As small ship cruise experts we are often asked about seasickness. While most small ship cruises travel close to shore where seasickness is not an issue, some expedition cruises can encounter rough seas. Ocean conditions vary widely depending on the destination, season, weather, type of ship, route and many other factors. While we cannot predict the sea conditions on any given cruise, we can help travelers determine the level of risk in encountering rough seas and we can provide advice on how to treat and prevent seasickness on cruises.

Small ship in calm bay in Baja California.

A calm bay in Baja.

Our well-traveled experts here at AdventureSmith, including some extremely prone to sea sickness and others not, have compiled this guide to preventing and treating seasickness on small ship cruises.

What is Seasickness or Motion Sickness?

Small ship in rough waters crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica.

A rough day on the Drake Passage or when it is calm, it is also known as the Drake Lake.

Seasickness is thought to be caused by mixed signals sent to the brain by the eyes and balance sensors in the inner ear. If you cannot see the motion your body is experiencing (for example inside a ship’s cabin), or conversely if you cannot feel the motion your eyes see, then your brain gets confused. Regardless of the cause, the feeling is unpleasant and symptoms include dizziness, nausea, sweating, vomiting and a general sense of feeling unwell.

Seasickness has other causes than just rough water. Some people can become seasick by suggestion, studies have shown. They convince themselves that being on a ship will make them sick, while others ride out the waves with little or no ill effects. Some people are simply more susceptible to motion sickness than others. If you know you are susceptible, take precautions before your cruise.

How to Prevent Seasickness

Calm and rough waters varying between Alaska, Galapagos, and Drake Passage.

Alaska, Galapagos, Drake Passage

The best method to avoid the unpleasant effects of seasickness is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. There are several strategies to prevent seasickness before it happens.

Consider Your Cruise Destination

Some cruise destinations are more susceptible to rough seas than others. Cruise itineraries with long open-ocean crossings like Antarctica (its infamous Drake Passage pictured above right on a rough day) are particularly seasick-inducing while itineraries in protected waters, such as Alaska’s Inside Passage (pictured above left), are often calm. A destination like the Galapagos (pictured center) often has a mix of sea conditions.

Choose the Right Cabin

Small ships are uniquely susceptible to movement and will feel the motion of the ocean more so than a big cruise ship. Choose a cabin mid-ship (centered between the bow and stern/front and back of the ship) and lower on the ship. Be sure to choose a cabin with a view window (don’t go so low that you have no window or only a small porthole). Many small ships now offer cabins with balconies, which can be great for seasickness, but are often located on the top deck. Balance your concerns about seasickness with your desire to maximize enjoyment of your cruise.

Small expedition ship in Antarctica with guests walking on land.

The weather is always an unknown in Antarctica.

Eating & Drinking Tips

Be well rested and in good health before the cruise. Be careful about eating certain foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Avoid things that do not agree with you. Strong food odors may also aggravate symptoms. Don’t travel on an empty stomach as this can promote symptoms. Staying hydrated and eating small meals frequently can help.

Prepare in Advance

Small ship captains usually know in advance if the cruise will experience rough seas and typically make an announcement. Heed this warning and take medications, put on wristbands or take precautionary measures before any symptoms occur. Usually once symptoms occur it is too late and medications or other measures are less effective.

Onboard Tips

Choose a seat or location on the ship with the least amount of movement. This is usually mid-ship and low on the ship. Fix your gaze on the horizon as this can help reconcile the mixed signals your brain is receiving. Get some fresh air by opening a window or going on deck. Isolate yourself from other guests who are seasick. Hearing others talk about symptoms or watching them become ill can result in ill feelings yourself. Some say it is contagious in this way. Don’t read to relax as this can aggravate the mixed signals in your brain.

How to Treat Seasickness

Small ship in calm seas in Baja California.

Its always good to be prepared even if the seas are calm, like they are here in Baja.

There are a number of seasickness treatments, from drugs to natural remedies and acupressure bands. Not every solution works for every traveler and you may need to try several to determine which works best for you. If you have previously experienced motion sickness you may know the best remedy. If not, it is best to be prepared with a number of treatments. Hopefully you won’t have to use any of them.

Drug Remedies

Commonly used drugs to treat seasickness include antihistamines and scopolamine. Antihistamines are the most commonly used and widely available medications to treat motion sickness. Antihistamines are not as effective as scopolamine, but they are popular with travel doctors because they produce fewer adverse effects. The list of possible drug treatments is long; we have provided a sampling of the most commonly used treatments.

Please note that we are travel experts, not medical professionals. Visit your doctor to determine the best seasickness treatment for you. Before taking any medications read the precautions as many medications have side effects that include dry mouth, blurry vision, drowsiness and occasionally disorientation.

Antihistamines

The most popular over-the-counter antihistamines are dimenhydrinate (known as Dramamine) and meclizine (known as Bonine). Both are taken orally and should be taken one hour before rough seas are encountered. Promethazine (known as Phenergan, Phenadoz and Promethegan) is available by prescription and may be the most effective of the antihistamines for the treatment of seasickness.

Scopolamine

Commonly known as “the patch” and sold under the brand name Transderm Scop, scopolamine is available by prescription and works by blocking the brain signals that cause queasiness. The small patch is placed behind the ear and releases small amounts of the drug that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream over a 72-hour period. The patch is a great option for who know they are prone to seasickness as it’s a set-it-and-forget-it style remedy.

Passengers on bow of small ship cruising the Inside Passage of Alaska.

Alaska Inside Passage is mostly protected from large waves and rough seas.

Natural Remedies

The most common drug-free seasickness remedy is the Sea-Band wristband. The acupressure-inspired bands are easy to wear and place a plastic bead against a pressure point on the palm side of your wrist. Because the bands do not use drugs they do not cause any of the side effects associated with anti-nausea drugs. Some travelers swear by these bands while others claim no relief at all. Sea-Band wristbands are available without a prescription in adult and child sizes.

Another useful natural remedy is ginger. Many travelers promote the benefits of ginger and some studies have shown to alleviate nausea associated with sea sickness without causing drowsiness. Ginger can be taken in various forms including powder, pills, tea and candy. Ginger cookies and ginger ale are a delicious way to administer this natural remedy.

Some experienced cruisers also believe that eating green apples can help with nausea, and most ships will have apples and crackers available to guests.

Don’t let seasickness adversely affect your next small ship cruise. Take the advice of AdventureSmith experts, and your next cruise will be smooth sailing.

Guests on land excursion in front of small ship in bay of the Galapagos.

Galapagos Islands offers refuge in its small bays and inlets, but ships also sail in open ocean when cruising island to island.