methods on how to prevent sea sickness while fishing.
How to prevent sea sickness while fishing without medicine
First of all, there are certain you should avoid when it comes to preventing sea sickness.
This article by the National Library of Medicine states you should avoid foods that are fermented or created by some bacterial process. This would include alcohol and certain processed meats and cheeses.
This is due in part to these foods containing high levels of allergy-producing chemicals that can cause inflammation in the body.
These foods and beverages might not have an upsetting effect on your gut under normal circumstances, but if you plan to be rocking on a fishing boat offshore, these might be worth avoiding until you return to land.
Aside from food, if you are on a boat at sea in choppy waters, it helps to look straight ahead out at the horizon rather than looking down at the swelling waves. This gives your vestibular system somewhat of a break from the mixed signals between your visual perception and your inner ear.
When underway for an offshore fishing trip, you probably aren’t planning on doing much reading, but it’s worth mentioning anyways that you should try to avoid reading or staring at a screen while on a boat, or in any moving vehicle for that matter. This is one of the most common triggers for motion sickness, and it’s also a good way to miss a big catch while offshore fishing!
How to prevent sea sickness while fishing the medicinal way
The most effective medicinal prevention for sea sickness comes from a class of drugs that inhibit a certain neurotransmitter in the vestibular system from producing the effects of motion sickness.
One example of these medications is Scopolamine which is prescribed to prevent and treat motion sickness.
A common over-the-counter medicine to prevent and treat motion sickness is Dramamine. This most commonly comes in the form of a tablet that you can take orally.
If you’re planning on venturing out to sea, you should consider one of these medicinal options to prevent sea sickness.
Ever since my own incident with sea sickness, I take a dose of Dramamine a few hours before I go fishing offshore just to be safe.
How to treat sea sickness
Sometimes it isn’t possible to prevent sea sickness unfortunately, but the good news is there are options to treat motion sickness after it has already reared its ugly head.
There has been some research done to suggest that eating foods that contain peppermint or ginger can help ward off the effects of motion sickness. So instead of a cooler full of beer, consider bringing along some ginger ale! Just make sure it contains real ginger.
As mentioned before with preventing motion sickness, looking straight ahead out at the horizon when you’re already feeling the effects can help to ease sea sickness symptoms. Try to also keep your head as still as possible, though this might be difficult if you are in particularly rough waters.
Finally, taking an allergy medication can help to ease the effects of sea sickness as well. As strange as this might sound, antihistamines are effective at preventing and treating nausea and vertigo caused by motion sickness. If you go this route, you should try to find a medication that won’t also cause drowsiness, however.
Sea sickness can ruin even the best of fishing trips in a hurry.
It doesn’t matter if you have never experienced motion sickness in your entire life. It can happen without warning at any point in your fishing career.
However, there are things you can do to prevent sea sickness while fishing and to treat sea sickness while fishing.
Pack light foods on your fishing trip, avoid certain other foods, and consider the natural techniques as well as medications described in this article.
With the right preparation and readiness, sea sickness doesn’t have to spoil a great day on the water.
Thanks for reading, and tight lines!