How to get your Sea Legs

Everyone who suffers from sea sickness dreams of 'getting their sea legs'. But what does this actually mean, and how do you do it?

Getting your sea legs means that your brain adjusts to the rolling and pitching of the boat or ship, learning to compensate for it, and ultimately experiencing the motion as 'normal'. Therefore, your symptoms of sea sickness disappear without need for any further treatments or medication. You are then said to 'have your sea legs'.

How long your brain will take to adjust varies considerably, but the good news is that most people will start to feel better within 24-72 hours of boarding the boat or ship. Some people will need longer for their symptoms to completely disappear, however. And an unlucky few will never fully adjust to the ship's movements. I've read estimates that around 5% of people are prone to severe and chronic sea sickness. Nelson and Darwin are both thought to have been chronic sufferers (although neither can be said to have allowed sea sickness to have stood in their way!).

Unfortunately, getting your sea legs on one trip doesn't guarantee that your problems with sea sickness are over. The tolerance that you have developed is likely to be for the unique movements of that particular boat or ship. So unless your next trip is on the same, or very similar, vessel, your brain is likely to need another period of readjustment. This means that you will probably have to earn your sea legs anew on each trip. At least the time required for this adjustment is likely to be shorter than last time, and many people do report that their symptoms become less and less severe with increased exposure to boats and ships.

How can you encourage your brain to adjust and develop tolerance? Well, unfortunately there isn't much you can do other than be patient and wait. Do keep off alcohol and greasy and fatty foods, and follow the tips on the sea sickness and Basic "Dos and Don'ts" pages. You can also experiment with trips on different types of boats and ships to see which you adjust to quickest and most easily. Sailing boats, ferries, catamarans, hovercrafts and cruise ships all have different patterns of movement. Your brain may well find it easier to adjust to some patterns than others.

After your trip: Beware of 'Land Sickness'

Finally getting your sea legs feels fabulous! But beware the flip side - now that your brain has adjusted to conditions at sea as 'normal' you may need another period of adjustment when you disembark and return to firm ground. The 'drunken sailor walk' is a common sight amongst those returning from a cruise, and fortunately for most people it is short lived (no more than 24 hours). However, a few people will have trouble readjusting to life on land, and experience more prolonged land sickness (in other words 'reverse sea sickness'). Medically this is known as MdDS (mal de debarquement/disembarkment Syndrome) - see my notes on this relatively rare but distressing condition on the Mal de Debarquement Syndrome page.


Stephanie Gillleon on April 30, 2018:
I took natural Dramamine with ginger in it and I had a couple alcohol shots while I was on my cruise, but now I'm here on land for 4 days and still feel like I feel the emotion of the boat rocking back and forth. That's what I feel like when I am walking. Have I done something wrong by mixing the two things?
Karen H on July 9, 2018:
Stephanie, I feel the same way. I just got home from a cruise. It will be one week on Tuesday, please tell me you are fine now. Thanks!
John Fulcher on September 24, 2019:
This 3 step, lateral movement exercise is great for balance. Might help with sea legs.

Every 3 Steps, Lean Right and Left
Incredible Balance - Lightfoot Effect

Watch Michael Jordan Footwork
Mohammad Ali, Float like a Butterfly
And Devin Hester, Punt Return Specialist

Based on the Waltz Beat (3/4 time)
1 Down Beat - 2 Up Beats Or
1 Power Step - 2 Lightfoot Steps

Frontwards, Backwards, Circles and Sideways.
Or Run in Place - Your Feet Just Fit !

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