As cruise returns in Australia, there are of course many people that haven’t taken to the seas in a couple of years, as well as plenty of excited first-timers looking to get on a cruise ship for a new type of holiday. 

One concern that both of these groups are expressing across the cruise community is the issue of seasickness. The worries stretch across both being on board and feeling ill, with symptoms like vomiting, dizziness or fatigue, or feeling ‘sea legs’ and vertigo for days after cruising. 

Dr Jessica Vitkovic, the Innovation and Research Lead at Soundfair, says seasickness comes from a mismatched experience in the body.

“The main theory is around a mismatch between what the senses of our body are saying to the brain. If you think about a visual system, if you’re in a cabin on the boat for example, and the boat is swaying, because you’re moving with the cabin, your visual system is saying that you’re still because you’re moving with the cabin, whereas your balance organs are detecting the motion of the sea. 

It’s thought that this conflicting message to the brain can give you motion sickness.”

Here are the best tips for avoiding seasickness on your cruise, including some tips taken from seasoned cruisers themselves on a cruise forum.

Ten tips for avoiding seasickness

Know if you’re prone

Dr Vitkovic says symptoms vary hugely from person to person but there are some signs to watch out for if you are prone to sea sickness.

“It’s hard, individuals can vary quite significantly, between what makes somebody motion sickness. Someone who gets motion sickness in a car, may not get motion sickness in a boat.

“People who are more likely to have motion sickness are children between ages two and 12, women are more likely to experience it depending on hormonal factors such as the contraceptive pill and if you have had it on a boat before, you’re more likely to get it again, although that can change over time.”

Talk to your doctor 

It’s the most obvious tip, but the best thing you can do for your seasickness is talk through options with your GP ahead of time. Your GP may or may not decide you need a prescribed medication and though if you experience bad symptoms on board, the ships doctors will likely be able to prescribe you something, you’ll likely already been in for at least a day or two of discomfort. 

If you don’t want something prescribed, over-the-counter medications such as Kwells and Travacalm are reportedly very effective.

Dr Vitkovic says: “It’s thought that this conflicting message to the brain can give you motion sickness.”

Know the signs 

Knowing the signs both before you even cruise and once on the ship can you help manage your symptoms. If you’re prone to car sickness or air sickness, there’s a strong chance you’ll also be prone to seasickness and you should see your doctor. Furthermore, if you’re onboard and start feeling light nausea, dizziness, increased saliva or cold sweats, try to take action immediately through taking medication or seeing treatment onboard.

Nibble and sip 

If you do feel symptoms coming on, don’t just let your queasy stomach take charge of you. Taking small bites of dry crackers and small sips of water, especially sparkling water or electrolytes, will hopefully keep symptoms at bay. 

Eat clean 

If you’re already feeling woozy when you step on board due to unhealthy meals the night before or morning of your cruise, then you’re starting on the back foot. Furthermore, drinking alcohol in the 24 hours before you get on board also strengthens your chances of having a bad reaction to the wavy seas.

Dr Vitkovic says: “Certainly don’t eat heavy, big meals. Avoiding alcohol, which we already know can make you feel a bit woozy and sometimes relaxation techniques can also be helpful around that time also.”

Keep it natural 

If you don’t want to take prescribed or over the counter medications, there are also natural remedies to help. The most popular and recommended is ginger, whether eaten raw or as a special chew for seasickness. However other foods and herbs like chamomile tea, liquorice root, peppermint and magnesium can be effective. 

Other tricks range from putting a bandaid over your bellybutton to a bit of cotton in one of your ears, these of course aren’t evidence based but plenty of people seem to think they do the trick!

A cruiser wrote: “Take the travel calm with ginger tablets. Someone told me once to start taking them about 4 days out from sailing. My daughter and I do this. Also green apples help. Ginger drinks also. The sea bands are also great. I find I am a bit queasy on the first night. I go to bed early and then I wake up fine the next day.”

Position yourself 

Dr Vitkovic says: “But there are also strategies you can consider when you’re in the middle of it. This includes going outside, we talked about the sensory conflict, if you’re in your cabin the cabin might look like it’s still and confuse your balance organs, but if you’re outside and looking at the horizon, this will tell you that you’re moving and help the sensory systems match a bit better.

Other people find going to the front of the boat, or even just sleeping it off until it passes will also work, it will generally wear off over time.”

The needle 

If your seasickness doesn’t subside, most cruise ship doctors will be able to offer you an injection of promethazine, which many cruisers report as being extremely effective. However, side effects are possible, there’s a cost involved and no one wants to spend their cruise at the doctors, so it is best to prevent the problem happening at all if possible.

One cruiser wrote: “I’ve been on four cruises and felt sick every time, I got the needle on board three to four times and it worked like magic. Tips we got from the crew were to get fresh air, look at the horizon and eat green apple.”

Take your drowsy drugs at night

Some prescription and over-the-counter motion sickness drugs can induce drowsiness, which isn’t ideal for a day of cruising fun or shore excursions. Instead taking your tablets at night before you sleep will bring on your drowsiness at a better time and should have you ready for the next day ahead.

Test the waters 

If you have a particularly long cruise coming up and have reason to think seasickness could be an issue, you might want to try giving yourself a small test run if you live near water and can take a shorter day cruise or boat adventure. This also gives you a chance to test the effectiveness or your reaction to any medication you plan on taking. 

After your cruise

If you’re really feeling your sea legs after a few days of being off the boat, what’s generally recommended is lots of rest, taking some long walks and drinking plenty of water. Even driving is said to help the body realign with your movements. 

Dr Vitkovic says if symptoms don’t persist there’s nothing to worry about.

There’s your sea legs and then your land legs, when you come back off. Just as your body adapts to the changing motion on the boat, it’s normal to feel a bit weird coming back onto land as well. 

‘That should wear off though, it shouldn’t be going for a long period of time.”