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Booze Crews

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Right, well the contention is, at first glance anyway, easy on this one: Is drinking a problem in Yachting:  yes or no?  This should be pretty straightforward…there is always someone willing to blame alcohol for the evils of the world.  Let them state their case, get couple of quotes and then head to Waxy’s and find the other half of the debate; no problem. 


Hold on a minute, shouldn’t the debate be:  Is alcohol a problem in yachting?  At the outset, a simple argumentative essay would seem to suffice. However, we can’t very well contend that alcohol is a problem because we get straight into the whole “are guns dangerous or are the people that shoot them,” debate. This would seem to miss the point of bringing the subject up at all.


Should the contention then be: do yacht crew drink too much? This is again a slightly dodgy thing to contend because it all depends on who you compare yacht crew to. Yes, they drink more than your average Olympic hopeful, but at the time of writing it is “freshers” season around the world. The streets in university towns everywhere are awash with drunken students, who drink enough to make a “yachties” liver wince at the thought.  “Too much” is a too relative a term.

The fact is that everyone in yachting seems to have an opinion on whether crew drinking is a problem or not.  Many yacht crew event organisers, spend much time discussing the pros and cons of giving away free drinks. However, it is still the case that more often than not when someone in the industry wants the attention of yacht crew it is beer and wine they use to lure them. 


In essence you either take the position that drinking is a problem in the industry or that it isn’t. If you think it is, then looking into why is a very useful exercise and further looking into what harm heavy drinking can do is worthwhile. However, if you think that drinking is not a problem you are surely faced with a somewhat complicated proposition. You are forced to accept that the deaths and injuries caused through alcohol abuse over the last few years are acceptable.  Casualties of bar, perhaps?


So where are we?  It’s probably quite important to establish at this point, a couple of fundamental differences in describing just what we are talking about. A phrase often used, some would say over used, to describe the yacht crews’ apparent affection for a drink or two is “drinking problem.”  For our purposes, “drinking problem” is a medically determinable illness and really refers to Alcoholism, which is a very serious addiction. Alcoholics have a disease that causes them to drink with compulsion. An alcoholic is generally unable to control his/her drinking, although many are able to disguise it. Stories abound about alcoholics in the yachting industry, but they are often hearsay and statistically, alcoholics are not particularly common.  They are not the focus of this article. Alcoholics are extreme examples when the focus here is the generic trend.


A better phrase is perhaps “problem drinking,” as in drinking enough, regularly, to cause problems; be them interpersonal, health-related or social. The two phrases “drinking problem” and “problem drinking” seem to be used in conjunction with often subjective definitions. They are mixed, matched and juxtaposed depending on a person’s moral standpoint. And let’s be honest, when we choose to look at an issue in such a way as to describe it as a problem, we are often, in fact judging. Now, whilst we may be greatly experienced in the judging of those docking, judging those in the dock, unless done by jowly old man in a wig, would imply the overt use of subjective rather than objective moral values. And after all it is drinking that is on trial here.


Just what do we mean by problem drinking? It’s actually quite complicated to define “problem drinking.” The signs are quite obvious: damaged golf carts, one deck shoe left in the basket, hangovers, weight gain, lethargy, empty wallets, negativity and being on first name terms with strippers are some of a huge number of indicators of problem drinking. Harmless? Well maybe, but maybe not. 


Let’s look at problem drinking from two perspectives: The effect problem drinking has on the drinker and the effect it has on others. The great majority of yachties are young, healthy and fit enough to cope with even significant bouts of social drinking. But whilst we use the phrase social drinking with alacrity, the actual amounts of alcohol consumed when social drinking, gives science, the Establishment or ‘The Man’ – whichever you prefer – the cause to name it something else: binge drinking.  Binge drinking has been the cause of much research over the last few years; most notably in the UK where the opening hours of pubs were extended a few years ago and politicians from both sides of the house sought to gain currency by investigating the effects of alcohol. According to the British National Health Service, alcohol-related illnesses cost the government about $5 billion a year in healthcare expenses.


In the U.S., there also has been much research into binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. Typically, this occurs when a man consumes five or more drinks in two hours and when a woman consumes for plus drinks in the same time frame. The research also found that most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent. Binge drinking is clearly a definable problem, but not necessarily an illness. 


Perhaps more of a shock is the fact that recently in the UK, the president of Royal College of Physicians stated that “...alcohol is responsible for 20 percent of deaths in men between the ages of 18 and 34 – probably the commonest cause of death....”


According to national surveys:

·          Approximately 92 percent of U.S. adults, who drink excessively, report binge drinking in the past 30 days.

·          Although college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older.

·          The prevalence of binge drinking among men is higher than the prevalence among women.

·          Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.

·          About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

·          About 75 percent of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

·          The proportion of current drinkers that binge is highest in the 18- to 20-year-old group, approximately 51 percent.


It is clear that binge drinking is not restricted to yachting and, in fact, is commonly recognised as an issue around the world. Is this good or bad for our particular case of yachting? It is probably good in that, if yachties are involved in binge drinking they are in good company and certainly by no means unique. That being said, it is probably bad because binge drinking clearly isn’t a good thing. The below list outlines some of the many health problems associated with binge drinking:


·         Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns, drowning

·         Intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence

·         Alcohol poisoning

·         Sexually transmitted diseases

·         Unintended pregnancy

·         High blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases

·         Liver disease

·         Neurological damage

·         Sexual dysfunction

·         Poor control of diabetes


There are simply no statistics available for the amount of drinking that goes on in yachting and so the point of reporting opposing, ill informed opinions is likely to prove fruitless.  What is clear is that over indulging, binge drinking or whatever you call it is becoming more and more common among the world’s very same demographic group that make up the majority of yachties.  And, very sadly the statistics would seem to demonstrate that many of the associated problems are caused through the altered behaviour of the binge drinker.  This directly affects others not just the actual drinker.  The risks to ‘others’ are almost certainly increased if they share their lives, workspace and social time with the binge drinker.


So now, whether you think it exists in yachting or not, very  important is the reason why yachties may commonly drink to excess.  Is it their peers and the example they set?  Is it a simple matter of the ease of access granted to crew members.  Lets face it, it is more difficult to find a gym than a bar in most marinas these days.  Is it a lack of discipline and regulation that would allow drunken crew members to think it is okay to drive a tender when under the “affluence of incohol.”  Perhaps it is a matter of the lack of enforcement.  The last two tender accidents; one involving a death, involved no  reported sobriety test whatsoever.  Easy then for one to draw from this fact that neither the port state nor the flag state considered it worthy of interest.  Perhaps it is the stress and strain of a busy season that makes alcohol an easy and obvious way to unwind?


What to do?  The thing about rules and regulation is that they are there to legislate the lowest standard of behaviour so looking to the authorities to make more rules would seem to be missing the point.  There will always be people who after a few beers turn into complete muppets. There too will be those that never cause harm or injury to themselves or others.  If we really want to understand the incidence of binge drinking in yachting or the extent of its causes and effects we will have to take it seriously and gain some hard empirical facts.  Until then we should all be aware that there are undoubtedly risks associated with alcohol abuse but that the social life of a yachtie is almost inevitably likely to involve a roister or two.  We all have a vital part to play in avoiding more tragic accidents where alcohol has been a factor and reducing the risks whilst maintaining the fun and socialising we all love. 


Crew and booze are like a celebrity marriage:  They seem perfectly suited and though they may appear inseparable in pictures, there are also many who would venture that they are bound to end up on the rocks.

What do owners and insurance companies think?

How many yachts still pay for crew beer, how many have a beer allowance. Just because you are off watch is it ok to have a skin full and then be hungover in the morning operating tenders and heavy machinery?

Even when in port, what happens when the Yacht alongside catches fire and you have to move out
to save the Yacht from being engulfed in the blaze.

Is it OK when you are paid to do a job that requires you to be responsible for others lives and a very high $ investment to even be over a limit that would have you arrested if found behind the wheel of a car ?

My vote is NO.

Does this industry want more regulation, I think not. Does it need more regulation, lets see the replies here to find out.
Posted by: simongb-N2( Visit ) at 17/11/2010 18:36

As a Captain Not much you can do other than keep an eye on the situation. Yachties are overwhelmingly young people. Most of them are perfectly normal, non alcoholic, non substance abusing young people.

But we all know what Youthful exuberance, a pocket full of money and boredom equals .

Guess this means its best to hire old guys, pay em' peanuts and work em' non stop !!!

Id say ... be aware and be smart.... simple things like...... dont let your young guys go for a drink with the "boys " DRIVING THE HIGH SPEED TENDER. Put em' in the put put rubber ducky. And naturally once the weekend or free time period is over, crack down on party boys who wake up hung over for work.

As far as senior crew..crew who should know better, snorting cocaine, smoking dope, drinking to much and living the high life. Fire them.

Its about all you can do.

One observation is that I rarely meet American Commercially licensed captains abusing substances. I think its the education and fear of having their hard won commercial license revoked that keeps their eye on the ball.
Perhaps a little more of this would be good for everyone.
Posted by: junior at 17/11/2010 19:30

Opps..pressed send by accident...I was going to remind everyone that one of the true curses of modern yachting..todays yachting, is the crackdown, intolerance of DAYWORKERS. Traditionally one of my best tools for screening a crew was to pull them on the yacht as a day worker for a week or two , then watch carefully..very carefully how they handle themselves as free people on the road with money. This process has been taken from me. Now its difficult to get a grip on the nature and behavior of crew. Its a problem
Posted by: junior at 17/11/2010 19:37

If the crew is on duty and impaired, the Yacht is unseaworthy and all onboard and the Vessel itself is in danger. The crewmember who is impaired while on duty should be dismissed.

If the crew is not on duty then you shouldn't care what they do as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses.
Posted by: Michael T. Moore at 18/11/2010 09:17

From what I have seen of the foreign crews in Fort Lauderale, it seems to me that drinking is not a problem with them, but the answer. Good thing they are not dentists or they wouuld have committed suicide already.
Posted by: Flagrante Delicto at 19/11/2010 18:18

DRIVEL!!!!!!This forumand the Dockwalk are more and more becoming different versions of talk shows, might as well be Oprah or Maurey, instead of usefull articles, on things that have to do with this business. Next it will be more and more like Fox News, Glenn Beck's show.
Posted by: CaptErik at 19/11/2010 19:03

This year marks 24 years of sobriety for me. I have not experienced any negative effects from choosing not to drink. It is an indiviual choice. Not all of us make the best choices, and when somebody else makes a bad choice we all too often look the other way. If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, make a choice to do something about it! Usually the person with a "drinkin problem" is the last person to know it has been a problem! Be a true friend and let them know you are concerned. For discreet self help or to better understand if you have a problem seek a questionaire at
Posted by: Bill at 20/11/2010 10:46

nicely said bill
Posted by: wendy armstrong at 23/11/2010 03:55

Wow Mike I am sorry I nearly fell asleep reading your blog, too long when the question was simply answered by a yes or a no. For those who think there is not a drinking problem in yachting and those who also don´t think there is a drug problem in yachting, you guys are walking around with rose coloured glasses, completely blind or just damned lucky you have crew who don´t abuse either. You can do all the best searches for crew, go through all their reference checks, interview them well ask all the right questions, you´ll still miss whether they are boozers or druggies because they will dodge the ball wherever humanly possible. Drinking is a huge problem in yachting. It is across the board, Pommes, Kiwis, Ozzies etc etc. On my yacht I supply beers and wine onboard and it is never abused. However the boat is dry when we have guests or charters and that is for the entire time the guests and owners are onboard. The rules are simple and well known and respected. The key to it is set up the parameters and any abuse of the rules, there´s the gangway. I have to admit, it is hard to find crew who swallow the rules of no drinking, somehow they seem to believe it is a right to booze onboard. My guys are currently great and very understanding and professional in their approach. Luck really.
Capt Kaj
Posted by: Kaj at 23/11/2010 14:32

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