Most people think of seasickness as something you experience on the boat, but as plenty of spearos and freedivers learn, it can happen in the water too. Here are the most common causes of this, and what you can do to prevent them from ruining your day.
Motion sickness while freediving occurs when your brain receives mixed signals from the motion your eyes are seeing, and the orientation you feel in your inner ear balance system. In the water, this usually occurs when the waves or swells are moving you around, but the visibility is so low you have no visual point of reference. It can also occur in clear blue water when you can’t see the bottom, and when drifting over swaying kelp beds. A number of physiological factors, and your gear setup can also contribute to the feeling of disorientation and nausea.
For me personally, it’s bad visibility plus big swell that get me seasick. With no fixed point to look at in the water, my eyes try focusing on the particles in floating by, but this screws with my depth perception and makes me feel sick.
Preventing seasickness in the water
For me personally, and for a lot of other divers, the biggest factor in avoiding seasickness is being healthy and ready for your dive. Most importantly, this means being well-rested, fully hydrated, not hungover, and supplied with enough electrolytes.
Another cause of motion sickness while in the water can be a wetsuit that is too tight around the neck. This can be due to a combination of restricted blood flow, and a mild panic or anxiety caused by the pressure on your neck. You may need to do a slight alteration to the fit of your wetsuit to loosen this up.
A third factor that can cause or contribute to seasickness while freediving is overheating. A good way to avoid this is to take a dip in the water to cool down before your dive. If you’re gearing up on a hot boat deck or shoreline, get everything ready except your wetsuit, then get in the water and just relax for a few minutes. After that, you should be good to go.
Remember that it can be a combination of factors that causes seasickness. Don’t discount a too-tight neck fit just because it didn’t make you feel nauseous one day. It could be that pressure, plus a bad night’s sleep or the long hike into the dive spot that pushed you over.
Seasickness medication and freediving
The most common way of treating seasickness is with medication. Most over-the-counter remedies are anti-histamines which also help with motion sickness.
Dramamine is the most common of these. In general, all over-the-counter remedies should be safe for freediving, but they do have some side effects. The main side effect of most motion sickness medication is drowsiness, but you can find “non-drowsy” versions that make you a bit less tired.
I’ve got to drop in the full disclaimer here that I am not a doctor, and before taking any new medications you should consult yours. That said, I don’t mind popping a dramamine before getting on a boat in rough seas and later spearfishing, and I’ve never had any issues.
It’s not a bad idea to take a pill a few days before a trip to see how your body reacts, just to make sure your day on the water isn’t spoiled by a bad reaction. Otherwise, pop one an hour before getting in the water or on the boat, and you should be good to go.
If one type doesn’t work for you, you can try others. You can find a list of most seasickness medications on WebMD.
Natural motion sickness remedies
There are a few other things you can try if you don’t react well to seasickness medication.
The first is ginger which some folks swear helps them. I haven’t personally tried it, but most of the people who say it works claim it’s best when you really get that strong, spicy taste. They suggest either chewing or juicing raw ginger or making a strong tea before diving.
The other option is to try wearing SEABANDS. These are elastic wristbands with a plastic bead that applies pressure to a supposed acupressure point on your inner wrist. You can buy SEABANDs on Amazon at this link. They don’t work for everyone, but they have a four-star rating across over 6,000 reviews and a lot of people absolutely rave about them. They’re cheap enough that they’re definitely worth a shot.
Staying safe when you feel nauseous in the water
If you do start feeling seasick in the water, the best thing to do is to get out. If you have a long swim ahead of you though, you might not be able to make it. You always alert your dive buddy anytime you have any issues, and seasickness definitely counts.
If you have a float, you should pull it in and hold onto it. This is one of the reasons I recommend using a float line instead of a reel gun for beginners since it can be used as a buoyancy aid if you are having any difficulties. Although when weighted properly for freediving you float, it takes a lot of energy to keep your nose and mouth above the surface.
For more about choosing floats or reel guns, check out this post.
Being on the bottom should temporarily decrease or eliminate the feeling of motion sickness. You can try doing a series of shallow dives where you just sit on the bottom and stare at the rocks or coral, and swim toward the boat or shore between these calming dives. Don’t dive deep though when you are not feeling well.
If you have to vomit while freediving
When you feel nauseous, you shouldn’t try to fight it. Once you vomit you will start feeling much better. Puking in the water can be difficult though.
Again, if you have a float, hold onto it, or even tuck it underneath you so it can support you. If you don’t have a float but your buddy is nearby, you could ask him or her to hold your weight belt so it’s easier to keep your nose and mouth out of the water.
Don’t panic, it’s not that hard to puke in the water if you stay calm. You may dry heave, or blow full on chunks, but either way you should start feeling better once that passes.
The correct advice for when you’ve already vomited is to swim to the boat or your exit point and call it a day, but lots of spearos will just keep going once they start feeling better. That’s usually what I do.
Toughing it out
This is not medical advice, but a lot of people, especially spearfishermen, deal with seasickness by toughing it out. You feel sick, you puke, then you feel better, and you keep going. You might even get lucky and have what was once your lunch become the chum that brings in a nice big fish.