Most large, modern cruise liners have stabilizers. So your trip should be smooth sailing.
Most large, modern cruise liners have stabilizers. So your trip should be smooth sailing. Digital Vision/Getty Images

It’s no coincidence that the root of the word “nausea” is naus, the Greek word for “ship.” Motion sickness is a common ailment — especially on boats. The condition occurs when your brain gets conflicting signals. Your eyes sense relative stillness, but your balance and position centers sense motion. The mechanism that the body uses to determine motion and orientation becomes confused, and the result is an upset stomach, belching, nausea, vomiting, headache and sweating.

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Will you get sick? Well, women are a bit more susceptible, as are those who suffer from migraines and inner ear problems. If you get car sick, you’re also more likely to get motion sickness on a cruise. All that said, many people who travel by car and airplane with ease still get seasick because of the unique low frequency and rocking motion of a boat. With proper planning, however, you can prepare for, alleviate and maybe even prevent this annoying condition.

1. Get thee to a doctor

Talk to your physician before your cruise. There are a few medications that can prevent and treat the symptoms of motion sickness. The most common over-the-counter drugs included imenhydrinate (Dramamine) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). These drugs, however, can cause drowsiness, blurry vision and, in some people, confusion and urinary problems.

Prescription sedative and antinausea medications can also be effective for some people. The most commonly prescribed medication, though, is scopolamine, which comes in a patch that you wear behind your ear. It’s a preventative medication, so you apply it before you set sail, and one patch works for 72 hours. Once again, this medication can cause drowsiness, dry mouth, confusion and an inability to urinate. Also, it shouldn’t be used by people at risk for a certain type of glaucoma, so check with your doctor.

If you still get seasick, don’t hesitate to visit the ship’s doctor.

2. Take shipboard measures

Book an outside cabin on a large, modern cruise liner. These ships have stabilizers for smooth sailing. While aboard, minimize time performing head-fixed activities such as knitting, reading and working on a computer. Finally, remember that your body senses the movement of the ship relative to the earth at large, so viewing the distant land or the horizon will help you keep your balance and position centers in sync. If you start to feel queasy, stop what you’re doing and head for an exterior deck. Fix your eyes on the horizon, and take slow, deep breaths. If you reach a point where you need to lie down, lie on your back.

3. Practice mind over matter

Stay positive, and don’t expect to get sick. There is some evidence that psychosocial factors play a role in motion sickness. Expecting it to happen might just increase the likelihood that it will. In addition, you might want to practice a bit of willpower by skipping the buffet line and the bar once in while. Overeating and excessive indulgence in alcohol won’t help your goal of avoiding seasickness.