Heavy swells as seen from the deck of Crown Princess
on our way to Iceland from Norway.
 Photo © Aaron Saunders

One of the most commonly-asked cruising questions, aside from “What night’s lobster night?!” is “how rough are the seas?”

For the most part, it’s impossible to answer that question.  Certainly, some areas can be rougher than others; the Drake Passage, which separates South America from Antarctica, is notorious for its treacherous waters.  How rough?  A quick YouTube search helps to provide a better picture: very rough.

For the most part though, a lot depends on the weather.  Strong winds can affect the movement of a cruise ship as much as heavy swells can.  Though all modern cruise ships are fitted with stabilizers – little wing-like devices that can fold out from their resting place inside the hull – these only help to mitigate the rolling motion (left to right and vice versa) that the majority of people find most uncomfortable. They do not have an appreciable affect on pitching from forward to aft. 

So what to do if you’re prone to seasickness?  There are quire a few things you can do to help yourself, and you won’t need a prescription for any of them.

 Cruise ships can be quite tall; cabins higher up
are subject to more motion than lower ones.
Photo © Aaron Saunders

Book Cabins on Lower Decks or Amidships.  Staterooms that are closer to the water line are less susceptible to overall motion than those located higher up on the ship.  Passengers may also find that rooms at the extreme bow or stern of the ship have a higher degree of pitch in heavy seas than those located amidships.

Wear Sea Bands.  Available from most drug and grocery stores, sea bands are small cloth bands that you wear on each wrist like a watch.  A small pressure point is placed on the underside of each wrist, and acts as an additional inner-ear during inclement weather.  For best results, it’s a good idea to wear sea bands all the time and not just when the seas pick up; if you wait until you already feel seasick to put them on, chances are the damage has already been done.

Place a band-aid on your belly button.  This sounds absolutely nuts – and it works.  Place a band-aid over your belly button so the cloth center piece is directly covering the belly button.  You can even apply two for extra effect.  Again, it sounds crazy – but I’ve seen this work for dozens of seasick people, both passengers and crew alike.  As with sea bands, it helps if you put this on before the onset of inclement weather.

Running into some fair-sized swells aboard 
Mariner of the Seas in the Pacific.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders 

Keep your stomach full; lay off the water!  The greatest lesson I learned when I cruised the Aegean Sea ten years ago.  Battling 34 foot seas for almost forty-eight hours was a supreme test of endurance, but I made it through, largely due to the advice of a crew member.  He’d told me to not drink any water and to ensure I had a breakfast that consisted only of greasy food.  The rationale?  Greasy food, like bacon or sausages, is heavy – thus, it stays down in the stomach and isn’t as prone to movement while it’s digesting.  A light meal on the other hand, washed down with water, will pitch and roll just as much as you are – making you feel even worse. 

He was right.  Because I could stomach breakfast, I was one of only two people in our group of thirty on that trip that did not get violently seasick.  As for the other guy – he had breakfast too.

So remember: the next time you’re feeling seasick on a cruise, pop those sea bands on, attach a band-aid to your bellybutton, and grab a few strips of bacon and wash it down with a ginger ale – or a beer. 

You’ll thank yourself later!


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