Real World Test of Relief Band For Seasickness

Despite my somewhat opinionated tone in many of the articles on this site, there are very few things I feel that I’m really the absolute ultimate authority on. The exception is seasickness. Thirty-five years of blowing my dinner during the first 24 hours of almost every offshore passage gives me the right, I feel, to set up as an authority—sort of the king of puke, if you like.

Over the years I have tried just about every remedy for mal de mer from ginger to scopolamine. As far as the drugs are concerned, I have come to the conclusion that, at least for me, the remedy is worse than the illness due to the side effects. In fact, after a recent experience where I watched a normally competent crew member turn into a non-responsive and potentially dangerous zombie, we have banned the scopolamine (Transderm) patch from Morgan’s Cloud. (We do still carry Gravol in both pill and suppository form.)

I have had some success with wrist pressure point bands. They certainly don’t stop the problem completely, but they do take the edge off my nausea, hasten my recovery, and all without side effects. So, when I heard about the ReliefBand I reasoned that something that zapped the same point as the bands might work even better.

My real-world testing took place our first night out on a recent passage from Beaufort, North Carolina, to Bermuda, as Morgan’s Cloud gleefully close reached at over eight knots in 18 to 22 knots of true wind and a short, confused Gulfstream sea—perfect conditions for scientific study.

I donned the ReliefBand well before I felt sick, following the instructions carefully, which state that you must keep the band in contact with your wrist in such a way that you constantly feel the tingle of the shocks.

First off, I found that it was extremely difficult to keep the electrodes in the proscribed position on my wrist when active. Worse still, even when I was not active and had full contact all the time, I found that the ReliefBand had no effect, even though I could feel it merrily zapping me as I hung over the rail calling for my old buddy Ralf a record three times in an hour. Not only did the ReliefBand not help, I think, based on years of experience monitoring myself in these circumstances, that I was sicker than without it.

After three hours—never let it be said that we at Attainable Adventure Cruising don’t go the extra mile (or hurl) for you, our readers—I removed the ReliefBand, donned my trusty wrist bands and immediately felt better.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:


Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

21 comments… add one
  • Anonymous Jun 2, 2009, 9:30 am

    I used the ReliefBand and had a very similar experience to John. It just isn’t practical to keep your wrist in the perfect limp-wristed, band-zapping position and even when it is properly positioned the effects were naught for me.

    I found the best relief from Zofran, which I recently used in wafer form. It didn’t completely stop my vomiting (I seem to do it for 3 to 4 days which is annoyingly long) but the vomiting was reduced and I felt better while doing it. I noticed no side effects from the drug.

    I’ve tried Compazine and the patch, but they aren’t strong enough for my degree of mal de mer. Zofran is the best so far.

  • John Jun 3, 2009, 9:29 am

    Readers should note that Zofran is a powerful, and expensive, prescription drug that is not specifically approved for seasickness.

    We strongly recommend that before you use any drug like this at sea, that you research it carefully on the internet, have an in-depth talk with your doctor, and try it for a couple of days on dry land in case you react badly to it.

    Having said all that, there are plenty of endorsements of Zofran for seasickness including this one from a source we respect.

  • David Nutt Jun 4, 2009, 9:31 am

    During a six-year circumnavigation on Danza I found Sturgeron to be the best of the drugs with the least side effects. For me it worked even if mal de mer had crept up unexpectedly.

    Equally important I found eating bland food helpful. I always have a good bland meal before heading out. Prior to a passage we always make ‘passage food’—something bland like boiled potatoes and carrots, rice, or mac-n-cheese—so eating when down and out was not a chore. I always eat something immediately after throwing up as it seems to calm the internal seas. It works for me.

    It takes time and some experimenting to find what works for you but passages are better when you get it right.

  • John Jun 5, 2009, 9:30 am

    We agree that it’s better to eat immediately after being sick but we both find we feel worse if we eat bland foods. Our foods of choice are savoury and highly textured foods: curries, tasty stews, spicy tempeh casseroles, etc. More proof that we are all unique!

  • Carl Mar 3, 2012, 12:44 pm

    Many years ago I worked as a deck hand on a commercial fishing boat in New England. We routinely worked in rough weather that kept the pleasure fleet at anchor. I spent many hours chumming for fish when the seas got rough. My girlfriend (now wife) read an article that said putting a paper bag between your undershirt and skin helped with seasickness. I tried it and (as God is my witness) it worked! I NEVER went to sea without one after that. I endured quite a bit of ribbing from the old sea hardened fisherman about it, but rarely if ever was seasick again.

  • Tobias Jun 21, 2016, 6:08 pm

    Hi!

    I tried a plaster called Scopoderm behind the ear when the weather got rough. Effect from 5-72 hours after applied. It is Scopolamine. I did not become a zombie and fulfilled my duties, but my near vision was impaired, I hade to use strong reading glasses.

    I would like to know if it affects getting sea legs, or destroys sea legs already aquired, please?

    • John Jun 22, 2016, 8:24 am

      Hi Tobias,

      Scopolamine is an extremely powerful drug with unpredictable side effects—different people react in different ways. I had a nasty experience in which a normally competent crew was turned into an unresponsive zombie by this drug. For this reason I don’t use it, and don’t allow its use on Morgans Cloud. I also don’t know about its affects on sea legs.

  • Brent Cameron Dec 30, 2017, 1:33 pm

    While certainly not as much of an authority as John on the subject,!I also suffer when the boat yaws badly (pitching and rolling don’t have the same effect on me – I believe it was from my flying days that I can endure those motions but yawing is not something you do in airplanes voluntarily). I’ve recently done two offshore tripss (Annapolis to Jacksonville and Bermuda to Martinique through Antigua) so got the opportunity to test a wide variety of remedies. My conclusions:

    1) Time at sea is the ultimate cure. By day 4, you can do just about anything without any help. That said, if you don’t throw yourself over during those first four days, it’s going to be very miserable for some of it.
    2) I’m generally feeling best at the helm or lying down in the bunk for my first few days but I’ve gotten sick at the helm in rough seas at night when i lose visual reference on autopilot with the boat yawing as it surfs down big swells. Both trips, I made it through the first day or two and then had a bad bout of it due to weather/night and the boats motion.
    3) I have tried Gravol (makes me very sleepy and near comatose in doses that make me feel less seasick). The non drowsy versions don’t work for me. I still carry it as a suppository as a sort of last resort against dehydration – which can get very serious quickly if you can’t keep fluids and electrolytes down (one litre or quart per watch of water – with a vitamin C based electrolyte if I’m concerned).
    4) The transdermal scopolamine patches did nothing for me. You have to be very careful with them as well as if you get any in your fingers and then transfer to your eyes, it severely dilates your pupils to the point your crew will think you’ve had a stroke and you will lose your neat vision. It can also affect your temporary “sanity” I’m told so best to try it onshore first.
    5) The cloth wristbands. They don’t hurt and perhaps help on lighter weather as I generally do ok the first bit although I still fell somewhat “squishy”.
    6) I’ve been told they work well but in my experience they were completely useless and annoying I remember shouting “ow!” Internally as I was hurling into my bucket.

    6) Sturgeon works wonders for me. I didn’t have it the first trip but there was some on board for my second which i took after getting caught at the end f day two. It was blowing pretty well 25-30 iknots on our starboard tear quarter and we were in faily rolly seas. Upon taking the first two pills, I immediately (within 15 minutes) felt fine and was able to go below. I took it for another day or so and then as we’d been out for 4 days stopped taking anything and was fine the rest of the trip. I’d been hurling fairly regularly up to that point and definitely couldn’t do much below but on that, I could cook and clean up as well as take showers which were impossible for me prior to that. The potential side effects (I didn’t have any) are quite alarming as longer term use can induce Parkinson’s disease in a small number of people and it isn’t sold in Canada or the US but is widely available in the Caribbean and is prescribed by the Royal Navy and I’d think they have more experience than anyone having ruled the seas for centuries.
    7) I don’t get a chance to try it but I’m told Bonine is a good preventative ad one of the other crew mates I sailed with seemed ok on that right off the dock and said he gets sick without it.

    A few points on being sick:
    1) Don’t lean over the side. It’s dangerous even when wearing a harness and it puts your head in a position that is guaranteed to make you feel worse. Carry a large bucket. It’s easily dumped and can be rinsed out with the sprayer.
    2) Being suck into in the head doesn’t help and make it miserable for others as well. Better to find a safe spot in the cockpit and do it into a bucket.
    3) Don’t give up on your watches. You are still a member of the crew and being busy helps pass the time so you don’t get suicidal :-). If you can avoid being below, do that and sleep off as much as you can when below.
    4) Hydrate!!! Keep pumping in water/electrolyte. It’ll make you feel better and prevents you from dying.

    Finally remember rule number one – time cures all. You really won’t die (although if you don’t rehydrate you just might) and by day 4 or 5, you’ll be feeling fine. Even Lord Nelson got badly seasick in most voyages at the beginning but you’ll eventually get your sealegs and it will alll seem worth it.

    It’s obvious to me that there isn’t a single remedy that works for everyone and you have to struggle to find what works for you but do try to survive until day 4!

    I’m heading back out for a pacific crossing next and will try Bonine first as a preventative but will bring my trusty Sturgeron and Gravol suppositories just in case.

    • Brent Cameron Dec 30, 2017, 1:39 pm

      I should have checked my text above. Doing this on an iPhone isn’t bright. The first of my two 6)’s was meant to be on the electronic version of the wristbands.

    • John Dec 31, 2017, 12:09 pm

      Hi Brent,

      I think yours is a very good analysis of the subject and very much in agreement with my experience, although I’m a bit luckier in that I usually get over it in two days, not four.

  • peter hopper Sep 26, 2018, 6:05 pm

    Novel Sea Sickness Experiment… I guess we generally know that steering & looking at the sea ahead helps…. Similarly, as when we’re driving a car; the driver is fine where-as the backseat passengers, reading a book can feel sick quickly. And back on board, down below, when you have no idea what wave is coming, it’s the worst for sickness. … based upon this principle we wrote a quick iPhone app – just as an experiment. The app sounds a musical ‘note’ who’s tone depends upon the boat’s pitch. Thus, it gives you an audible sense of the pitching going on inside a boat. The theory being that this ‘extra’ audible sensory input may assist your confused inner ears to sort out the angles, rather than just relying upon your legs and bodily sense of orientation…

    We put the iPhone App on the iTunes Store. Called “Sailors Friend”. We’re hoping to try it next time we’re in a confused sea…
    We’re not sure if it’ll work at all – as it’s just theory/idea. Would like to hear of peoples experiments…

    • John Sep 27, 2018, 7:38 am

      Hi Peter,

      What a novel idea! Like you, I have no idea whether or not it will work, but as a long time sea sickness suffer I will be interested to hear if it makes a difference.

  • Jeff Thayer Nov 24, 2018, 2:04 pm

    I keep a Relief Band on my Cal 39 Mk2 which we sail on San Francisco bay. It is used by guests that start to succumb to sea sickness while out for a day sail. In 8 years, we have found it worked on everybody that tried it. My brother starts to feel sick on the dock just looking at the boat. It works great on him. In fact, he will swap it back and forth between himself and his son (similarly afflicted) as soon as the wearer puts it on, they start to feel better (power of suggestion…don’t know). I have also found it effective for my self on that first day offshore when going below, you just don’t feel quite right.

    Everybody’s different and am not surprised that any remedy is not universal.

    • John Nov 25, 2018, 9:21 am

      Hi Jeff,

      Good to hear it works for you and yours. It didn’t do a thing for me, but then, as you say, we are all different in this regard.

  • Steve Maynard Nov 27, 2018, 11:46 pm

    On a passage in the South Pacific I was put the Scopolamine patch on and by the second day I was unbelievably depressed and really losing it – and this was in relatively calm seas. The Captain recognized something was wrong and told me to take it off. I did and the crazy thinking stopped nearly immediately. The rest of the 4 day passage went fine after that.

    • John Nov 28, 2018, 8:00 am

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the report, confirms my lack of trust in the stuff.

      • Marc Dacey Nov 28, 2018, 4:21 pm

        If I’m the skipper, I don’t get sick. If I’m crew, I sometimes get sick for the first 24 hours, particularly bouncing to windward. My understanding is that a lot of people are like that. Given the variable effects of some of these drugs, I think I’d rather have a day of nauseous episodes than mental problems for the duration. That said, I understand some people get far more miserable than me, and were I one of those people, I might sing a different tune.

  • Iain Dell Dec 18, 2019, 12:04 am

    A previous post said that of everyone the Royal Navy has the longest experience of dealing with this; after 38 years service I assure you that it has a guaranteed remedy. Suffering badly on my first trip into the Atlantic I was told the secret by a very kindly old salt: ‘Eh lad – go and stand under a tree’.

    Works every time.

  • Kenneth McCallum Dec 19, 2019, 2:24 am

    Meclizine which is sold over the counter very cheap in the USA is our first line of defense which usually works for most people. It’s the non-drowsy form of Dramamine. Zofran is excellent and works quickly when nausea takes hold. At the first hint of a crew turning green, the Zofran pill is crushed and placed under the tongue for quick relief…. usually within 10 minutes. We also carry Zofran as an injectable and IV form. Since my wife and I are registered nurses, we also have IV supplies onboard.

    I’ve conquered my seasickness issue mostly with diet, along with Meclizine and Zofran; diet seems most important.

    Some key points:
    1. Never leave to go offshore at night if crew hasn’t gotten accustomed to the motion or been pre-medicated if prone to seasickness.

    2. Never leave on an empty stomach.

    3. Avoid greasy foods and soft drinks with the exception of ginger ale.

    • John Dec 19, 2019, 9:42 am

      Hi Kenneth,

      Good tips, thanks. That said it seems that each of us must find the drug that works for us. I don’t take sea sickness medications much, but Gravol has always worked better for me that Dramamine, but then I know people for whom the exact opposite is true. And of course that makes no sense since both are the same drug! Maybe it’s that I take Gravol time release just before going off watch. Point being that there are a lot of variables here.

  • Kenneth McCallum Dec 19, 2019, 10:41 am

    Zofran is the drug of choice for cruise ship medical centers to give to passengers having difficulty with seasickness.

Only logged in members may comment: