Dive boat motion sickness: how to cope with and avoid

By: Aaron Lazar

You’re out on a dive boat for what you hope is going to be a fun filled day of exploring beneath the surface. Conditions are a little rough, but you make it to the first drop site and the dive goes off without a hitch. Upon surfacing, you see the wind has picked up some and that surface conditions are a little choppier. As the dive boat nears to pick up you and your buddy you can’t help but notice it pitching dramatically, bow to stern. Rock n’ roll! You get back on the boat and to your seat, still rocking. As the crew picks up the rest of the group, you begin to feel a little queasy. The boat bobbing around at idle doesn’t help. Your buddy says your face looks green and asks if you’re ok. You begin to feel like you may throw up and wonder if doing the second dive is a good idea.

Whether you’re personally susceptible to motion sickness or just caught off guard in rougher than expected conditions, getting sick on a dive boat can really put a damper on the day.

Luckily there are several quick tips and tricks you can use to avoid and cope with getting sick on the boat.

To start off, there are a couple things you can do before even showing up at the dock for your dives. While you may have booked your seat on the boat well in advance of the actual trip, it is still a good idea to check the local boating/marine forecast before heading out. Look for predicted winds along with wave heights and periods. There’s a big difference between 2-4 and 4-6 foot seas. It’s nice to have an idea ahead of time of the conditions you will be diving in. Of course, if conditions are too rough and a threat to your or anyone else’s safety, the crew or associated dive center will cancel the boat.

Consider taking some medication the night before

If conditions are forecasted to be on the rough side or if you know you are prone to motion sickness, you may consider taking some medication the night before. Over the counter options such as Dramamine and Bonine can help, but need to be in your system well before you ever get on the boat. Because of this, it is recommended that you begin taking the medicine 12 hours or more before you plan to hit the water. Be aware that Dramamine may induce drowsiness although there is a ‘Less Drowsy’ option available. There are also pressure applying wrist bands made specifically for motion sickness and patches worn behind the ear that slowly release medicine.

It’s a good idea to eat

… but not too much … before heading out to the boat. Try avoiding heavy foods with lots of grease and consider opting for a lighter option such as an energy bar or pretzels. It’s generally not a good idea to dive on an empty stomach. Just remember to take it easy.

Once at the dive boat, the location where you are seated may also impact your susceptibility to motion sickness. On most boats there is outside seating towards the stern (back) of the boat and, if given the option, this may be a good place to sit. The smell of the boat’s exhaust can contribute to queasiness, so being out in fresh air with a breeze can help dramatically. If you do begin to feel sick, the last place you want to go is in and below deck. While many dive boats do have a marine head in the v birth, going here … especially if you are already feeling sick … is a real recipe for disaster. If you’re feeling nauseous, try to stay outside and avoid concentrating on things on the boat. Look out at the horizon or even close your eyes. Breathe deeply and try to relax. Try sipping cool water or sucking on some ginger. Ginger is a natural remedy for motion sickness and can be purchased in capsule or even candied form which is perfect for taking along in your dry bag.

Don’t try to hold it in

If you get to the point where you feel like you may throw up, don’t try to hold it in. Make your way quickly to the side of the boat where you can do your thing over the edge. Buckets also work if edge throw up seating is occupied … just avoid doing it all over the deck. You will likely feel a lot better after vomiting and, if dealing with a supportive crew, they may even give awards for furthest puke projectile distance. Be sure to check out our article, “The Complete Guide to Throwing Up Underwater,” which covers instances where you may be sick but not on the boat.

It’s common for people stricken with motion sickness to want to avoid getting back in the water. If doing a two tank trip, for example, it can be tempting just to sit out the second dive. While this may be the appropriate choice to make at certain times, generally staying up on the boat will only make the motion sickness worse. Many divers will feel better once back underwater and away from the constant rocking and pitching of the boat. Just remember that we dive to have fun … so if you’re truly miserable, going back in the water may not be the best option.

Dive more!

This brings us to the last point relating to motion sickness on dive boats. Dive more! For people new to boat diving or diving in conditions that are rougher than they are used to, it may take some practice. The more you get out and dive, generally the more comfortable you will be … on boats and in the water. Remember that getting sick on boats can happen to the best divers and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Armed with these quick tips and tricks though, you should be able avoid and better cope with the effects of boat related motion sickness. Now go make a reservation for your next boat dive!

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7 replies
  1. Steve Mathews
    Steve Mathews says:

    I am almost always solid on the water and don’t get sick but one day I just couldn’t handle it. am not sure why, but I felt sick by the time the boar first began slowing at the dive site. I found that the moment I got out of the boat it immediately went away and only reappeared when I got back onto the boat. I ended up just staying out of the boat the whole day. I ate lunch floating beside the boat (fried chicken) and I made two dives that day (all great fun). Climbed back into the boat only right before we headed in and sat miserably until we got under way. For me, ‘in the water’ is the way to go, not ‘on the water’.

  2. Chris Miles
    Chris Miles says:

    Had a pilot tell me that wiggling your toes helps prevent motion sickness and it works for me. It probably works just by distracting me from thinking about the boat motion. I also think about the boat motion as being on a roller coaster. I love roller coasters so it makes the motion fun rather than something to worry about.

  3. Pat Wolfe
    Pat Wolfe says:

    I am a self made expert on sea sickness, I get queasy before the boat leaves the dock and I agree with all of the suggestions in this article. Dramamine and other pills have not worked for me and choose to not sue them and tough it out for 1/2 day boat rides. The patch works great and I use them for live aboard trips and never had a problem.

  4. Bob Casalegno
    Bob Casalegno says:

    I used to work on Sport and Commercial fishing boats and am a diver. This is the cure that all captains recommend and everyone I know that has tried it swears by it.
    1-Bonine before bed
    1-Bonine when you wake
    1- Bonnie when step on boat. Done
    Bonine is non drowsy and chewable.

  5. Dee
    Dee says:

    Sea sickness has been the bane of my diving life. I have tried Dramamine, Bonine, Scopolamine, ginger, etc. Finally, after witnessing yet another result of a boat ride on my stomach contents, a diving friend suggested that I get a swing. He had been using one for quite a while before dive trips and swore by the practice. So I bought a macrame swing and will get in it 2-3 weeks before a trip. I swing until I feel a little nauseous, get out and lie on the floor until I feel fine. Do it again the next day. By the time I’m done, I can do circles in the swing with no ill effect. Haven’t been seasick on a dive trip ever since! Try it — you’ll like it!

  6. Randy P.
    Randy P. says:

    I’ve been instructing for over 20 years and am seeing a trend in all natural drug free remedies. One that I have started recommending is Potion For Motion because of how much positive feed back I’ve heard from people who used it.


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