Staying safe while travelling in Antarctica

What to do onboard during rough weather

Always prepare for rough weather and seas when boarding an Antarctic cruise. Whilst Antarctica cruises are often delayed because of severe weather, they will still sail in moderate conditions. To reach the Antarctic Peninsula you must first cross the infamous Drake Passage, sometimes referred to as the ‘Drake Shake’. The passage extends for 1,000 km between the South Shetland Islands and Cape Horn and ships must traverse the passage at right angles to the current. This, combined with the passage’s frequent high winds, usually makes for a somewhat ‘lively’ crossing. The crossing generally takes 48 hours and many Antarctic visitors see it as right-of-passage.

Although the passage is occasionally dead calm, the likelihood is that at some point on your journey there or back, pitching and swaying of your vessel will occur. If you suffer from mild or moderate sea-sickness, Antarctic cruises always have a doctor on-board. The doctor will prescribe you sea-sickness pills. Phenergan is often used as this is scientifically proven to combat sea-sickness considerably. If you are suffering from sea-sickness, try to leave your cabin and walk on deck. Stare at the static horizon to help your eyes and inner ear adjust. You’ll find your sea legs much more quickly by walking around. A little food is better than an empty stomach for sea-sickness and you should avoid alcohol and tobacco.

When the weather gets very rough it’s a good idea to sit down or lie down in your cabin. The lower your body weight is to the ground, the less chance of movement you have. Always avoid bringing things like silk pyjamas as you’ll slide back and forth on your bed! If you must move about the ship in rough conditions, always do so with bent knees to absorb any sudden movement. Make sure you are always holding onto a hand rail and do not place your hands on the edge of doors as a sudden lurch may slam the door on your fingers. Try to avoid the open decks in rough conditions as these will often be slippery.

Remember, do what feels safe to you. Many people absolutely love the rough sections and will be out on deck next to the rails taking in the full experience. Your crew will only take precautions when it becomes considerably rough, and this is quite rare. Generally you’ll be free to move about and do whatever feels comfortable.

Safety on the ice and extreme cold

Whilst much of the peninsula is actually land, there is still a huge amount of ice. Some of the most incredible landscapes in Antarctica are made purely of ice and your cruise operator will no doubt make one or two stops along the way.

Your guide should give you some tips to walking on ice such as gripping with your toes, however, your main weapon will be your boots. This is why choosing the right boot for your Antarctica cruise is so important. Often, operators will actually provide you with boots, but this is not always the case and it’s prudent to bring your own. Grip is the key. Crampons are not allowed to be worn in most buildings, therefore, you have to make do with either rubber or small metal spiked boots. Look for boots with deep lugs and a high rubber content; these will have the most grip.

Always make sure you keep a slow pace on the ice and try not to make sudden movements. Keep your balance centred and keep your steps short. Although it’s often cold, always keep your hands out of your pockets in case of a fall. Always keep together and stay within sight of your lead guide. There are no sign posts on the ice and you could easily wander off and get lost, especially as the weather can literally turn in minutes.

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