Getting Your Sea Legs

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 19;8(6):e66949. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066949. Print 2013.


Sea travel mandates changes in the control of the body. The process by which we adapt bodily control to life at sea is known as getting one's sea legs. We conducted the first experimental study of bodily control as maritime novices adapted to motion of a ship at sea. We evaluated postural activity (stance width, stance angle, and the kinematics of body sway) before and during a sea voyage. In addition, we evaluated the role of the visible horizon in the control of body sway. Finally, we related data on postural activity to two subjective experiences that are associated with sea travel; seasickness, and mal de debarquement. Our results revealed rapid changes in postural activity among novices at sea. Before the beginning of the voyage, the temporal dynamics of body sway differed among participants as a function of their (subsequent) severity of seasickness. Body sway measured at sea differed among participants as a function of their (subsequent) experience of mal de debarquement. We discuss implications of these results for general theories of the perception and control of bodily orientation, for the etiology of motion sickness, and for general phenomena of perceptual-motor adaptation and learning.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Postural Balance
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Travel
  • Travel-Related Illness
  • Young Adult

Supplementary concepts

  • Mal de debarquement

Grant support

The study was supported by the University of Minnesota, the University of Montpellier-1, the University of Sao Paulo, and National Pingtung University of Science and Technology. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.