The middle-aged married couple arrived at the dock for the afternoon scuba dive.
I greeted them inquiring where they lived.
They were from Chicago. He was an experienced diver; she had recently completed her dive certification and had done a few extra dives in the quarry where she was certified.
This would be her first ocean dive.
Wanting to make sure they would have a pleasant dive trip, I asked if either one experienced seasickness, and, if so, had taken seasickness medication.
“We don’t get seasick,” intoned the husband. “We had a nice big breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and coffee. Last night we tried a few of the Keys’ excellent Margaritas.”
“Let’s rock and roll!” he exclaimed.
The ocean must have heard him. After we motored past the calm of nearshore, the waves picked up to about 2 feet, and the boat bounced along toward the dive site.
When we arrived at the site, the wife, who had turned a light shade of green, looked like she felt miserable. The boat began swaying back and forth after the mate tied it off to the mooring buoy.
That finished the job.
She leaned over the side and fed the fish, which had arrived in expectation of a free meal. The captain said, “The fish like a warm breakfast.”
The wife, who wasn’t amused by the captain’s humor, felt better after discarding the offending breakfast. We were able to complete the first scuba dive; but, upon surfacing she got sick again while waiting in the waves to climb up the boat’s ladder.
She was a real trooper. I replaced her scuba tank with a full one while we motored to a new site. She strapped on her gear and we stepped off the boat for a second dive.
A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes something like: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Seasickness is sort of like that. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just about everyone experiences some level of seasickness if waters get rough enough for long enough. Some unfortunate folks seem to be susceptible to seasickness 100 percent of the time, regardless of the motion of the ocean.
The rest of us are somewhere in-between. Experience on the ocean does help. People, like the crew of dive boats, get “sea legs” that help “old salts” fend off the symptoms of seasickness.
If you’re one of the unlucky 100 percent who get sick every time you go out on the water, you can blame your parents. Some experts believe the tendency to get motion sickness is genetic.
The symptoms of seasickness, also called motion sickness, include dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and a general feeling of discomfort or illness. Seasickness can strike suddenly or progress from simply not feeling well.
Seasickness is set-off when motions disturb fluid movement in the portion of the inner ear that affects balance and equilibrium. The effect is exaggerated when the brain receives conflicting messages from eye, muscle and joint sensors. Once the motion stops, symptoms disappear.
Seasickness is more common in women, young children 2-12 years old and folks who suffer from migraine headaches.
The good news is, because there are that are several ways to control seasickness, you don’t have to throw away your dive certification card and sell your scuba gear if you get seasick.
Before you book a dive trip, check weather conditions. Strong winds, and the waves and they cause, make for a very unpleasant and potentially seasick day of diving. One place to check on upper Keys’ wind and wave conditions is: http://marine.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lon=-80.36180&lat=25.09523#.VnLUdCn21D8.
It is also a good idea to determine the size and type of your dive boat. Little boats tend to bounce and sway more in wavy conditions. Some boats are more stable than others.
Be careful what you eat and drink before venturing out onto a moving ocean. Greasy foods are notorious for causing seasickness. Drinking alcoholic beverages the night before can also be a problem — especially if you are hung over the day of the dive.
Caffeine also makes some folks more susceptible to seasickness.
Make sure you are well hydrated and rested.
Consider taking non-prescription anti-seasick medication. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist and inquire about the “patch” (applied to the skin area behind the ear at least eight hours before exposure, helping prevent motion sickness for up to three days). It is recommended that you try any seasickness medication before your day of diving to determine how it affects you. Some medications can make you sleepy or your mouth unpleasantly dry.
If one medication (Dramamine, Bonine, Marazine, or Meclizine) seems to work better for you than the others, stick with it. The placebo effect is very strong with seasickness.
Taking a pill just before a getting on the boat usually is too late to help fend off being sick. Most medications work better if you take them the night before and then early in the day you dive.
Some alternative remedies are promoted as being helpful in relieving or preventing motion sickness. For mild symptoms try ginger (ginger capsules are available at many drug stores), peppermint or dry crackers.
Traditional Chinese medicine includes acupressure on the inside of the wrist as a way to suppress the nausea associated with motion sickness. You can buy pressure bands like Sea-Band and Acuband at your local pharmacy. More sophisticated battery-operated bands, like Reliefband which delivers an electrical pulse instead of pressure, are also available.
The success of the pressure bands mostly is anecdotal.
Anxiety contributes to seasickness; try to relax. Those who are frightened by the ocean and the movement of the boat, or anxious about diving, are more likely to become seasick.
It is a good idea to assemble your dive gear and slip into the bottom part of your wetsuit before the boat leaves the dock. Bending over and trying to focus on putting together your gear in the waves can make your condition worse. If you feel sick in-between dives, ask a mate or divemaster for help switching your scuba gear to a full tank of air.
Stay on the lower deck close to the stern, where the boat is more stable, and focus on the horizon. Don’t go into confined spaces. Some folks find that lying down with their eyes closed helps. Others find it more comfortable to remain standing holding onto a ladder or other object. Looking at a close object like a dive computer or reading can bring on seasickness.
Staying cool helps; try sitting in a breezy location out of direct sunlight. Sometimes ice on the back of the neck helps a person who is feeling queasy.
If you need to throw up, do it. You'll feel better almost immediately. Postponing the inevitable only prolongs the pain. Go to the lee (downwind) side of the boat. Don't be embarrassed; you won’t be the first or last person who has gotten seasick on a dive boat. Don't use the boat’s head (toilet) or trash can. Doing so makes it very unpleasant for the next person using the head or sitting next to the trash.
Once you are at the dive site, descend quickly. Don't bounce around on the surface. I have seen many divers get seasick waiting on the surface of the water prior to and after a dive.
Some divers have gotten seasick underwater focusing on moving objects, like sea fans, during their dives. If you do get sick underwater, don’t remove your regulator or rush to the surface. Regulators can accommodate a seasick diver. A rapid ascent can harm you more than getting sick into your scuba regulator.
Finally, if you get seasick to the point it may affect your ability to safely dive – skip the dive.
To learn more tips about helping to avoid seasickness see: http://www.padi.com/blog/2015/07/31/simple-tips-for-preventing-seasickness-divers-alert-network/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=acquisition
Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 29 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier four years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org