Land Sickness

Timothy C. Hain, MD, • Page last modified: May 15, 2021

see also: motion-sicknessMal de debarquement


Although land sickness is well documented, there is very little literature concerning this common human response to sea travel.

Erasmus Darwin, in 1796 wrote about feeling unsteady after getting off of a boat:

"Those, who have been upon the water in a boat or ship so long, that they have acquired the necessary habits of motion upon that unstable element, at their return on land frequently think in their reveries, or between sleeping and waking, that they observe the room, they sit in, or some of its furniture, to librate like the motion of the vessel. This I have experienced myself, and have been told, that after long voyages, it is some time before these ideas entirely vanish. The same is observable in a less degree after having travelled some days in a stage coach, and particularly when we lie down in bed, and compose ourselves to sleep; in this case it is observable, that the rattling noise of the coach, as well as the undulatory motion, haunts us. " (Darwin, 1796).

A similar observation was made by Jack London in his book, Sea Wolf (1904), who discusses

"This was the startling effect of the cessation of motion. We had been so long upon the moving, rocking sea that the stable land was a shock to us. We expected the beach to lift up this way and that, and the rocky walls to swing back and forth like the sides of a ship; and when we braced ourselves, automatically, for these various expected movements, their non-occurrence quite overcame our equilibrium."

Jack London also wrote about this in the "Cruise of the Snark," which is available at:

So we went ashore with them across a level flashing sea to the wonderful green land. We landed on a tiny wharf, and the dream became more insistent; for know that for twenty-seven days we had been rocking across the ocean on the tiny Snark. Not once in all those twenty-seven days had we known a moment's rest, a moment's cessation from movement. This ceaseless movement had become ingrained. Body and brain we had rocked and rolled so long that when we climbed out on the tiny wharf kept on rocking and rolling. This, naturally, we attributed to the wharf. It was projected psychology. I spraddled along the wharf and nearly fell into the water. I glanced at Charmian, and the way she walked made me sad. The wharf had all the seeming of a ship's deck. It lifted, tilted, heaved and sank; and since there were no handrails on it, it kept Charmian and me busy avoiding falling in. I never saw such a preposterous little wharf. Whenever I watched it closely, it refused to roll; but as soon as I took my attention off from it, away it went, just like the Snark. Once, I caught it in the act, just as it upended, and I looked down the length of it for two hundred feet, and for all the world it was like the deck of a ship ducking into a huge head-sea.

Land sickness -- Definitions

Defining Land Sickness (LDS)




2 days maximum


Equal distribution

Motion-sick on boat


Relieved by driving


The problem in defining Land Sickness is differentiating it from "motion sickness" and "mal de debarquement". Everyone seems to have a different idea, especially differentiating land sickness (an annoyance) from mal de debarquement (can be life altering). Mal de debarquement is basically defined as a long-lasting land sickness that gets better with driving. See the MdDS page for more.

The table above lists the features that, in our opinion, defines land-sickness. Land-sickness (LDS) is common, and between 41% and 73% of persons disembarking from seagoing voyages experience a brief unsteadiness (Gordon, Spitzer et al. 1995; Cohen 1996; Gordon, Shupak et al. 2000). Common LDS typically persists for 2 days or less. Persons with LDS are also likely to have sea-sickness, (Gordon, Spitzer et al. 1995) . Males and females do not appear differ significantly in the incidence, intensity, or duration of land-sickness symptoms. (Cohen 1996). LDS, is also termed "mal de debarquement" by many (e.g. Schepermann et al, 2019), presumably for convenience as LDS is much easier to study.

Van Ombergen, Rompaey, Maes, Heyning and Wuyts (2015), in a "systemic review", invented another nomenclature -- transient "MdD" symptoms < 48h, persistent MdDS (> 3 days to several years). "Transient MdD", using their nomenclature is equivalent to land-sickness as defined above. There is an undefined group for Van Ombergen et al (between 2-3 days). From 3 days to several years would overlap to some extent with the MdDS as we define here, and then from "several years" onward, no name.