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What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Hey ho and up she rises

Sun sea sex….and booze. The superyacht industry is primarily crewed by young men and women. We all know that young men and women in many cultures like to carouse until dawn. Alcohol plays an important role in the bonding process in north European cultures. The US too. Less so in Mediterranean and Caribbean societies. A high percentage of superyacht crews are from north Europe, USA, Australia, and South Africa. Therefore, we can correlate that many  yachties are pissheads.


Wait a minute

Hold your horses. Is the superyacht industry not an industry apart, a hermetically sealed bubble universe protected by non-disclosure contracts? You can’t make assumptions that what holds true for landlubbers holds true on superyachts. How can we ever know if alcohol consumption on a yacht is an issue?

We went talking this summer to crew members in a famous watering bar in Antibes where yachties gather in their downtime. Almost to a man and woman, every yachtie we spoke to religiously observed confidentiality, bound by a peculiar omerta which surrounds the industry but,  as long as no names were mentioned,  they felt eager to talk about many aspects of their yacht life experiences -almost as if steam released from a pressure valve.

Tales  of a salty dog

According to a first officer on a 60-meter yacht, the layout of a superyacht is not conducive for any type of boozing. Tight living spaces for the crew. No recreational opportunities. Not too mention that when guests are onboard, the working day can be up to sixteen hours which doesn’t leave much booze time.

But in between charters or in downtime, the boozing starts. Not a problem perhaps as long as it stays off the yacht. The problem is that the crew usually live on board. They may get a belly full in the local bars but they bring it all back home which is the yacht.

Last year a British chief stewardess was found dead in her cabin on a yacht in Italy. Fellow crew members said she had been drinking heavily. The autopsy concluded that she had fallen in her cabin and broke her neck And that alcohol played a significant part in this tragedy

This is perhaps a one off that proves nothing. However, many captains practice alcohol and drug testing as part of the ships ISM. Some employ outside agencies. Others use testing kits.

Testing kits – Cocaine (COC) Methamphetamine (MET) Cannabis (THC) Heroin (OPI) Amphetamine (AMP) Methadone (MTD) Benzodiazepine (BZO) Phencyclidine (PCP) Oxycodone (OXY) Barbiturates (BAR)

Testing only works if it is unexpected. The logic is that just the existence of a testing policy is enough to curtail any excesses. Testing reinforces a no drugs and alcohol policy.

“I can tell just by looking at a young crew member if there is a problem. I just know. I don’t need a kit to tell me.”

One crewmember on an 80-meter yacht said that it’s not like rugby or cricket culture where you play the game and then meet up for a big piss up in the evening. Excessive drinking is not part of the yachting culture. It is seen as uncool, unprofessional and unfair on your fellow crew members who have to pick up the slack if you are not performing properly.

This confirms what we suspected: that professionality in both service and performance is integral to the superyacht working lifestyle.

What is seen on the yacht stays on the yacht

It is not just about alcohol. There are stories told in the bars if Antibes that do not make it to the mainstream superyacht press which is often reticent to investigate the underbelly of the industry.

Marijuana and cocaine are ubiquitous in the Caribbean. Places such as the English Harbour in Antigua are targets for drug dealers, hoping to sell to both crew and guests alike. One deckhand was approached by a cartel dealer to smuggle cocaine back to Europe. The dealer claimed that border patrols in Europe would never search a superyacht. Easy money, no risk.

Antigua – an island paradise with a touch of Death in the Caribbean

When superyacht Captain Drew Gollan was murdered in Antigua whilst skippering the 50-metre yacht Perseus, concerns over the safety and security of yachties in Antigua came to the fore. However, subsequent reports suggested that at the time of his death the Captain was in possession of drugs and that it was not a random and senseless murder. Or was this an attempt by the Antiguan authorities to preserve the image of the island as a safe Caribbean paradise?

Many crew members we spoke were adamant that marijuana and cocaine just did not play a part in the yachtie lifestyle. The buzz of being on a superyacht is travelling to exotic locations, the sound of the sea and the wind in your hair, the tax-free income You don’t need drugs to get a high.

For many, the only stimulant they need is red bull which keeps them alert during the long night watches after an already long day at work.

Guests behaving badly

That is the crew. What about the guests. The captain of a 65 meter that we spoke to complained that it is difficult to enforce a no drugs policy on board because of the huge sums of money involved in chartering. For some charter parties, it is party time and that includes booze cocktails marijuana and cocaine. Some guys just assume they have the right to act as they want. A captain can lose his or her license if condoning drug use. It is not common but guests are returned to the dock – a euphemism for being thrown off the yacht.

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An experienced Captain will often take a guest to the side and ask them to be discreet. See nothing, hear  nothing, know nothing.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

For some owners, support for the captain’s enforcement of a no drugs policy is simply a matter of asset maintenance. A drug-addled guest is more likely to wander down the teak deck in stilettos, spill red wine on carpetings and sofas then block up toilets with stuff that should not go there.

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We know the official line:‘All boats have a zero-tolerance policy regarding illegal drugs. Nothing that is legal is an issue onboard a private charter yacht. … If they did not and any illegal drugs are found onboard by a visiting authority, the boat can be seized and you, your party and the crew can be subject to arrest and prosecution’

It is not just the guests that might bring drugs on board. Prostitution is commonplace and hookers often need something to get them through the day.

The fact remains that alcohol and drugs are a part of modern society. The superyacht industry cannot isolate itself from drugs and alcohol or develop immunity.


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