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Brad Laabs: Seasickness a real problem on a wavy lake

Just the other evening I had a gentlemen in the boat get seasick and needed to get off the water. It was windy and rough on the water and he was handling the conditions fine until it got dark. Then the motion sickness set in on him.

Seasick, carsick, air sickness, motion sickness, is all the same thing. The brain sends the body into alarm mode because of the motion.  Extreme cases can result in vomiting and can take hours to get over. One of the worst things to do if you start to experience seasickness is to focus on things in the boat, laydown in the boat, or in larger boats go into the cabin. Strong or irritating smells can exacerbate the symptoms.

I think his situation was triggered by the darkness (inability to see the shoreline) and a little fear of the unknown, as he had never been on the water after dark before. Night fishing can be a little disorienting even if you don’t struggle with motion sickness. Especialy the first time you experience being on the water in the dark.

If you do have this issue at times, you may want to prepare in advance if you are going to be on the water after dark. You may also need to take action for yourself if you know you will be on a large body of water or potentially be on the water in rough conditions.

Several medication remedies are available over the counter. Dramamine and Bonine are the most commonly used. If you suffer from this condition often, you may want to consult your physician. You may also require medications to prepare for a trip that will require a prescription.

One complaint that those that have taken the medications complain about, is the drowsiness that can occur from the medication. The medication also has to be taken in advance, and it is too late if you are already experiencing symptoms. 

Many common strategies that don’t require the medication route are available and have been tested as effective. Ginger is a good example and was proven effective by the “Myth Busters” TV program.

Once you start to experience symptoms, generally, looking at the horizon or focusing on a shoreline feature will reduce the nausea and dizziness. Chewing gum can help reduce the effects and provide relief. Some have experienced relief by closing one eye, or both eyes. I have also experienced customers’ symptoms getting worse when closing both eyes. Some suggest being able to nap can relieve the sickness, I also have observed that this works for some, and makes it worse for others.

It seems to be a very individual issue that takes some trial and error. To relieve the stomach ache or cramps, sipping on 7up or ginger ale has worked for many. I have taken customers to shore before, and getting on stable ground for a period of time will “cure” the sickness. Some have been able to return to the water and be fine, some have tried to return only to find themselves sick again. This seems to be about a 50/50 experience over the years.

Another intervention I was informed about a couple of years ago, came from the experience of a friend whose son got seasick out on the gulf when they were fishing. The captain put a towel in ice water and put it around the neck of his son. His symptoms cleared and they were able to continue with the fishing trip with no further sickness problems. I have offered that twice now to customers of mine and they have tried other things first, so I can’t give you a personal account of the success of this intervention. It does make sense to me that it will work, it sure will get the brain focused on something else!

I have observed that those that preoccupy with the fact they are not feeling well will get worse! I seem to always end up with a couple of people a year that get “seasick.” For some it has been a first time issue, for most they have had the problem before (in boats or cars). In most situations it has been because of significant wave action. Take action, be prepared, don’t let this type of issue interfere with having a great time on the water!

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)