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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

Overcoming the Motion of the Ocean

Since the advent of passenger travel, there has been careful consideration given to the physical tolls on the body. Humorously, early steam trains were once feared for their “high” velocity and its potentially averse effects on us mere humans. As it turns out, our bodies aren’t nearly as fragile as once believed. We can certainly survive steam train travel and even jet plane travel.

Nonetheless, for some there still remains a simple yet significant sensitivity to motion sickness, that nauseating discomfort that comes from one’s inner ear detecting shifts in equilibrium. So the question as it relates to cruising becomes should you avoid cruise travel due to fear of seasickness, and if you do set sail, how can first-time or veteran cruisers prone to the symptoms curb the effects?

Will I get seasick on a cruise?

Not necessarily. Everyone has different constitutions, and since I’m not a doctor, I can’t anticipate anyone’s individual physical response to cruise travel. However, if you fear cruising because you once had an encounter with seasickness on a small fishing boat or the like, rest assured there is truly no comparing a small vessel with a modern cruise ship.

Cruise ships by their size alone are extremely steady, and stabilizers assist even further to smooth out sailing. Newer ships are being outfitted from the shipyard with interceptors, a duck tale-like structure grafted onto the stern to further balance the ship against listing, or rolling from side to side. Even as older ships are refurbished, many are receiving this new interceptor innovation to better help in their stability as well.

So, don’t let the bad memory of a rocky fishing boat or sailboat sojourn sway you from a modern cruise ship.

Is ship motion entirely avoidable?

No. While a cruise ship will remain steady against waves that would be violent to a smaller boat – to please mariners, remember to avoid calling a ship a boat – a larger ship will still pitch, seesaw from bow to stern, and roll, rock from side to side, from time to time to varying degrees. Under certain sea and wind conditions, no ship is entirely immune to uncomfortable motion, but there are things you can do to best avoid the negative effects.

How do I prepare to reduce the chance of seasickness?

To some, even the slightest unbalance can effect them. So it’s important to plan your cruise accordingly. The first thing to consider is the itinerary. A cross-Atlantic cruise is more likely to experience rough weather than an Alaskan cruise through the Inside Passage. With that said, however, be sure to realize that many Alaskan itineraries do still include a day or two at sea away from the calm waters of the Inside Passage. Still, a day or two at sea provide less potential time for high seas than an entire cruise in the open ocean. And to be sure, it is entirely possible for either itinerary to be completely smooth or rough at times. That’s why it’s good to also consider the time of year in which to sail.

For seasonal itineraries like Alaska, there are only so many months to choose from (generally May to September), but for year-round itineraries like the Caribbean, it’s best to choose sailing dates outside of hurricane season (June through October), for example. Cruise line captains are extremely vigilant and are sure to avoid unsafe seas at all times, but turbulent waters are more likely during this season just the same.

Another consideration is the ship itself. It’s true that all cruise ships are usually quite stable, but there are those that are better at handling rough weather. Generally, the bigger the ship, the better it is at remaining stable. The Queen Mary 2, for instance, is the only modern cruise ship that was built to the specifications of an ocean liner with a large draft – meaning it has more bulk under the waterline to keep the ship from rolling. Most ships that are too large, at least currently, to fit through the Panama Canal tend to exhibit proportions that are considerably wider than their Panamax sisters, those capable of transiting the canal, and are consequently more adept at staying steady as well.

The last thing to think about is the location of your cabin. The old adage, “the more you pay, the more you sway,” is actually quite astute. Following the land-based model of suites being more desirable on higher floors, or decks in this case, many cruise ships locate their more expensive staterooms on higher decks which do indeed exhibit more lateral sway than those on lower decks. In fact, some cruise ships have started to place their suites at lower levels to specifically avoid this.

It’s also wise to book cabins more amidship (halfway between the front and back of the ship) of the vessel to avoid excessive pitching up and down. As a rule of thumb, the lower and more center of the ship you are, the better off you will be at eluding the ship’s motion. Even if you don’t happen to have an optimally located cabin, this rule is still helpful for escaping to lower and centrally located public lounges.

Now that I’m onboard, what else can I do to avoid seasickness?

Thankfully there are medical treatments to help. Again, I’m not a doctor, and I would suggest consulting with your doctor before implementing any medical treatments. Options include taking meclizine – brands include Bonine and Dramamine Less Drowsy (the original Dramamine is not a form of meclizine and, while similarly effective, is known to cause drowsiness) – an antihistamine pill that helps reduce the effects of seasickness. This dissolvable pill is designed to melt under the tongue to effectively absorb its contents without regurgitating capsules later on.

Also, placing a scopolamine patch, a transdermal application similar in appearance to a bandage, just behind the ear has been known to reduce nausea. There are even acupressure solutions in the form of wristbands that place directed pressure between the tendons that can help. These are just some of the more common medical treatments, and it’s strongly advised that you consider any and all side effects with your doctor prior to proceeding with treatment.

After all of that, what do I do if I still become seasick?

Even if you have a centrally located stateroom on lower decks and have taken medical treatments, it can often be helpful to leave the confines of your cabin and go out on deck with some fresh air or relax in a larger public lounge with windows so you can see out and focus on the still horizon. This solution alone is often likely to help.

With so many precautions and remedies to consider, it can be easy to lose sight of the joys of cruising. More often than not, the simplest solution to seasickness is keeping your mind off of it, and to be sure, there are plenty of delightful distractions on a cruise to help you do just that. Bon voyage!

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