Better Living Through Chemistry – The Coast Guard Cocktail

Ten foot seas south of the Falkland Islands.

Every time I go to sea I am reminded that I get very, very sea-sick.  As child I grew up on all kinds of small boats and never got sick while boating on coastal waters.   On my first research cruise while in graduate school I was violently sick before the ship had left sight of land.   The roll and pitch of a of a larger vessel is very different than the motion of a small boat.  For me the motion of the ship is like riding backwards in jump seat of an old station wagon while reading a book with small type.  My eyes go one way, my ears go another, and lunch always comes up.    I get really sick at sea and stay sick for many days.    This is unacceptable when you have science to do and your shipmates are counting on you to do your share of the work.  Fortunately, there is a solution to seasickness.


I have tried the over the over-the-counter medications Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), Bonine/Antivert (meclozine) and the Scopolamine patches.  They help a bit, but generally give me copper mouth in addition to sea-sickness.  Rodney Powell at LUMCOM recommended the “Coast Guard Cocktail” as his solution to sea-sickness.   The cocktail is a combination of 25 mg of promethazine, which has effective anti-motion-sickeness and sedative properties, and 25 mg of ephedrine, that acts as a stimulant.  In the United States both compounds are only available by prescription.    If you search the web for the Coast Guard Cocktail you find a number of contradictory opinions on the effectiveness of this treatment.  As I was getting ready for this cruise I learned that the Staples store manager in Waterville, Maine was a corpsman in the Coast Guard.  He confirmed that the cocktail was the standard treatment for sea-sick sailors on his boats.


My personal experience is that the cocktail works as evidenced by this blog post from the Melville in over 10 foot seas.  I only take the cocktail at the beginning of the cruise and when the seas get really rough, which may be more often than we would like on this trip.   For me, the “Coast Guard Cocktail” is a good example of better living through chemistry and pharmaceutical science.

So far the seasickness “head count” is two, and both  Annie and I haven’t gotten sick! Time will tell how we fare when the ship travels south into the really rough waters of the Southern Ocean.

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