Why Did Sailors Drink Rum Instead Of Water?

Sailors have long been associated with their beloved daily tot of rum, a tradition that began in 1655 and lasted until 1970 when it was abolished, although some traditionalists continued to observe it until quite recently .

But why did sailors chose rum over water? What benefits did it provide them during their long voyages? Let’s explore the history and reasons behind this swashbuckling tradition!

Definition Of A Sailor And Rum

To understand why sailors drank rum instead of water, we must first define what a sailor is and what rum is: A sailor is any person who works or travels on a ship, typically as part of a crew .

Rum is an alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses or cane juice that is then distilled . It has a characteristic taste and aroma, due to its aging process in oak barrels that have previously held other spirits such as bourbon or whiskey .

Overview Of Rum As A Sailor Drink

Rum has long been associated with sailors, likely due to its availability on board ships during extended voyages when other alcoholic beverages were not available .

It was also believed to have medicinal properties which could help ward off scurvy, an ailment caused by vitamin C deficiency that plagued sailors during long periods at sea .

The rationing system provided sailors with a daily tot to drink each day, usually neat or mixed with lime juice to mask its strong flavor . This ration would last until 1970 when it was abolished but some traditionalists continued to observe it until quite recently .

History Of Sailors And Rum

The origin story behind why sailors drank rum instead of water dates back to 1655 when the British navy adopted the practice as part of their daily rations for sailors on board ships .

At this time, beer was very popular among sailors but it would spoil quickly at sea so they had to find an alternative source for sustenance during their voyages .

Captain John Smith found that rum could last much longer than beer and provided more energy for the crew so he began rationing it out in small doses each day . This practice soon spread throughout the British navy and became standard practice for all ships at sea .

Development Of The Daily Tot

Over time, the daily ration became more formalized and standardized across fleets in different navies around the world. By 1731, British naval regulations stipulated that every sailor was entitled to one-eighth pint (roughly 4 fluid ounces) per day which was later increased to one-quarter pint (roughly 8 fluid ounces) by 1740. This ration remained in place until 1970 when it was abolished but some traditionalists continued to observe it until quite recently .

Abolishment Of The Ration

After nearly two centuries, the British government finally abolished the daily rum ration in 1970 citing health concerns as well as moral considerations .

The decision sparked a great deal of controversy among sailors who were accustomed to their regular tot but ultimately had no choice but to comply with their new orders .

Additionally, many feared that without their beloved daily dose they would become listless and depressed which could lead to decreased efficiency aboard ships .

Despite this initial outcry from disgruntled sailors, gradually over time they adjusted to life without rum rations and carried on with business as usual .

Reasons For Drinking Rum Over Water At Sea

So why did sailors prefer drinking rum over water while out at sea? There are several reasons behind this swashbuckling tradition:

Unsanitary Water Conditions On Ships

One reason why sailors chose rum over water was due to its superior health benefits compared with unsanitary water conditions aboard ships .

In those days before modern filtration systems and sanitization processes were developed, drinking water from rivers or oceans could be extremely dangerous due to contaminants such as bacteria or parasites .

However, since alcohol kills most microorganisms it provided sailors with a much safer alternative than regular drinking water while out at sea .

Preserving Water Quality On Long Voyages

Another reason why rum was preferred over water by sailors on long voyages is due its ability to preserve water quality during extended periods away from port .

Since fresh drinking water can become contaminated quickly if not stored properly aboard ship, consuming alcohol such as rum provided an effective way for crews to prevent illness while also satisfying their thirsts .

Additionally, since alcohol does not spoil like regular drinking water does it allowed crews greater flexibility in storing large quantities for extended periods away from port .

Availability And Cost Of Rum On Shipboard

Since rum has always been readily available throughout the Caribbean region where many sailing vessels traveled through regularly on their way between ports ,it made sense for crews aboard those vessels to stock up on ample supplies whenever possible .

Additionally, since most rums are relatively inexpensive compared with other alcoholic beverages such as wine or whiskey ,this meant that crews were able purchase more supplies than they might otherwise be able afford if they were limited only by budget constraints alone .

Nutritional Benefits Of Drinking Rum At Sea

Another reason why many crews favored consuming alcohol such as rum instead of regular drinking water while out at sea is due its nutritional benefits compared with other beverages typically found aboard ship such as beer or wine .

Since most rums contain large amounts vitamins B1 , B2 , B3 , B5 , B6 , C , iron , magnesium , manganese , phosphorus , zinc , copper and potassium all essential nutrients required for good health while out at sea, these drinks provided essential vitamins necessary for crew members who often had limited access fresh fruits or vegetables while away from port.

Moral Benefits Of Drinking Rum At Sea

Lastly, another reason why many crews preferred consuming alcohol such as rum instead regular drinking water while out at sea is due its moral benefits.

While many may think that excessive consumption can lead bad behavior amongst some crew members, in reality moderate consumption can actually improve morale amongst teams helping them work through difficult times during missions away from home.

This improved morale can then lead increased productivity among teams resulting in better results overall.


In conclusion we can see that there are several reasons why sailors chose drink rum instead regular drinking water while out at sea.

From its superior health benefits compared unsanitary conditions aboard ship,[36 ]to its ability preserve quality during extended periods away from port, to its availability cost, nutritional value,and moral benefits, rum provided an effective solution quench thirsts among thirsty crews without risking any serious health consequences.

Although there are still some traditionalists who continue observe this swashbuckling tradition today, overall we can see how this practice has evolved since 1655 when first introduced into navy regulations.

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