The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Don’t Pass The Bucket, Please!

We’ve discussed the thorny question of seasickness before here at Attainable Adventure Cruising, and all correspondents agreed that it is one of the most debilitating things that can happen to anyone at sea. As they say of seasickness sufferers, ‘first you don’t want to die, then you think you might die, then finally you want to die’. And having once had to tie a puking, weeping crew member to a cleat for fear that they would actively pursue the third option, I can see where they’re coming from.

Numerous cures have been put forward, and some work for some people some of the time. You need to find out what works for you, and most people find some respite through medication. But for the hard core of really badly afflicted people, up until now there has seemed to be no cure.

New Approaches

But help may be at hand, through two developments in France. The first, Boarding Ring, consists of a pair of glasses with tubes of coloured liquid instead of frames, which are thought to send messages to the inner ear, balancing the information passed via the eye and the ear. These are available either as glasses, or as clip on units that can be attached to your own glasses, and to me at least they look pretty strange, although if you are amongst the 95% of sufferers who’ve tried them who claim benefits from wearing them, I don’t suppose you’d care.

The second is termed opto-kinetic re-education, and stems from work carried out during astronaut training and in the treatment of people with balance problems. Developed over 15 years by Dr Lois Bonne at the Clermont-Tonnerre Military Hospital in Brest, the treatment consists of 10 sessions of 20 minutes apiece over a period of 3 months. During treatment the patient undergoes a range of presentations involving vision and motion that mimic being at sea to the point of being seasick, with the aim of enabling the brain to cope better with that same mental information when aboard a boat. The aim is not an instant cure, but to enable the individual to resist and cope with seasickness, which in turn should allow them to remain involved and active, in itself a good way to keep mal de mer at bay. The centre claims that around 75% of patients benefit from the treatment with an improved resistance to seasickness.

Does It Actually Work?

Dr Bonne has treated many sufferers from all over Europe, and a couple of years ago a professional skipper friend of mine traveled with his partner and a couple of her friends for treatment at the Hospital. Due to the cost and time involved (they are all based in the Mediterranean) they couldn’t stay for the normal three months, and so opted for a dramatically shortened course of treatment. One of them who has suffered from chronic seasickness for years saw no benefit, but some of the others felt that it had made a significant difference to their ability to resist seasickness and keep going. So, a partial success, at least, and if the treatment had been carried out over its normal 3 months, perhaps even the chronic sufferer might have benefited too?

My friend, like most pro skippers has a cast-iron stomach (if you haven’t, why on earth would you take on such a job?) and had no need of a cure. But when he entered the treatment room even he felt decidedly poorly, so clearly something powerful is at work here. And if the brain can be trained to cope, then what a relief that would bring to the many poor souls who love going to sea, but know that it might well end in tears. Having watched so many such poor souls suffering over the years, I know that if it were me, I’d be willing to try anything…or just take up golf, or billiards, or anything but go to sea!

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Geir ove

Our kids did get seasick. When they started to use some rubber armbands with a little ball on that you put on your wrist, they never did get sick. They work, even in the car and on big ferries in heavy seas, and on our old Mono. The name is “sea band”.

John Harries

Hi Geir and Colin.

I have long used the pressure point arm bands. For me, they don’t solve the problem completely, but they sure do take the edge off.


Thanks for the tip, Geir.

I’ve known quite a few people who have tried these bands, and some swore by them and some swore at them! One friend who was fine in rough weather but hopelessly seasick in light conditions used them when it was calm, and they certainly worked for him, as he was never sick again in such weather.

Perhaps the key thing is to keep trying different remedies until you find one that works for you, whatever method it uses – and get back to enjoying being out on the water.

Kind regards



Colin, good to be alerted to new remedies. In respect of the glasses, I see you noted a 95% success rate; that is extraordinarily high for this type of thing. Do you have any more information on where that statistic came from – is it the supplier’s own figure, or a test/review done by a journal or other third party?
Do you know whether it requires good ambient light to work (their web site doesn’t seem to say; or I missed it).
My thinking is – if there’s a 95% chance of it working, it’s easy to justify having one of these aboard somewhere in a drawer.


Hi Martin

The figure quoted comes from the manufacturer, and are reported to be from clinical trials conducted with the French Navy on both male and female adults. I’d be interested to see what exactly the parameters were that were used to arrive at such a figure, as there seem to be a good few variables beyond just ‘sick or not sick’.

If they do work as suggested, then at the price I’m sure they would be worth carrying aboard, as you suggest.

My view remains that trial and error to find what works best for you, and with the least number of side effects, is the way to go. For example, many people highly rate transdermal patches based on scopolamine, but I’ve seen more people suffer side effects from these than any other remedy. But for those who find them effective, then nothing else will do.

Best wishes



Hi Colin
My wife and a friend of hers tried those french glasses. Both did not notice any effect on seasickness. There was however a significant effect on the remaining crews happiness 🙂

Nick Kats

Man barfed onto my boat. I told him what he had for lunch, and he was amazed: “How did you know?”
I find most barfers chuck it up once, then they’re fine for the rest of the trip, good color & energy within half an hour.

John Harries

Hi Nick,

That is certainly the case for me: barf, feel better, eat, repeat as necessary, usually for about 24 hours.

However, I have also had one or two crew members that never did stop being sick, to the point that in one case on a six day passage I feared for the person’s life due to dehydration. When that happens you need to have powerful drugs aboard to stop the vomiting. In this case, a Gravol suppository stopped the vomiting and put the sufferer to sleep for 12 hours.

We also carry IV fluids and the means to administer them if the dehydration gets too bad.

Gerben SYD

Wow, IV fluids, that is advanced. I stick to remembering this ‘Sweet 16’ re-hydration recipe:
One Litre of clean drinking or boiled water and then cooled
Six (6) level teaspoons of Sugar
Half (1/2) level teaspoon of Salt
I call it Sweet 16 because of the 1 Litre of water, 6 tsp of sugar and you just have to remember the 1/2 tsp of salt. Tastes great and works great for re-hydration.

John Harries

Hi Gerben,

If someone is truly dehydrated sugar can actually make the problem worse, ditto so called “sports drinks”, because drinking a lot of sugar water will wash out the important electrolytes like potassium.

I tend to suffer from dehydration at sea, particularly if I’m seasick and have found that the best answer is unsweetened coconut water. You can get it in any health food store these days and we always have some aboard.

Gerben SYD

I could not agree more, sports drinks and all sugary drinks are the product of the food industry devil that is based on high fructose corn syrup. In contrast, this Sweet 16 recipe is the result of decades of ORT (oral rehydration therapy) research, led by the WHO. Yes, it would be nice to have all ingredients such as potassium and trisodium citrate, but this simplified recipe (water, sugar, salt) is well recognised as a good alternative that can be made in almost any kitchen or galley. The resulting drink is nowhere near as sweet as ‘sports drinks’, in fact, it tastes like tears – a little bit sweet, a little bit salty. Please see the WHO website for the background in the research on ORT. I have personally survived some dreadful ‘travel belly’ sickness high up in the Atlas mountains in Morocco and on a dive boat in Vietnam, greatly helped by myself remembering ‘Sweet 16’ and being able to cook this up even whilst being terribly sick, without speaking the same language as the chef/cook and in somewhat dire hygienic conditions. Once this basic re-hydration kicks in, you can add salts by eating small amounts of safe food, such as small bites of banana (potassium), etc. All this is very Attainable, just when and where you need it most – when you are sick – unlike IV equipment (I am a trained/advanced first aid provider and a Australian surf patrol, but I would not attempt IV unless in extreme circumstances), drugs/medications or fancy and perishable drinks like packaged coconut water. Packaged coconut water is warned against by the FDA as misleading, as the contents of primary electrolytes are not particularly high, nor balanced. My primary re-hydration medication would be a product such as Dioralyte, which are complete and balanced as they are made for the purpose. If I don’t have those to hand, I would make my own Sweet 16 as recommended by the WHO.

John Harries

Hi Gerben,

I don’t claim to be an expert on rehydration, and I’m sure you are right about the WHO and sweet 16. Having said that, I am, unfortunately, an expert on seasickness, through experience—I’m sick for the first 24 hours of most every passage.

What I have found is that when sick, simple carbohydrates and particularly anything that is just sugar is a very bad idea indeed and accelerates exhaustion, at least for me—since I’m the skipper, that’s not acceptable. Also, with sugar drinks, all that happens is that I get into a cycle of drinking a lot and then immediately peeing it out, with no rehydration benefit. I can’t tell you why this is, but my guess is that motion plays a part, and it is something that I have noticed many other seasick sailors, particularly males, seem to suffer from.

For the same reason, too much sugar, I have found bananas a poor idea too.

I’m not sure what the criticisms of coconut water are, or are not, all I know is that it works well for me. The other food that is absolutely vital to me when at sea is hard boiled eggs. Even a small amount of this high protein snack will keep me going. The secret is to get a bit of both down immediately after being sick. Even if I lose it a few minutes later, I seem to derive benefit.

Also, I agree that IV’s are not easy. (I have practiced for real.) But we do carry them since on several occasions I have seen people get very close to the point where they can’t take anything by mouth and if that happens IV is the only thing that will save the situation.

Rob Gill

Another vote for coconut water from me – I was on “death row” from 24hr food poisoning whilst working in Brazil about 7 years ago and I can vouch for its near miraculous affect on me, in re-hydration. Within 1 hour of drinking a pack, I went from barely being able to stand, to being back on my feet and delivering the course I was running. And whatever the dieticians say about it, apparently every Brazilian mother (and there were several on the course) knows this is what you take after sickness or diarrhoea – coconut water just reaches parts other drinks don’t!
As importantly, it also seems to be easy to hold down, being neutral in flavour and ph.


A fairly old technique that is gaining new acceptance, is subcutaneous rehydration. This very simple and easy to perform following basic training and is very well established in palliative care. The cannula would be easy to place in even rough conditions. As an Emergency Physician, l would a lot more comfortable having a subcutaneous cannula inserted by a less experienced person (or even inserting it myself), than trying to get an IV inserted when the boat is moving around in heavy weather. The equipment and fluids are probably what you carry already, although some studies have been done with the co-administration of an enzyme that promotes the quicker absorption of the fluid into the circulation. I am not aware of any studies of this technique in seasickness, but would think it a very reasonable approach, should a crew member become so dehydrated that IV fluids are being considered.

John Harries

Hi Coen,

A very good point, thank you. The training I received was to just place the standard IV needle into the fatty part of the thigh and let the fluid form a pouch in the area and then let the body slowly absorb it.

Is that still an approved technique? I will also look into getting a cannula.

John Mardiat, MD

From a physicians perspective, there is “dehydration” from loss of body fluids, for example from vomiting, or diarrhea or extensive sweating from exercise. And there is “dehydration” from a lack of water.

In the first case, the lost fluid as well as electrolytes needs to be replaced. The sports drink Gatorade, which was originally developed by exercise physiologists at the University of Florida, is an ideal replacement for lost fluids. The glucose, sodium and potassium concentrations are such that they allow for active transport through the gut, facilitating rapid absorption. It’s like oral IV fluids. Other “sports drink” knockoffs may have marketing but without a real scientific basis.

In the second case where there has been a lack of free water, additional sodium and potassium are detrimental. Incremental doses of free water or any drink that doesn’t contain sodium will be helpful. Glucose in a drink doesn’t have an effect on electrolyte balance and therefore isn’t harmful in this setting unless of course you are diabetic.

Regarding sea sickness prevention, I have found Scopolamine (Transderm) patches to be extremely effective for the first three days of a voyage. They are prescription only but they should be easily obtainable from your local physician. I cut them in half for children or crew of slight build. They must be placed 12 hrs prior to leaving port!

John Harries

Hi John,

Thanks for the information o dehydration, both interesting and good to know. One note on Scopolamine, I, and others have had very bad side effects from this drug, to the point that we have banned its use on Morgan’s Cloud. I know it works for some people, but we have also seen crew so spaced out on the stuff that they were a danger to themselves and anyone around them, as well as the safety of the boat.

Sarah Brown

Hi Colin,

I have been using the electronic version of the pressure points wrist band for a few years. As another person said, it takes the edge off, it doesn’t cure it. Staying on the helm is the only good way for me; as soon as I go below I have to close my eyes to keep a steady stomach, not terribly useful for chartwork but I can now get cockpit to bunk without the aid of a bucket!


Hi Sarah

I’m not sure I’ve seen an electronic version of the pressure bands – just the elastic ‘standard’ ones. Do you have a name for these, so others can check them out?

And it’s good to hear another vote for these bands, as I’m sure many people would prefer to use a ‘natural’ remedy rather than a chemical product, although, ultimately, I’m sure many would try anything if it worked for them!

Best wishes


John Harries

Hi Sarah,

Interesting that you have had a good result with the electronic pressure bands. I tried them and actually felt worse, see this review. But the static bands work well for me. Just makes the point, as Colin says, that we sufferers just have to keep on trying things.

Although, having said that, in some 40 years of trying seasickness remedies I have found that most of the time, for me at least, the side effects of most of the drugs are worse than the problem.


“I never get seasick”. Whenever I hear that, two images come to mind. One of John Guzzwell, who pioneered the cold molding technique and for decades held the “record” for circumnavigating in the smallest boat, giving a slide show showing he and his new bride heaving over the rail on their honeymoon cruise. The second involved a crew member who had a newly minted 100 ton Captain’s license but had evidently never been out of sight of land. Nearly had a mutiny when I insisted he stand his watches no matter how he felt.

Of course “I personally never get seasick”, until I started out in a sloppy seaway from Newport in November with a nice greasy omelet on board that morning. Suffice to say Sturgeron is the only remedy I have found that will halt seasickness in its tracks. Standing up in the cockpit for a couple of hours holding on to the dodger while letting the boat move under you to stabilize your center of motion while watching the horizon, plus a hit of Sturgeron or Gravinol are the keys to finding your sea legs, at least for most people I have sailed with.

Bruce Cuthbert

I am sure there is no “best ” medication, people react differently to various drugs.However intramuscular promethazine is generally very effective and avoids the problem of lack of absorption from the stomach which occurs with onset of sea sickness. It is used regularly by astronauts as space travel seems to be as bad as a liferaft for motion sickness.

Graham Perrem

Seasickness what a terrible affliction ! especially when it can ruin your passion ie sailing . I have a friend who i admire greatly as he still sails despite the fact that he knows he will be layed low in his bunk as soon as he leaves the harbour ! he’s tried hypnosis , moving his head from side to side daily ( training his inner ear !)
So he’s stuck to calm water sailing , if want’s to explore new coasts he takes to his bunk and has a crew sail the boat there !

John Harries

Hi Graham,

I admire your friend hugely, and I know of what I speak in that I get seasick too, although I’m far more fortunate since I pretty much always get over it in about 24 hours. I call it “the toll I pay to go offshore”.

Stein Varjord

Hi Colin and John and all.

Seasickness is a bigger problem than many will admit. The articles and comments here can help many look for their method. I’ve never tried any drug or other remedy, but I’m lucky and normally don’t get sick. If I do, it’s normally a very short time and at most one small barf and then immediately back to fully operational.

One notable exception: In 1983 I sailed the 3 day Scaw Race in pretty heavy weather. We rounded a mark at the northern tip of Denmark, and started a 30 hour westwards fight towards the southern tip of Norway in + 40-knot westerly winds and big choppy waves. I woke up in a cabin smelling a heavy mix of pea soup farts and puke. I immediately turned green and barfed about every 30 minutes for at least 20 hours. I was completely wet, cold, felt embarrassed, sorry for myself and hated life in general. 🙂 Actually I think those feelings were important reasons for my long lasting seasickness.

I’ve never had lasting discomfort later. I’m convinced that there is a multitude of causes for seasickness and what counts the most is completely individual, but I have had a lot of people claim that standing up looking forwards at the horizon helps much. That is probably partly because the standing position makes it possible to reduce motion quite a bit, and partly because looking at the horizon gives a reliable reference so the visual input and the “motion sensors” agree on what’s actually happening.

Seasickness is obviously not only caused by mental mechanisms, but I believe there is much one can do with the mind to reduce the effects or speed up the recovery.

When feeling sick, the “patient” feels every wave as a pain and desperately wishes the movements to stop. Since reality normally doesn’t adapt, the result is that the discomfort gets worse for each wave. This can be counteracted some by a mind game. I normally tell the person standing as described above to try to make the boat move more than it already does. I tell them they won’t manage to actually make a difference, that it’s just a mind game, but that I want them to actually put as much energy into the task as they can muster. Really make it a workout, and for a long time.

This gives them a task and makes them feel they can be a bit funny, not only pityful, but more importantly: It makes them feel “in control” of the movements, they intuitively learn to predict the next move the boat will make, so the can play the “rock the boat” game well. Thus, they actively develop their “sea legs”. As an added bonus, they are moving quite a lot, so they keep warm and an active body is better able to cope in general, than one that is almost in hibernation.

The core of it all is to try to make the “patient” enjoy the experience and find the surroundings fascinating. This is much facilitated if other crew members keep the “patient” included in the social context, share their experience of the moments and asks for the response. Positive thinking isn’t too easy to get into when feeling close to puking, but with some care from the surroundings, making sure the patient feels warm and safe, while doing the mind games above, the right “feel” gradually arrives.

I think I’d still love sailing even if I got seasick a lot, but I’m not sure…. Respect to those who frequently fight that match.

John Harries

Hi Stein,

That sounds like a great tip, thanks.

Marc Dacey

Stein, good advice and I have similar issues: a miserable first 12 hours, and then OK whatever the conditions (so far).

You can’t cure seasickness, but if you can get the sufferer standing and steering the boat, they can pass through this phase faster. Anything but staying in the cabin.

MIke McGuire


Great tips. I’ve done a fair share of offshore racing and I’m prone to seasickness but I’ve found a few tricks that work. Your comments on standing make sense since you are in more control of your body relative to the motion and the balancing of your body seems to calm the visual/inner ear confusion. Couple that with looking forward toward a stable horizon (or aft) really helps as well. That might be why driving helps since most driving is while standing, or at least focusing on a horizon that is forward.

I’ve also found that if I have to go below, out of site of a visual horizon, it is best if I A) look down, and B) close one eye. If I have to sit, say to dress or undress, I’ll close both eyes while holding my head down. This mimics a prone sleeping position and seems to calm the visual/inner ear confusion as well.

During the first 24 hours of a race the closing one eye allows me to triple or quadruple my time (8-12 minutes) below over keeping both eyes open prior to onset of discomfort. If I do begin to feel sick I ask for a trick at the wheel. These tricks have gotten me through the 1st 24 hours or so of an offshore race after which time I’m feeling better (not perfect) and beginning to acclimate.

John Harries

Hi Mike,

All good tips from a fellow suffer. I will try the one eye trick. Thanks

Drew Frye

I’m staggered by the perseverance it must require to solder on. My wife is affected, and I try to pick weather accordingly, always grateful for her efforts. Myself, I’d sell the boat if illness was something I had to associate with sailing. There is always mountaineering.

I felt the ground move afterwords, when I first started sailing, but even that passed many years ago.


Hi John,
I am replying here, as I can’t find a ‘reply’ button at the bottom of your last reply to me. Operator error?

The outside of the thigh and abdomen are the common sites we use and your technique sounds fine. One can use a butterfly needle or a plastic cannula and this can be taped down and left in place for at least a few days. By all reports, this procedure has less associated potential complications than IV fluid administration, with the biggest limitation that you are limited to 1.5 litres of fluid per site per day. Just to be clear, you cannot treat a patient in shock, with a fall in blood pressure this way…..they will still need IV fluids. So this would only be appropriate for the treatment of dehydration.


John Harries

Hi Coen,

Great information, thank you very much.

And, the reason you could not find a reply button is that replies are limited to 5 levels for formatting reasons.

Ramon Rodriguez

Heading out of Newburyport on a Crocker-designed woodenboat, as we hit heavy rolling seas, my dear friend Gustavo became sick. The couple who owned this classic, wonderful vessel suggested he steer. It took a while to get him off the deck, but when he took the helm, he became calm and his sickness disappeared. This was not blue water sailing, but almost miraculous. I hesitated to write this note because I’m mostly in awe of what I read in your site and very impressed with all of you who ocean voyage, but I wondered if any of you found comfort in steering when you became ill, or found that you did not because you were the pilot. Thank you, I am your novice loyal reader, Ramón Jesús.

John Harries

Hi Ramon,

Absolutely, I can tell you as a sufferer from seasickness that steering can really help. Takes your mind off the issue and also involves watching the horizon, as well as standing, all help.

Of course the problem is that it’s not a solution if you are going to be at sea for days.


Has anyone tried habituation such as the puma method?


Hi John,
I’ve heard whispers here in Australia that the use of a single ear plug in either the dominant or non-dominant ear can cure sickness. Some articles I read stated that even if you were already afflicted, putting 1 earplug in would stop symptoms within minutes. See - I googled for the naysayers and could find some information to support and no information that called it a hoax. I would love it if some of your readers could test this out? Could this be the Holy Grail? – fellow sufferer

John Harries

Hi Damien,

I too have heard of this (in another comment) and will definitely give it a try the next time I’m feeling a bit green.

Jan Zink

I used to teach elementary school and, by accident, discovered that swinging with the kids now made me nauseous, something I never used to experience when I was young. This was right about the time I also began sailing. I found that by swinging frequently, nothing rambunctious at first, I was able to build up until the best ‘swingers’ of the school were challenging me in the ‘highest swinging contest’’. My nausea totally disappeared, as did my tolerance for motion while on my sailboat. Find a large robust swingset and spend a few weeks enjoying building up to the motion before you head out on your next cruise. Cost = $0.00

John Harries

Hi Jan,

What a great idea! Totally makes sense to me since I get sick in the first 24-36 hours, but after that not at all. I wonder if the training effect would be even quicker if we kept our eyes closed while swinging?

Marc Dacey

As that is my precise experience as crew (I don’t get seasick as skipper, oddly enough), I will try the “swingset habituation trick”. What an intriguing idea. Thanks, Jan Zink.

Andrew Craig-Bennett

Two simple standbys:
1. The very well known ginger – I find crystallised ginger the best – eat as much as you like.
2. Kendal mint cake, as used by climbers. It’s practically pure glucose, with a peppermint flavour; it is the thing most likely to go down and stay down and is very quickly absorbed.

John Harries

Hi Methergate,

I to have seen ginger work well on others. The only problem for me is I hate the stuff!