CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons off Portugal


Sea sickness

Seasickness is one of the less glamourous aspects of being at sea. However, it doesn't affect everyone, and different people react differently to the ship's motion. To find out more, Wyvern and Arnewood pupils devised a simple experiment...

I am grateful to Amy Middleton, a student at Wyvern Technology College, who prepared the research and questionnaire for this survey. Results from the Arnewood School's survey are further down the page...


A web based search suggested that the following are key causes of sea sickness:

Going below deck for extended periods of time
Looking through binoculars for anything longer than a glance
Reading a book
Looking at a compass
Doing detailed work
Staring at one point
Poor weather

The first symptom is usually sleepiness. Some people may have some slight sea sickness without realising it as they will feel a bit tired, go and have a sleep and wake up feeling fine. Following sleepiness, the next stage is mild nausea. This may be uncomfortable but not a major problem.

Some people will then suffer from the full set of symptoms. These can be:

pale pallor
cold perspiration


Amy took all of the above factors into account and prepared the following plan:

1) A first questionnaire which established some baseline data such as age, experience on ships and state of health.
2) A daily questionnaire which was filled in at the same time each day. This looked at possible causes and symptoms. Patterns would be looked for to see if any of the data correlated.

See bottom of this page for the questionnaires.


We had to alter the plan. Some people were just too seasick and could not focus on the questionnaires. Also, once everyone had recovered there were no other recorded incidents of illness. The questionnaire was filled in by volunteers on the third night/fourth day, so this was done using retrospective judgement. The data was entered onto an excel spreadsheet on board and then processed using a high power data analysis programme.

Summary of results

To download this spreadsheet (MS Excel), click here


What would your first step be in  processing this data?
Do you think that the data has any patterns?
Does it clearly show a reason for sea sickness?
Does it show any common symptoms?


Were the modifications sensible in terms of fair testing, accuracy and reliability?
How could you have improved the questionnaire?
How could you improve your analysis?
[Have a look at the statistical analysis on the spreadsheet. Any correlation must be over 70% to be significant and the sample size must be 30.]


The following questions were asked in the questionnaires given to the team:


Genral Health
Experience on boats
Hours a day concentrating on one thing
Usual hours of sleep

KEY: General health on a scale of 1-10 where : 1 = well most of the time
5 = generally well, some minor illnesses
10 = major illness
Experience on boats on a scale of 1-10 where: 1 = no experience ever
5 = few times
10 = regularly on boats



Hours/minutes spent:

Looking through binoculars

Doing detailed work

Below deck

What time you began feeling sleepy

Hours slept previous night

Times felt ill

How bad have you felt (1-10)

How many times have you told yourself you feel ill

Experienced dizziness (Y/N)

If yes, how many times?

How bad (1-10)

Suffered from headache (Y/N)

If yes, how many times?

How bad (1-10)

KEY for scale 1-10: 1 = mild
5 = medium
10 = unbearable

Results from the Arnewood School's survey

The Science club at Arnewood put together a sea sickness questionnaire to find out what different factors affect it. This questionnaire was designed to be filled in by people on board each time they felt sick. The final results are presented in a table (see below) for further analysis.

Please fill in this information if you feel sick





General health


Weather conditions




Day into journey


Time of the day


How many times have you been out at sea before?


What food did you eat?


How do you feel?1 -10
1 good - 10 really ill


Did you take sea sickness tablets?


Did you sleep well?


Did you drink plenty water?


Were you thinking about it?


After day 2 no one filled any more questionnaires because no one was sick any more. This gives you an idea of the most important factor affecting sea sickness. You can also find other trends if you analyse the table. For example does age affect how sea sick people get? What about the amount of times you’ve been out at sea before?

Here's the results table from the survey:

Do you have any ideas of how to improve the experiment? Do you think the questionnaire could include any other factors?

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© Challenger Division for Seafloor Processes
April 2004
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