After receiving an email from a BASK member who asked how I overcame seasickness, I thought it would be valuable to share my personal observations and experiences here. However, please keep in mind that these are just my own perspectives and may not apply to everyone. I also want to mention that BASK already has an article titled Avoiding seasickness, which I found helpful and recommend reading as a starting point.
I was very disappointed and sad when I first discovered that I was prone to seasickness when I first paddled on a open ocean in 2020 September. At that time I have beed paddling with San Diego Kayak Club over 3 months but mainly inside the Mission Bay and doing skills practice.
Over time, I tried various methods to prevent seasickness while paddling, but none of them worked. Despite this, I continued paddling about once a week or every two weeks. Not all of the paddles were in open ocean conditions, but during half of the open ocean trips, I experienced seasickness and vomiting.
Recently (2023 July), I finally managed to overcome my seasickness while kayaking in the open ocean. In May, I went on a four-day kayak camping trip to Santa Cruz Island, covering a total distance of 31 miles. I didn’t experience much seasickness or vomit, except for a very light amount of discomfort on the third day after being on the water for five hours. In the last 30 days, I did several open ocean paddles, including a 12-mile paddle out of the Golden Gate Bridge in pretty rough conditions (wind 10-15kt, swell 3-5ft, current 1-2kt, foggy). Surprisingly, I didn’t get sea sick at all during the five hours. I’m thrilled with my progress.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to inform your paddling group or friends that you are prone to seasickness. Let them know if you may require their assistance in case your seasickness becomes severe. Personally, I have never capsized or been unable to continue paddling due to seasickness.
When I experience seasickness, my main concern is keeping up with the group’s speed and not falling behind. Therefore, when I start feeling uncomfortable, I typically communicate with my nearby paddling buddy. Seasickness usually takes time to develop and worsen.
If it reaches a point where I need to vomit, I simply pause and do so onto my spray skirt. I then clean it using sea water. It’s crucial to avoid vomiting to the side of the boat, as it can lead to capsizing. If your kayaking friend can raft their boat with yours, you can vomit into the sea water instead.
Interestingly, vomiting actually brings relief, as I tend to feel better afterward. I can then resume paddling with improved comfort.
The first and most important thing is to keep paddling. When I was struggling with seasickness, I held onto the belief that it would improve over time. I was told that by keep paddling, I could train myself to adapt and develop “sea legs.”
I tried several medications. I made an appointment with my primary doctor and specifically asked for medicine to prevent seasickness while kayaking. He gave me two types of medicine: the scopolamine patch and some pills (I forgot their names). I tried both, but they didn’t work well for me. I took them before paddling, but I still experienced seasickness and ended up vomiting. They also made me feel sleepy and reduced my physical ability. My head wasn’t clear, and it felt like I was paddling in a dream. I didn’t like that feeling, so I stopped using them after trying them several times.
Other things I tried included eating ginger candy and using an anti-nausea wristband. The ginger candy tasted good, but it didn’t help with my seasickness. As for the wristband, it turned out to be a waste of money. I’m not sure why I even bought it and tried it in the first place.
I started paying attention to what I ate before kayaking. I noticed that milk might be a factor triggering my seasickness, so I stopped drinking milk for breakfast before paddling. I had one experience where I felt seasick and vomited, and the milk I had consumed earlier made me smell like a baby.
Additionally, I came across the article on the BASK website titled Avoiding seasickness, which mentioned the impact of spicy food. I realized that the last time I experienced severe seasickness, I had eaten very spicy food the night before. As a result, I began avoiding spicy food a day before going kayaking.
It’s important to eat enough food to maintain energy levels. There was a time when I didn’t eat much before or during a paddle to prevent seasickness. However, this approach backfired as I ended up experiencing the most severe seasickness and low blood sugar at the end of a six-hour session. I was exhausted and vomited twice as a result.
Now I will limit my food intake a day before paddling and have a simple breakfast of bread, possibly with one banana before starting. During the paddle, I will consume energy bars for sustained energy. Staying properly hydrated is also essential. I also think good sleep and good rest before the paddle help.
Sea conditions play a crucial role in seasickness. Calm water tends to trigger seasickness more than rough water, especially when sitting in one spot (not paddling) and being lifted up and down by the swell. However, when paddling downwind or following sea condition with the swell pushing the kayak from behind may cause seasickness. Because having the swell at your back makes it challenging to anticipate the boat’s direction.
Discomfort & Overheating is another factor lead to seasickness. I noticed that a tight latex neck gasket on my drysuit can cause discomfort and potentially trigger seasickness. Moreover, overheating can also contribute to the problem. In such situations, rolling the kayak can help cool the body down and provide relief from the symptoms.
Spending an extended period of time on the water is a notable factor that can trigger seasickness. In my personal experience, being on the open ocean for more than 4 hours (previously 1-2 hours) tends to induce seasickness for me. During these prolonged periods, I often begin to feel unwell and have a strong desire to return to land.
Transferring attention can be beneficial in managing seasickness. Engaging in conversation with a friend while paddling helps distract from the symptoms. Additionally, I have observed that I never experience seasickness while kayak surfing. This could be attributed to being fully engaged in focusing on the waves and other dangerous elements in the surf zone.
Where to look: When I first experienced seasickness, people advised me to look at the horizon, focusing on a distant point and avoiding looking at the water nearby. I understood that this could be helpful, but it was challenging to follow, especially when I felt nervous, I tended to look at the water around me instead. However, with more experience paddling in open waters, my confidence grew. As a result, it became easier for me to avoid fixating on the water just around my boat. Another important point is that when the water is exceptionally clear, it’s best not to spend too much time looking down at the wildlife in the water, as it can worsen seasickness.
Staying calm and confident is important in dealing with seasickness. I’ve noticed that getting nervous can make it worse. Just remember to stay calm, reassure yourself that you’ll be okay, and try to relax. If needed, take deep breaths to help maintain your composure.
Hope this article can be helpful for paddlers who are also struggling with seasickness. Good luck and keep paddling. It will improve over time.