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The Drunken Sailor

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They're gonna need more long boats.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor
What shall we do with a drunken sailor
What shall we do with a drunken sailor
Early in the morrning?
— Folk song

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

Of course, Sailors are just as often drunk on shore as well as off, where they can get into all kinds of trouble, from bar fights to getting Press-Ganged onto another ship.

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 actual ration issued up until 1740 in the Royal Navy was a gallon of beer or a pint of wine or half a pint of spirits per person per day. Admiral Vernon then cut this to a quarter pint twice a day, mixed with water and limes to prevent scurvy, and eventually it became the traditional 1/8 pint "tot" which was officially retired in 1970. There were some very uncomplimentary epithets levelled at the Admiral responsible and the day is still known as Black Tot Day.

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


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    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.

  • Captain Haddock and whisky (specifically the then-fictional Loch Lomond brand) from Tintin. He clearly inherited the tendency from his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock. Sir Francis' tipple of choice however was something else, as featured in his Catchphrase "Ration my rum!".
  • The pirates from the Asterix series.
  • Turns up frequently in Hägar the Horrible.

    Disney Theme Parks 
  • Many of the Pirates of the Caribbean are drunk to the point of slurring their speech and/or singing. This is especially true once you get into "town", though several of the pirate skeletons prior to that point are holding containers that most likely weren't intended for soft drinks.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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!"
  • In Mister Roberts, the sailors regularly brew up "jungle juice" from unspecified ingredients in order to while away the endless tedium. And when they're granted liberty on Elysium (after many months of uninterrupted duty), many of them get so utterly soused that they have to be hauled back aboard in a cargo net. As for the ones who can still walk, their antics are so outrageous that the ship is permanently banned.
  • Spite Marriage: One of the sailors in the engine room has emptied the fire extinguisher and filled it up with a hidden stash of alcohol. This leads to disaster when a fire breaks out and an unknowing Elmer tries to use the fire extinguisher.
  • In A Study in Terror, a pair of drunken sailors on shore leave attempt to solicit the services of Liz Stride for a night of fun. However, they are moved on by a policeman, and when Liz goes in search of another customer, she is murdered by Jack the Ripper.
  • In Assault on a Queen, Linc Langley appears to be borderline alcoholic: often seen with a drink in his hand, and usually perma-buzzed if alcohol is available. At one point, Victor says he does not relish being cooped up in a tin can with 'a caramel lush'.
  • In Frankenstein Island, Shipwrecked seafarer (and probable pirate) Jocko drinks any chance he gets and spends much of the movie in a drunken stupor.
  • Pool of London: Engine Room Officer Trotter who, according to Dan, has not been ashore in 20 years except to change ships. He spends the three days the Dunbar is in port locked in his cabin, drinking three bottles of brandy, reading poetry and becoming maudlin.

  • Like all other Wooden Ships and Iron Men tropes, this one appears often in the Aubrey-Maturin series. The captain's coxswain is at one point referred to as being "...drunk, even by naval standards."
  • Captain Greldik of The Belgariad and Mallorean series is a chronic drunk and the best sailor alive.
  • Every sailor from the "Boston Jane" series, and the protagonist does not approve at all. The only exception is Jehu.
  • The whole plot of Flying Dutch was set in motion by a dozen alcoholic sailors who ran out of booze, raided a passenger's luggage thinking he might have some, and downed what turned out to be a dodgy elixir of immortality.
  • Horatio Hornblower has this, naturally. It's remarked several times that British sailors had an unerring genius for getting hold of alcohol in any place and situation no matter how unlikely or inappropriate. Hornblower also prefers to enforce discipline by withholding alcohol rations, since he has a distaste for the Navy's more brutal methods of discipline.
  • 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.
  • Searats in Redwall are fond of seaweed grog.
  • In the Safehold series, the Charisian Navy averts this trope. While sailors get beer with at least one meal, and officers are seen having a glass of whiskey with a briefing, none of them get enough to get drunk and drunkenness on duty is harshly punished. Other navies are implied to play this trope straight.
  • Billy Bones in Treasure Island in all its iterations, deeply fond of rum, which possibly contributes to the strokes that eventually kill him. Later, on board the Hispanola, the first mate, Mr. Arrow, is constantly inebriated to the point that he eventually drunkenly falls off the ship. No one really laments his loss.

    Live Action Television 
  • 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.
  • 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, follows Clive's advice to deal with his situation by drinking his problems away. The last shot of him in the episode, after he's torpedoed what little remained of his reputation, is pouring wine into an overflowing glass and watching it run across the table.
  • On Sea Patrol the tolerance range of the sailors goes from being unsteady on their feet but being able to beat up crashing a golf buggy into the lake. Although there were other reasons that added up to it.
  • The song, although not drunkenness in Naval personnel, is featured in the SeaQuest DSV episode "Bad Water." After a lightning strike disables the sub and the crew are forced to make emergency repairs, MCPO Crocker resorts to singing "The Drunken Sailor", along with "almost every other sea shanty I know," over the 1MC to keep morale up.
  • 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 is the drink of choice for all Star Trek incarnations, with all crews indulging at some point.
    • Klingons. They absolutely love getting drunk.
    • 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 status as Cuban cigars do in the U.S. today). There are a number of other drinks as well, including the Klingons' Blood Wine, which they're almost always seen drinking (except Worf, who prefers prune juice), and Synthehol (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.
  • Closely related: the dockworkers in The Wire can be seen downing beers at all hours. That includes breakfast; several dockworkers are seen lining up at the bar for a "breakfast" of raw egg dropped in beer, with a whiskey to chase. Andrew Rea of Binging with Babish tried it in the Wire special; he said he couldn't imagine going to work after this "meal", as all he wanted to do afterward was take a nap.
    Andrew "Babish" Rea: As usual, this is all Ziggy's fault.

  • 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:
    Way! Hay! And up, she rises!
    Way! Hay! And up, she rises!
    Way! Hay! And up, she rises!
  • Great Big Sea practically runs on this trope, being from Newfoundland, a province with an extremely strong tradition of seafaring and drinking (and seafaring while drinking).
  • The Irish folk song The Irish Rover mentions a crewmember named Slugger O'Toole who "was drunk as a rule" and also states that they had in their hold "seven million barrels of porter".
  • As the Poxy Boggards sing both drinking songs and sea shanties, it's inevitable that drunken sailors turn up in their music.
  • Toy-Box created a song titled "The Sailor Song" which is about Amir's life as a sailor who drinks and lusts women.

  • The song is used in one of the Waxing Lyrical sketches on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, with a modern naval hearing for an Able Seaman charged with being drunk on duty, which is derailed by one admiral who keeps suggesting the punishments from the song, adding that "the ear-li-ness of the morning" is an essential part of them. He's eventually given three months suspension without pay, and required to attend alcohol management sessions. But as a compromise, the sessions are to be held ear-ly in the morning.
  • The Navy Lark
    • The Admiral manages to get a bickering meeting of Vice Admirals and Commodores to shut up by threatening to lock up the Gin. It works.
    • Vice Admiral Prout, whose years of hard drinking had left him a raving paranoid loon with a liver that you could mistake for shoe leather.
    • Mister Phillips can qualify on half a lemonade shandy

    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.

  • In Anna Christie, old salt Chris Christoperson's first scene has him stumble into his favorite bar, already drunk, to get more liquor. He goes on another bender after Anna reveals her sordid past as a prostitute.
  • The Time O Your Life has one of these as an unnamed minor character, one of Kitty's clients.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed
    • One level in the first game 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.
    • 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.
  • Beyond the Edge of Owlsgard: The ferryman has an incredible hangover when Finn wakes him up, and passes out as soon as the two are finished talking. One of the game's puzzles involves figuring out a way to force him out of his house so he'll sail Finn and Gwen to Owlsgard.
  • 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.
  • Pirates in Dubloon gain magic by being drunk, so it's only logical that they would be drinking beer and grog all the time.
  • Pirates in the Monkey Island series of games love their grog.
  • Ratchet & Clank has Space pirates and their beverage, Grog.
  • There is one drunken sailor in RuneScape in Port Sarim. His examine option refers to the drunken sailor song.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Pugwash: Although never shown drunk, Swine—one of Cut-Throat Jake's pirates—almost always has a mug of grog in his hand.
  • Captain K'nuckles from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. His beverage of choice? Maple syrup.
  • The sea captain in The Simpsons. He crashes a ship at one point and tries to bribe a reporter on camera to take the blame.
  • Ironically, there are at least three different versions of the tune used as background music in Spongebob Squarepants (4 if you count Sailing over the Doggerbank, which sounds vaguely familiar). There are, however, no drunken sailors.

    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 ranksnote .
    • 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.
  • Although usually a comic trope, it can also lead to tragedy. It was long rumored that Joseph 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 the United States Supreme Court case 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.
    • Unfortunately, the man frequently gets Mis-blamed, because while he did have a known alcohol problem and was drunk during the grounding, he was explicitly off duty, and not on the watch at the time: having completed his watch, he went down to "unwind" so to say,note  and the one who actually ran aground was an inexperienced third mate because the ship's radar was broken and not repaired for the whole year to save money. This is actually reflected in the court decision, as while Hazelwood was relieved of shipboard duty, he wasn't otherwise heavily punished (he received just a $50000 fine and 1000 hours community service).
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Anyone who has spent time with professional or competitive sailors can attest to the strength of this trope in real life.

Way! Hay! And up, she rises!
Way! Hay! And up, she rises!
Way! Hay! And up, she rises!