The Perils of Boozing at Sea
Well we’ve all done it. Ok, most of us have done it. Gone out, had an epically fabulously carnage ridden booze fuelled evening full of questionable decisions and shenanigans… on a school night.
Most likely it began with the infamous words, “Well let’s just go for one.” And then that horrible moment comes, your alarm goes off about 5 minutes after you’ve fallen into a slumber and The Fear hits you. Your tongue is coated in what feels like a beardy slathering of shame, and you immediately begin to regret pretty much every decision you’ve ever made in your entire life, whilst simultaneously trying to focus on one point on the wall, begging it to stop moving and wondering if you’re going to die from the splitting headache or the absolute nausea. After throwing up what tastes and smells like battery acid saturated kebab riddled jager bombs (did we do jager bombs? I don’t remember doing jager bombs….) in the shower, brushing your teeth and in the case of the ladies, trying to reapply some make up to cover up the excess baggage under your eyes because wearing sunglasses inside is not acceptable apparently, and possibly pausing momentarily to have a little cry, it’s on with the work day and time to just focus on getting through it without dying.
It’s kind of funny when you’re with your crew mates and you’re all equally hanging out of your backsides; taking bets on who feels worse, and laughing at the fact that one person is incapable of getting out of their bunk and will most likely get a warning from the captain. Unless it’s him of course. Laughing at the chef who’s trying not to vom on the hot plate whilst frying up emergency bacon sarnies for everyone (even the vegan stew is all over that one and wants a runny yolk on her egg too). Comparing UBIs (Unidentified Beer Injuries), reporting lost credit cards and phones… and stewardesses actually, where’s the junior? Dammit Chief, you had ONE job… oh hang on look at the pasarelle camera! Here she comes – WALK OF SHAAAAAME! Awesome. Let’s face it, we’re pretty much all still hammered from last night. Yes, we’ve all been there.
But jokes aside, whether you like it or not, alcohol does hamper your ability to do your job. It’s one thing if your duties for the day happen to be a bit of paperwork or cleaning, but if it’s driving the yacht, or being responsible for others safety (as well as your own) then it’s not actually all that funny is it?
Booze affects our judgement. No, hang on, I mean reaction time; our coordination and also our vision, which is why drink limits are based on Blood Alcohol Concentration. This can be measured by breathalysers or blood samples. We all (should) know that drinking seriously hampers our ability to react quickly to hazards, and that the more we drink the slower we become and the worse our coordination becomes. Case in point, watching a drunk sailor fall over on a flat floor in the bar after a few tequilas is hilarious after watching them never lose their footing on a 30m sail yacht heeling in high seas for the past few weeks. Which leads me to ask, what can’t you do with a drunken sailor? But no, I digress….
Lots of different factors can affect your BAC (or how you personally react to booze), not just how much you chuck down your neck. It can vary depending on your size and weight, if you’re male or female, if you’re drinking quickly or pacing yourself, if you’ve eaten (and even what you’ve eaten – carb load if you’re boozing please! You’ll thank me later), if you’re tired, what you’re drinking (e.g. spirits in Spanish measures – uh oh, versus a half pint of shandy)… and so on.
MCA’s MGN 448 states the alcohol blood limits under STCW regulation VIII/1 for “professional staff on duty”. Now, that’s not just the captain of the vessel, it includes “a professional seaman in a ship while on duty” which would be the whole crew… not only that, it also applies to “professional staff off duty”. Who’s that? Well probably you: “If in the event of an emergency he would or might be required by the nature or terms of his engagement to take action to protect the safety of passengers”. So if you have guests on board, you can’t be drinking. The document sets the blood limit at 50mg in 100ml of blood. That’s 0.5 BAC which is lower than the drink driving limit in the UK. Depending on all of the above factors (and a few others not listed), even after one drink you could be over the limit. Point to note is this only applies to red ensign vessels or if you’re cruising in UK Waters. If you’re neither, then best consult your own flag states rules but they’re usually pretty similar. And not forgetting, some yachts operate as completely dry yachts. So no booze on board. Ever. Whether it’s in your hand or in your belly.
Ok so we all know we shouldn’t be boozing and working simultaneously. But let’s throw a bit more info into the mix. Check out MGN 193 by the MCA, which deals with the effects of drugs/alcohol on survival at sea. Did you know that alcohol speeds up the rate of body cooling? This means you’re at increased risk of hypothermia. So if you fall overboard and it’s not the Med in July, you could be in deep trouble in a matter of moments. According to the MCA, there is “clear scientific evidence that even quite moderate alcohol consumption (not sure any yacht crew (or in my case crew agents) are guilty of moderate alcohol consumption but still) normally leads to a reduction in blood sugar” which can seriously affect the way your body reacts to the cold. And would you believe it, shivering lowers your sugar further.
If you’re really interested in learning more, then feel free to check out the MCA’s website under www.gov.uk, search for MGNs, or Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers, also you can find a great deal on the International Maritime Organization’s pages www.imo.org. Alcohol is a big topic, you can find sources under every country’s Maritime Authority legislation.
That’s given us all a bit to think about. So this is Erica Lay, of the Fun Police, signing off, for a glass of wine (because it’s not a school night and I can).