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The Drunken Sailor
They're gonna need more long boats.

What shall we do with the drunken sailor
What shall we do with the drunken sailor
What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Sailors and alcohol go together like white on rice, going back to Homer. In fiction, if a sailor isn't already drunk, expect to be well on the way to it or pining for the lack of it. Often a defining quality of a Father Neptune, expect also a Seadog Beard and some Talking Like Pirate Yarrrr!

This is a case of Truth in Television due to the disinfecting abilities of alcohol; mixing it with water was the only way to keep water potable during long voyages, especially on early boats when cooking had to be limited due to fire risk (or on open decked boats impossible to do). Also, a drunk crew was a crew less capable of The Mutiny due to the horrific conditions (this being the "rum" part of those great Naval traditions of "rum, sodomy and the lash"), and the strength of alcohol could be varied as punishment or reward as the captain saw fit. It continues to be true because when you take a bunch of generally adult persons and put them in a cramped space for an extended period of time with limited and ever diminishing supplies... well it rather built tension.

Especially prevalent in works set in the era of Wooden Ships and Iron Men or in the future since Space Is an Ocean. As a sidenote the British Navy only stopped the official grog rations in 1970. There were some very uncomplimentary epithets leveled at the Admiral responsible.

Whatever the origins, The Drunken Sailor is an unavoidable character, specific Sub-Trope of The Alcoholic.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Black Lagoon crew. They quite rarely are drunk, though, it's just that they usually don't see how a couple of beers could really hinder them. On the other hand, when they're hanging in the Yellow Flag, all bets are off.
  • Captain Harlock and his glass of wine. The rest of the crew are also heavy drinkers, with Miime and Dr. Zero consuming the most.
  • An early Zonder Robo in GaoGaiGar was a ship captain Drowning His Sorrows when he got canned after his ship's navigational computer made it run aground.

    Comics 

    Disney Theme Parks 
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride has at least one scene with a group of pirates sitting around holding tankards and acting drunk.

    Film 
  • Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean likes his rum.
    • Rum is always a standard motivational tool among Pirates, although, historically, their lawman opponents used it just as much for reasons listed above.
      • It's uncertain whether in-story lawman Commodore Norrington is aware of this though- he's arguably the drunkest of the lot at one point, but more like The Alcoholic- or at least heavily drowning his sorrows than this usually cheerful trope.
  • Master and Commander (the movie): one of the sailors refuses to salute a superior and it's later revealed he was drunk at the time. Aubrey doesn't care that the sailor was drunk, just that he didn't respect the chain of command.
  • Captain Mike in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Benjamin pretty much disguises his Merlin Sickness as the captain's drunken perception.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Gypsy is singing this as she is at the wheel of the Satellite of Love.
  • The ship's surgeon on The Bounty drank himself to death in Tahiti. As punishment at one point, Lt. Bligh stops all grog rations to the men.
  • The merchant sailors aboard the SS Glencairn know that they should not go on a drunken spree when they reach land. They know that they usually blow all their money and have to sign up for another voyage. They do it anyway.
  • A Lampshaded aversion in Muppet Treasure Island, in which Captain Smollet insists there will be no consumption of alcohol on the ship, despite Silver offering the officers a bottle of "best brandy, laid down by the brothers of Buckfast Abbey". Played straight earlier, with Billy Bones demanding "Rum til I float!"

    Literature 
  • Searats in Redwall are fond of seaweed grog.
  • The Odyssey: Odysseus is finally within sight on his home, but the sailors spot a small bag he carries with him. Thinking it contains wine (treasure in other versions), they open it, unleashing the winds it contained and driving the ship far off course.
  • Billy Bones in Treasure Island in all its iterations, taken to ludicrous extremes by Billy Connelly in Muppet Treasure Island.
  • Like all other Wooden Ships and Iron Men tropes, this one appears often in the Aubrey-Maturin series. The captains coxswain is at one point referred to as being "...drunk, even by naval standards."
  • Every sailor from the "Boston Jane" series, and the protagonist does not approve at all. The only exception is Jehu.
  • Captain Greldik of The Belgariad and Mallorean series is a chronic drunk and the best sailor alive.

    Live Action Television 
  • Captain Redbeard Rum from Blackadder II.
  • Harry Mudd and Cyrano Jones from Star Trek: The Original Series were both fond of a tipple or two. Out of the main characters, Scotty was often seen indulging.
    • Romulan Ale being the drink of choice for all Star Trek incarnations with all crews indulging at some point.
    • Worth mentioning that Romulan Ale is actually illegal in the Federation, but it's all over the place regardless (it seems to hold roughly the same satus as Cuban cigars do in the U.S. today). There are a number of other drinks as well, including the Klingon's Blood Wine, which they're almost always seen drinking, and Synthahol (a synthetic alcohol replacement) since Starfleet officers aren't really supposed to get drunk. That's without even getting into the dozens of alcoholic beverages which are name dropped, some of which seem to be their eponymous species' only export (Saurian Brandy, for instance.) Suffice it to say the trope is alive and well in Trek's future.
  • Klingons Up to Eleven . Klingons absolutely love getting drunk.
  • On SeaPatrol the tolerance range of the sailors goes from being unsteady on their feet but being able to beat up mooks...to crashing a golf buggy into the lake. Although there were other reasons that added up to it.
  • Horatio Hornblower:
    • In "The Even Chance", Hornblower has his first midshipman command when he's supposed to take a captured French ship to England. The French sailors are drunk, and Styles somewhat envies them and wishes they were just as happy. Hornblower is not pleased and forces him to put the bottle down.
    • Played With in the second episode of the series, called "The Examination for Lieutenant", also known as "The Fire Ships". One seaman is jerking around like a plague victim, and all the rest of the crew are terrified of him because they are aboard a quarantined ship. Hornblower coolly walks up to him, grabs him by the shoulders and smells his breath. Sure enough, he's drunk.
    • In "Mutiny", crazy Captain Sawyer several times grants double rum and a day off for the whole crew, which does not enhance the crew's morals and their loyalty but it makes them incompetent and unable to cope with their duties. Doctor Clive, the only person who might pronounce him unfit for command, is drunk as any of them.
    • In "Retribution", Acting Captain Buckland who, sadly, was not born to lead, deals with his unenviable situation by shots of alcohol and then continues to drown his sorrows.
  • Coronation Street's Peter Barlow is the show's only recovered (at least this week) alcoholic and is a retired Chief Petty Officer. It has been noted that people justified Peter's drinking at times because of this trope.

    Music 
  • A very large amount of Sea Shanties concern drunkenness (including "What shall we do with the Drunken Sailor", the Trope Namer), whether on board or during shore leave.
  • The page quote is part of "Drunken Sailor" a famous traditional sea shanty also known as "What Should We Do with the Drunken Sailor?" and "Sailor's Holiday". Along with the entertainment value, the beat of the song also can help sailors coordinate tasks, such as raising the sails.
    • That's in fact most probably a so-called "anchor/capstan song", sung during raising an anchor (or generally walking around a capstan), which is suggested by its chorus of:
    Weigh heigh and up she rises
    Weigh heigh and up she rises
    Weigh heigh and up she rises
  • The Irish Rover mentions a crewmember named Slugger O'Toole who "was drunk as a rule."
  • As the Poxy Boggards sing both drinking songs and sea shanties, it's inevitable that drunken sailors turn up in their music.

    Radio 
  • The Admiral in The Navy Lark manages to get a bickering meeting of Vice Admirals and Commodores to shut up by threatening to lock up the Gin. It works.

    Religion And Mythology 
  • In Norse Mythology, the God of the Sea (Aegir) is also the God of Beer, and always gets the other gods drunk when they visit him in the ocean.
  • In the Book of Genesis in The Bible, Noah famously builds and sails the Ark, then after the flood, he proceeds to plant a vineyard and get dead drunk. That might just make him the Ur Example.

    Theatre 
  • The Time of Your Life has one of these as an unnamed minor character, one of Kitty's clients.

    Video Games 

  • Pirates in the Monkey Island series of games love their grog.
  • Ratchet & Clank has Space pirates and their beverage, Grog.
  • One level of Assassin's Creed I involves sneaking upon a man in a busy port full of drunken sailors that keep pushing you. Getting to the target requires taking some narrow routes by the water and you have Super Drowning Skills
  • There is one drunken sailor in Runescape in Port Sarim. His examine option refers to the drunken sailor song.
  • Chibi-Robo: Arr, I likes the taste of water...
  • Puzzle Pirates plays with this: The length of a voyage is limited by your available charts, your and your crew's patience, and the amount of rum you have aboard. Running short of rum is a bad thing and impairs your crew.
  • Pirates in Dubloon gain magic by being drunk, so it's only logical that they would be drinking beer and grog all the time.
  • Dishonored uses a rather gruesome variant of the song (sung by a children's choir) in one of its trailers.
    What will we do with a drunken whaler?
    Slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
    Slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
    Slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
    Early in the morning
    • The game is based in a city where whaling is one of its main industries. Sometimes a random guard can be heard whistling the tune.
  • If you're a Wizard in The Sims Medieval, you'll often get orders of Mystic Grog and Drunk-Me-Not (a potion that keeps Sims from suffering negative effects of drinking) from sea captains.
  • The tune (and three extra verses) is one of the shanties your crew can sing in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. It's safe to assume your crew members are frequently drunk, being pirates, and of course, one of the five types of cargo you can pillage is rum.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • As noted above, this is and was Truth in Television.
  • Captain Morgan Rum is built on this trope, as are Admiral Nelson, Sailor Jerry, and a few other spirits of varying ranks.
  • The real Captain Morgan, Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, actually died of dropsy mostly caused by his huge alcoholism.
  • The real Admiral Nelson's body was preserved in a barrel of cognac after his shooting death at the battle of Trafalgar, so that his body could be brought home to England for burial. According to legend, his men would sneak drinks from that barrel, (apparently not actually true- said barrel was allegedly under round-the-clock guard by marines, just as Nelson's person would have been in life) leading to the nickname of "Nelson's Blood" for any alcoholic beverage and "tapping the Admiral" for surreptitious drinking on duty.
  • San Miguel Beer uses this image in its "Three Ships" adverts.
  • If a modern US Navy ship is out at sea long enough without a port call (45 days), the captain may authorize a beer day.
  • Played With in World War II. The Americans were envious of the British who got rum. But on the other hand British always came over to American ships because Americans always had ice cream.
    • As noted above, the Royal Navy kept up the tradition well into the modern era, finally (and reluctantly) doing away with it in 1970... Instead permitting an increase in the beer allowance given to ratings and letting Petty Officers and above buy spirits in the mess along with officers. All alcoholic beverages are still kept firmly under lock and key when sailing under wartime rules of engagement.
  • Although usually a comic trope, it can also lead to tragedy. It was long rumored that John Hazelwood, skipper of the Exxon Valdez was drunk at the time of the accident, which caused the grounding and terrible oil spill. This theory was confirmed in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker,note  in which Justice Souter (who wrote the majority) saw fit to note that Hazelwood had had five double vodkas the previous night, "enough that a non-alcoholic would have passed out," and was sleeping it off when the ship ran aground.
  • Invoked by Ronald Reagan in a joking criticism. "We could say [Democrats] spend money like drunken sailors, but that would be unfair to drunken sailors. It would be unfair, because the sailors are spending their own money."


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