Do you have an alcohol policy on your boat? Here's what Dave and I decided. Far from "ruining" our cruising, less drinking has improved it!

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere . . .

Our first several months cruising, we pretty much had the “vacation” and “it’s five o’clock somewhere” mentality when it came to alcohol.  Both Dave and I like beer, and so if someone stopped by after lunch, we’d offer one . . . and have one ourselves.  Or maybe have one as we were figuring out some maintenance project.  And so on.  Of course, the first one would taste good and so we’d have a second . . .

But as the “vacation” aspect wore off, we realized that we needed to set some rules for ourselves.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-drinking.  And I’m not saying anyone else has to have a policy — or if they do, what it should be.  I just thought I’d share what we did.

What we found was that we’d get lazy and maybe even sleepy if we had a beer with lunch.  We discovered that we weren’t getting many of our projects done and we were only doing a fraction of the “fun stuff” we’d wanted to do while cruising, such as snorkeling, hiking, exploring towns and so on.  It was just so easy to sit in the cockpit with a beer in one hand, book in the other, and maybe decide to take a nap.

And, frankly, we were getting a little bored with the lifestyle.  And we were probably boring to others.

One evening (yeah, over beers), Dave and I talked about it.  We knew ourselves well enough to realize that just saying “we need to cut back” wasn’t going to work.  So we set three basic rules (the first two we’d already followed but had never really stated):

  1. We would never drink underway or before we were both completely satisfied with how and where we were anchored.
  2. We would never drink if bad weather seemed possible or likely (squalls, katabatic winds, tropical storms/hurricanes, etc.).
  3. No drinking before 5 o’clock and no more than 3 drinks.

The first two stayed the same over the years, and were rigidly observed as safety rules.

The last one gradually became 6 o’clock and 2 drinks (generally a beer before dinner and a glass of wine later) . . . and even just one for a while as we were dealing with some medical issues.  Yes, we’d be better off if we stuck to one all the time but it’s unlikely to happen.

And, admittedly, the last one is the one that we do break sometimes — say when we’re invited to a friend’s birthday lunch or celebrating the completion of a really nasty 3-day repair job and it’s only 4:30.  And occasionally, we’ve been known to have a few extra drinks.

When I’ve told some would-be cruisers about our policy, they wondered if it cut down on the fun of cruising.  The answer is a resounding NO — it increased it.  We got out and did a lot more.  We got up early and sailed to a new anchorage more often.  We snorkeled a lot more.  We hiked and explored.  I wrote and Dave fished and worked on his own projects.  And we still had fun socializing.  We rarely “just sat around” in the middle of the day any more.

Instead of saying “it’s five o’clock somewhere,” having to say “it’s five o’clock here” did wonders to cure our inertia.  We also saved some money, had less heavy stuff to schlepp from the store to the dinghy to the boat and less trash.  Win-win-win-win!

How about you?  Anyone else have formal or informal rules about alcohol consumption?  For safety or lifestyle in general?  Please leave a comment!

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  • Relinda Ted Broom on Facebook
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    We have always had an alcohol policy on board our sailboat. No alcohol by crew or passengers until we are on a secure anchor. You did just make me think of how do you handle passengers who have a tendency to overdrink? It hasn’t happened to us but you never know.

  • Relinda Ted Broom on Facebook
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    And yes, our policy of no alcohol until at anchor has caused problems with passengers. But our feeling is we have to take care of us and the boat and if they are drinking they may not react when a situation arises or they could be the situation.

  • Andy Gallup
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    Our “policy” is much the same as yours including the occassional cheating and changes with age. In addition the calorie count is added and this mitigates the consumption. I do not forbid passengers drinking in moderation, a level which would not make them a liability in an emergency. If they are acting as crew they abstain. As we are close to Canada and Canadian rules are far more strict, nothing gets opened until docked or anchored if we are north of the border.

  • Leigh
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    We also never drink while on the move and until we are completely and firmly settled somewhere. A few months ago – after a night of being VERY sick after having way too much to drink – I also set a two drink/day limit for myself. I am too old to party hard anymore. 🙂 And being sick and miserable in the middle of the night negates the fun I had drinking. Like you, Carolyn, I’ve found I don’t miss the extra alcohol. It’s a treat now, and I find myself thinking how I best want to “spend” my two drinks – two at happy hour? One with happy hour and one for dinner? Or a dessert drink later? I also get so sleepy after a drink, so we usually hold off on a beverage until we are already winding down for the evening. Of course, like you said, we occasionally make exceptions, but it’s nice to have the rules in place!

  • Michael
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    I can’t disagree with anything that’s been said to this point, even if I don’t necessarily follow it! I’ve yet to wake up feeling really sick after a night of libations… I think I metabolize it quickly and sleep through the hangover? Even though we haven’t set off yet, Wendy and I can tell that “Happy Hour” might become a problem one day, so at least we’re aware of it!

  • Wendy McGregor on Facebook
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    Great article Carolyn, thanks for posting.

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 01 February 2013 Reply

    Thanks, Wendy!

  • Diane Sullivan
    Posted at 05 February 2013 Reply

    Thanks, Carolyn! I, too, appreciated this article. We have noticed people drinking quite a bit, and we usually don’t drink that much. It could become a habit though. As you mentioned, in the beginning stages of sailing, it was nice to have the sundowner, and then another, and it’s good to set the limitations so you’d have something to keep the drinking reined in. We could easily get into the 4-5 glasses of booze a night head-set, and want to watch that. I enjoy a glass of wine in the evenings, and Paul likes an occassional screwdriver. We try to not do it everynight though. And we’re both adamant about not drinking while under way, as you mentioned.

  • Penn Boyle
    Posted at 08 February 2013 Reply

    Hi, we will be live boards again in May and will be following the same rules as before. Pretty much as you have all commented here. No drinking until anchored and that also applies to any onboard guests. We have never had a problem with guests, I guess you really only invite people onboard that you trust. As for sundowners well we sail in some pretty isolated areas (West Coast and Northern Austrealia) so sundowners with other boats is a rare treat.

  • Albert
    Posted at 26 April 2013 Reply

    We went even further. No alcohol at all. If someone wants a beer – sure, why not, but we don’t drink any more. You can’t imagine the difference it makes for a clarity of thought after some time, and how much even a small drink can clog your brain, for DAYS after! We value our mind clarity too much to spoil it with alcohol. So, we enjoy life with freshly squeezed juices and plain water. Nothing tastes better than water! 🙂

  • Molly Stokes
    Posted at 24 September 2013 Reply

    Yes, only when anchor is dropped.

  • Bob Bechler
    Posted at 24 September 2013 Reply

    Never drink on passage. Only at anchor and not even then if weather is iffy in case we need to react.

  • Linda Nagle
    Posted at 24 September 2013 Reply

    We have lived aboard for 8 years and have always had the same three rules. The rules have never been a problem and we also let the rules be known to guest if they travel with us.

  • Kimberly
    Posted at 25 September 2013 Reply

    Well, darn! I was hoping you’d send us a link for dehydrated beer!

  • David Marcussen
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    Great post!

  • Ray
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    Great rules to live by and we follow them as well. The last rule is more flexible as there may be days ( weeks) that no alcohol is consumed. Great articles and tips thank you for sharing.


  • Ed Robinson
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    Good policy. We have pretty much the same rules.

  • Deborah Ruths-Brown
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    We follow the same rules, more or less. I am new to the boat, but we both had these rules for the motorcycles first. Made it an easy transition once we bought the boat – and yes, we still the motorcycles. Have to have some fun when there is no wind! ☺️

  • Lynn Kaak
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    We generally have one drink around 5. If we have friends over, maybe two. with lunch, maybe, if we are exploring. And never underway!

  • David Grimm
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    We have a great alcohol policy. If you feel the need to drink bring your own when visiting. There is no alcohol on our boat. Never found the need to change my brains way of working. The wife likes a Margarita from time to time when out for dinner.

  • Claudia Smyth Gilpin
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    Never underway!

  • Sue
    Posted at 15 August 2014 Reply

    Hi, great article and even better advice. All 3 rules are what we have evolved to do, giving ourselves permission to have more than a couple if there is a special occasion. But not so many we are not capable of dealing with an emergency if it happens. We also make sure we have a few alcohol free days in each week.

  • Colin Mombourquette
    Posted at 16 August 2014 Reply

    Certainly a good practice, given the need to be able to handle any and all emergency situations on the boat with only the crew you have on the boat, being fit to respond at any time is tops in my books.

  • Sage Seeley
    Posted at 16 August 2014 Reply

    I live alone aboard my boat here in the Keys. I have followed the same rules while cruising. No cocktails while underway & safely anchored. I rarely indulge before 4:30-5:00pm. However over the years I found 2 glasses of wine became 3 or 4 & a good share of next day was wasted on being tired. I have developed the policy to keep it at 2 glasses of wine. On occasion I have more but my awareness of how that makes me feel is so obvious to me now. I still have fun and like you I am more productive.

  • S/V Dos Libras
    Posted at 17 August 2014 Reply

    We haven’t any formal rules, other than your first two…We, like you drank every day for the first few months, although you didn’t mention the POUNDS that put on!!! That had to stop! Now, while Bruce has a beer almost every day, I’ll go three or four days without any alcoholic beverage at all. Usually because I’m trying to just keep hydrated and water or water derivative drink is the only thing I want at the end of the day… It’s sure different when its your life… and not a “trip”.

  • Mary
    Posted at 13 January 2015 Reply

    We also set the 2 drink rule if you have to return to your boat. That can be dangerous with a few too many. Even if you are on a dock, climbing off of someone else’s boat can be tricky.

  • Jennifer Swart
    Posted at 23 September 2016 Reply

    Improves your health as well, especially for women. Cancer risk increases markedly with alcohol intake .

  • Rachel Roy Smith
    Posted at 23 September 2016 Reply

    Rum was our drink of choice, mixed with fruit punch! We would usually have one for happy hour while in port. We did drink wine with dinner while in the French Caribbean Islands.

  • Cherie Novicky Kasch
    Posted at 23 September 2016 Reply

    Those are good rules for being responsible out on the water.

  • Ron Dionne
    Posted at 23 September 2016 Reply

    I don’t drink when we’re on our cabin cruiser. Even in the marina. Someone has to be sober at all times. You never know what may happen. We have a 1967 Chris Craft Cavalier 32′. Twin 350’s with all kinds of fuel. Systems that run full time. Children and guests. I like cold beer. I also consider myself a reasonably good risk manager.

  • Sheryl Shard
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Great blog! Paul and I follow similar rules. For daysails we never drink underway. If we are on a passage of several days however and the weather conditions are good, we allow one alcoholic drink per day. For us that’s usually a glass of wine with dinner. You’re right about beer at lunch making you sleepy and that the less you drink the less heavy stuff you have to carry and stow on the boat. Happy Holidays!

  • Paul Daniela Herlihy
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    1 and 2 for us has always been a rule. Each new season we try to better the it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

  • Bazza Captain
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    In 2000 we diverted from our Kavieng to Palau course to Woleai Atoll so we could have a bottle of bubbly to celebrate Roz’s birthday whilst safely anchored. No drinking alcohol whilst underway, you never know what comes next and being partly inebriated when it happens is courting disaster.

  • Jennifer Swart
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    No dispute that alcohol contributes to cancer deaths. Since we hope to enjoy the boat for many golden years, moderation is the key.

  • Dinielle Nelson
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Even racing dinghies, I learned quickly that I can’t handle my booze until after the race is done. Not sips, not downwind, not until were heading back to shore. A foggy mind is no good when trying to be useful.

  • Beth Joyal
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Even as weekend sailors on Lake Ontario ( and a few longer stretches) no one drinks while underway (law). Once safely anchored with no foul weather expected or at a dock, cocktail hour begins. Personal health issues kept me to 2 at most but may bring me to zero for the 2018 season – regardless, moderation and safe passage must always be the rule.

  • Suzy Wheeler
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Unfortunately, my experience has been that many if not most liveaboards’ social lives revolve around drinking. It is a notorious problem with single-handers. Shockingly, one can have a social life and perhaps even be a pirate without rum. 🙂

  • Pamela Douglas Webster
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Never been a big drinker. No health or moral concerns, just not that interested in it.

    As a result, I joke that the Coast Guard is going to commandeer my vessel because I don’t drink enough to be a real sailor. 😛

    But seriously, I appreciate when other boaters implement common sense policies about drinking. After all, we’re all depending and affecting each other out there besides the good points you made about mellowing the day away.

  • Jerri Miller
    Posted at 24 December 2017 Reply

    Great post. We never drink on passage and rarely during daysails either (every once in awhile if we have guests or it’s super hot and still, we’ll have a beer).
    However, it’s very easy to drink too much at a nice anchorage and definitely when socializing. Always working on maintaining a healthy balance. Sometimes more successfully than others.

  • Sarnia Chêrie
    Posted at 25 December 2017 Reply

    No closet alcho’s here. We don’t drink. No need for any policy. Too easy

  • Carey Moluchi
    Posted at 25 December 2017 Reply

    When we did our charter in the BVIS in May we enjoyed doing the drinks thing everyday, Painkillers, Beer, wine etc after ensuring we were secure on our mooring. It was truly a “vacation”. On our winter season boat we tend not to drink every day because of all the reasons you stated plus the fact that one has to respect the body that has to deal with the alcohol, in particular the liver. Just like we wouldn’t drink at home every day, we don’t drink every day on our liveaboard boat. Besides, it isn’t special if it is everyday. After seven days of steak you will be looking for Macaroni cheese! Good article.

  • Susan Kam
    Posted at 25 December 2017 Reply

    We have always done the first two, and I like the last one as well. It is not a vacation after the first while, it is a lifestyle.

  • Judith Adams
    Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

    We are the same, except more of the 1 drink occasionally. The time and expense gets in the way. No fun to see cruisers and drinking just to be social.
    Plus we have just grown out of it. It doesn’t fit our lifestyle anymore.

  • Andy Sonis
    Posted at 28 December 2017 Reply

    Our drinking rule is a simple one: DON’T DRINK AND JIBE
    )No alcohol while underway.)

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