How Newbie Sailors Earn Their Sea Legs

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With America’s Cup sailors training for the upcoming races right across from the PLOS San Francisco office, we can’t resist watching the boats zip by once in a while and thinking about what it’s like to be out on the bay. Those of us who’ve spent time on boats are likely familiar with the transition our bodies experience as we go from land to sea, commonly referred to as “getting your sea legs.”  For some, this transition can happen quickly, but for others, it can take days to feel stable relative to the moving surface of the water.

In a recent scientific study on getting your sea legs, researchers investigated this process by measuring novice sailors’ leg positioning, body sway, and posture, both before embarking on a ship and for several days into the voyage. They also evaluated similar studies with experienced mariners to compare how newbies and professionals adapted to life at sea. Sailing novices, who received no guidance on techniques for gaining stability at sea, naturally adopted a widened stance, maintained the angle of their feet and started to use the horizon line to stabilize themselves on the ship soon after boarding. These are the same techniques employed by experienced sailors in similar studies. The research also suggested that body sway tendencies on land and at sea have the potential to predict individual seasickness and mal de debarquement (land sickness experienced after disembarkment) syndrome susceptibility.

Life at sea is probably second nature to the sailors racing by here in San Francisco, but this study’s results suggest that the rest of us may also find stability on moving surfaces by widening our stances and focusing on the horizon. Keep these techniques in mind the next time you find yourself out on the open ocean!

 

Citation: Stoffregen TA, Chen F-C, Varlet M, Alcantara C, Bardy BG (2013) Getting Your Sea Legs. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66949. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066949

Image: Sailing From Sardinia to Sicily by Patrick Nouhailler

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