Boat Life,  Dock Life,  Marina,  News

Living on a Boat and Alcohol

This is part four in my Living on a Boat series.  It was originally going to be titled Who should NOT Live on a Boat, but recent events made me change the title and topic slightly.

So this is Part 4 in out Living on a Boat Series:

Part 1: Living on a Boat – Cheap Living.
Part 2: Living on a Boat – Questions.
Part 3: Living on a Boat – Family and All

Morris's boat on the hard - flowers on deck.
Morris's boat on the hard - flowers on deck.

Last week the stark reminder that we are surrounded by danger was forcefully driven home with a brutally sad event.  One of our fellow live aboards fell in and drowned.

I did not know Morris very well as he was new to our community.  I met him a couple of weeks ago when he invited me aboard his new boat to show me around.  He was excited and slightly apprehensive as this was going to be his first winter aboard his boat.  A tall, rugged, but nice looking man, Morris told me about his new boat/home, showing me his new electric fireplace and his galley setup.  We chatted about winters in Canada and he related some of his fears about not being able to stay warm enough and worries about the ice.  I reassured him that all would be well and that we loved winters on the boat, telling him that, in fact, we like winters better than summers on the boat.  We said our goodbyes assuring each other that we would keep in contact and check in on each other during the upcoming months.  That was the last time I saw him.
This is the story as it was told to me.  By 9:30 Morris and his party friends were seen tottering up and down the dock on wobbly legs.  At midnight, when another boater on their dock came back from a late night pizza,  the party was going strong.  Around 1:30am, the party thought it would be fun to fire up the boat engines and gun them.  Somewhere around 3:30, Morris went out for a pee and never came back.
The dirty little secret among  boaters is that there is an unacceptably high rate of alcoholism in our line of adventure.  Does boating attract alcoholics or do boaters become alcoholics; I don’t know.  (What came first the chicken or the egg?)  In the past I’ve ranted about the nocturnal comings and goings of our various drinking neighbours.  All this stems from alcohol.  There seems to be two types of people who enjoy alcohol on boats – those with the occasional glass of wine while sitting out on the back deck in the evening, and those who drink can after can of beer, chased by rum until they are stupid drunk.  Why are there so many stupid drunks on boats?Statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard show that alcohol was the lead contributing factor in 20% of all boating related deaths.  The total number of boating related fatalities in 2006 in the US was 710.  That means that if you removed the alcohol from the hands of boaters, you would have had 142 fewer deaths.  That is 142 fewer families grieving the loss of loved ones; fathers, mother, brothers, sister.  You get the picture.
Of course, writing a post like this reminds me of my own brush with liquid death a couple of winters ago.  I was stupid, but not stupid drunk, or I would likely not be here today.  Read about it in Thoughts on Swimming, Mortality, etc.
So what can we learn from another needless and tragic death?  This is what I came up with:
  • If you are an alcoholic, don’t even think about living on a boat.  You are surrounded by danger.
  • Don’t pee off your boat or dock, especially if you’ve been drinking.
  • Install ladders around your boat to get back onto the dock if you do go in.
  • Remember, remember REMEMBER – you are surrounded by danger.  Always be prepared for the worst and keep your head about you.
Any that I missed?


  • ferroever

    Sad. Sad. Sad.
    I got margarita drunk last year and fell in the drink between the big boat and the dinghy, out in the bay. I learned my lesson and after that always adhered to the Three D’s.
    Dark, dinghy, drunk= dangerous.
    Well, almost always.
    I’m still learning.
    Last year walking down to the dinghy dock, we heard this ‘Help help’ whimper coming from the water.
    Saw a guy, pulled him out, ‘Ta very much’, he said, shaking himself like a dog, and off he zipped in his tender.
    We had to laugh.
    Ah, the boating life. It can be tragic but more often than not it’s a hoot.

  • NJ Iron Works

    You know it’s better not to do anything if you’re drunk. Danger is everywhere in this situation. Unfortunately most guys are going outside after some whiskey…
    Anyway it’s always terrible when someone you know dies.

  • Rhianna

    Years ago, I was in Victoria BC admiring the marina with a friend. She warned me that the boating community attracted drunks. I didnt want to believe her but I have been living at a marina for a year and half now and find that it seems to be true. Not everyone here has a problem but I would say that probably 80 percent do. We have had quite a few fall into the river,luckily no tragedies as of yet, but some very close calls for sure.The level of alcoholism and drug abuse has made it not so nice to live here.Lots of fights,partying all night,staggering incoherant drunks trying to manuver the docks ect.

    I dont know why the boating community attracts these types. My theory is that they see it as being at the cottage, permanently on vacation. Also marinas tend to be a much more social lifestyle compared to living in an apartment building or townhouse subdivision. People drop in on each other all day long and it doesnt take long before someone is offering a beer.You dont need to be drunk to be in danger at a marina but it definately greatly increases your odds of getting into trouble.

    Your idea of installing some ladders on the docks is brilliant. Im also thinking it should be madatory to wear a life jacket any time you step outside to do anything. We have all gone in the water here at one time or another, some more than others.It is a very real danger.

    Im sorry that your friend had to find out this way, my heart goes out to him and his family.

  • Jim water crystals

    I was afraid of open water and boats in general before I read this, imagine how I feel now. I had no idea that the statistics point into that direction and that so many accidents are caused by alcohol. When you hear about drinking and driving, you never imagine how would that be on the deck of a boat. That is a very bad way to go, sorry for your friend.

  • strathy

    I normally would not have OK’d James’ comment seeing as he is just being a smart *ss. But it is indicative of a portion of society that sees everything through the green tinged world of the all mighty dollar. They just don’t get it. Tragedy is something that happens to other people, not them and they just don’t care. I’m not a touchy, feely guy – far from it, but you’ve got to feel for the family, who first loses Morris and then has to deal with guys like James.

  • Capt. Joe

    Well Todd, comments such as James’? What can I say. A lot of bottom feeders out there….

    What happened is a very sad thing in deed.
    But, it is good to talk about it because it makes people, or it should make people, think about how easy it is to mess up.

    We had an event here at Bluffers Park not long ago; same thing, there was at least some alcohol involved, albeit the victim was a professional bar tender and was reportedly not drinking heavily that night.

    One point I want to make with this: the man who drowned here, had a backpack full of tools across one or both shoulders, we don’t know for sure (the body was not found by the divers and surfaced several weeks after in very bad condition).
    It is always a big mistake to walk on a dock or anywhere near water carrying items that do not float or do not constitute a floatation device, in such a manner that those items can not be simply dropped if the need be. Be it that you are completely sober or not.
    And, this goes for infants in the care of adults. It astonishes me how often I see a mother wheel down a dock or near the edge of the water a baby in a carriage strapped in as if they were strolling 5th Avenue! I have approached parents on numerous occasions and I find it difficult to come up with the right words of how to say that your child might as well be wearing cement overshoes.

    Then, there are the smart guys I see using portable drills building their winter shelters over their boat in the slip, wearing one of those battery belts you see roadies use setting up a stage – fxxking nuts! Weight-belts divers wear are equipped with special release mechanisms so you can get yourself out! Think of what it will be like to fall in wearing a regular belt loaded with 20 pounds of batteries and trying to undue the buckle while you’re freaking out down there and running out of air!
    Yes, it is a very bad way to go….

  • boat design

    I agree with Rhianna, it has to do with the whole leisure aspect of boating, it’ can be like one big holiday or celebration, and people tend to get complacent after a while.

  • Vivian

    Hey Todd.
    In the wake of the trajedy here at PCHM, too often I have heard people say, “Well, yes, but he was drinking!”, as if that statement got them off the hook somehow. What I have shared with everyone is the number of occasions where we have helped someone out of the water in an all too close for comfort situation. Some of those people were drinking. Some were drunk! Many were not. The discussion of whether or not the victim was drinking leads many to think that somehow this could never happen to them. I guess as a community of liveaboards, this is something we do to feel safer. I think it’s important for people to bear in mind the dangers that exist for everyone. Capt. Joe’s comment is full of helpful advice. As a mother who is constantly considering how to keep my daughter safe, his comments are invaluable.
    In the almost 15 years that I have been herem we’ve had a lot of close calls and a few tragedies. I thank God there have not been more tragedies, given the dangers we are surrounded by.
    So we will reassure our families, the ones who cannot stand the fact that we live on a boat, by saying, “Well, yes, but he was drinking”. But never forget. Not a one of us is immune to this trajedy.

  • strathy

    Received this comment from Mark:

    Hello Strathy,

    You have a very informative blog/website. Thank you for taking the time to
    provide all the information and tips on your site, it’s very helpful to more
    novice boaters like myself.

    I just took the plunge and bought a larger boat which is currently sitting
    at PCHM dry dock and will be docked at “P” dock next spring. I had the
    pleasure of meeting and talking to Morris about 4 or 5 times during August
    of 2008 while I was deciding on which dock for our boat in 2009.

    Morris was always very helpful and gave me many good ideas and advice about
    boating in general and which dock to choose amongst other things. I chose P
    dock for the upcoming season because it’s quiet and has a nice view at the
    end and look forward to many days just relaxing (and occasionally working!)
    from the confines of our boat. Morris was on P dock before he traded up to
    his larger live aboard that you have pictured on your blog. It is very sad
    about what happened to him. Alcohol mixed with any motorized vehicle is
    just looking for danger, but as you say, it’s especially a bad mix when
    it’s with a boat. At least if you fall when you get out of your car, you
    will land on something solid.

    I appreciate your insights into Morris and his life and what happened on
    his last night at A dock. He was a very nice person to talk to and seemed
    very kind, generous and was always a giving person. He told me he was
    looking forward to living aboard for the winter and even offered that I
    come down in the winter to visit him and see what it was really like in the
    winter. He knew how interested I was in learning about boating with our
    larger cruiser and learning the ropes from a veteran boater. I will always
    remember how nice he was to me and how helpful and patient he was with all
    my questions.

    I look forward to the upcoming season at PCHM and will look for you and
    your boat and certainly say hello this summer!

    Thank you again for your great blog. Boating is no doubt one of the best
    pastimes that anyone can imagine. There is nothing like being on the
    water. You take it even further by living year round. I don’t think I
    could do it and certainly my wife could not do it, even if we had a larger
    boat. It’s the space that would get to me most, but as you say in your
    blog, “we’ve adjusted to our space” and the view is awesome! I think that
    you have to be driven to experience life a little differently compared to
    ‘the norm’ to live on a boat in Mississauga all winter, but as I have
    noticed at PCHM, you are hardly alone. You should write a book about
    boating and year round live aboard.

    I hope that the storm we are about the receive does not cause you too much
    hardship tonight and tomorrow.

    All the best,

  • drinking wine

    The effect of alcohol is increased by the natural stressors placed on your body while boating. Also, alcohol causes dehydration of your body. It takes less alcohol, combined with stressors, to impair an operator’s ability to operate safely. Research has proven that one-third of the amount of alcohol that it takes to make a person legally intoxicated on land can make a boater equally intoxicated on the water.

    Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affects judgment, and slows physical reaction time. Most people become impaired after only one drink.

    Alcohol makes it difficult for you to pay attention and perform multiple tasks. For example, it will be more difficult for you to keep track of two or more vessels operating in your area. This could become critical if you are placed in an emergency situation and must make a sudden decision.

  • PW

    It is the same for drunk drivers or people that read while driving, painting fingernails, etc. In the boat scene, you can see the alcohol abuse, but when driving it is not readily visible. On boats the person in danger is the drunk (unless out on the lake). When driving, it is anyone driving near them or walking or parked. Danger everywhere, enjoy your boat. Any pirates around–just joking!!

  • Boat Slips

    It is a tragic event, anytime there is an alcohol or drug-related death. The saddest part is that they can all be avoided, to a certain degree.
    Even on the inland lakes, alcohol causes so many accidents on the water each year.
    I totally agree with you that alcoholics should not even consider living on a boat.

  • fafa

    Sorry to hear about your loss!
    Where i live (Sweden) 8/10 boating deaths are caused by alcohol, much more common than your statistics..

    Anyway thaks for a great blog

  • david

    That was really so sad. The statistics you gave was astonishing me. Why it really happens? Alcoholism is a disease that will make a person feel over stimulated once consumed. That is the reason why we come across so many miss happenings that occur during driving, etc. Addiction to alcohol has resulted in many such similar sad stories. A proper awareness must be provided to the people on the demerits of alcohols that may risk the whole life.
    Your advice on this article would remain as an eye-opener and help people understand the importance of avoiding alcohol while living on boat.

  • Cutter

    Maybe so many sailors are drinkers because you have to be a bit mad to live on/make a living on the water – out between the devil and deep blue sea. There’s something about the water and sailing that makes for fun at being a bit maudlin and introspective at times. Maybe it’s just that it seems alcohol has always been part and parcel of sailing. You think those guys would have sailed the world without wine or rum? Hardly likely. Yes, it’s a dumb way to go, but there are so many, aren’t there? And I’d rather go out drunk and having fun, than getting splattered by a bus crossing a street to get some milk at the store, you know?

    Anyway, I do agree that you do need to utilize some common sense in this regard. I have a wonderful story to that effect.

    About 20 years ago my buddy had bought his first sailboat – San Juan 24. And while we had sailed off and on growing up, lazers, fireballs, etc. We had never done any “real” sailing. We certainly had don’t our costal navigation certification – which everyone sail or powerboater should do without excuse. So – living in Vancouver at the time – we thought what better thing than to sail across Georgia Strait over to the islands for a long weekend for her maiden voyage. Supplies laid aboard, and already half in the bag off we went at sunset…two guys who didn’t really know how to read charts or understand the tide tables…smart right? After all, how hard could it be?

    About 2 hours and a lot more beer into the Strait, in full darkness now, I’m at the helm while my pal is below looking at the charts and trying to firgure out where we are when I see a big tug moving up in front of us several hundred yards. He’s heading NE, so I veer off a bit to the SW to go around behind him. All of a sudden I hear yelling from the tug and one of the guy scrambles up to its roof to whip around the spotlight because they’re towing 2 huge barges on a steel cable. I couldn’t see the cable but saw the barges so I understood immeditatly what was happening and came about hard. As we came around I finally saw the light on the cable which was a only about 25ft in front of us. Had we hit it, I shudder to think what would have happened. Crisis averted, on we go.

    A few hours later, even more gassed at this point after our near accident. We make it to Polier Pass at Galiano. Now for those who don’t know, Polier is this very narrow, very treacherous pass which has claimed many a boat, power included because when the currents shift they do so very powerfully. It just so happened that we came in at slack tide and cruised on through. We didn’t think much of it untill the next day when all the other real sailors commented they were mind-blown that we had come in so late and what a daring feat it was. We admitted our ignorance and recieved many low-whistles and rolled eyes along with the admonisments of “God smiles on fools and little children”. They then went on to explain to us just how perilous the pass is and how lucky we were. Needless to say that shook us up conisderably and we stayed sober the whole trip back and immediately enrolled to acquire our coastal nav certification. In hindsight, we now realize really how lucky we were and now would never dream of sailing drunk.

    We do still like to imbibe when we’re moored, but much more reasonably now. It seems that only the weekend sailors/powerboaters are the people who like to get stupidly drunk, because they reality of the dangers around them hasn’t fully set in. And unfortunately with this fellow, it seems more like he was just jazzed about this new lifestyle change and his landlubber pals didn’t know any better either and terrible tradgegy occurred. What a shame. Still he died starting out with something he loved and wanted, and it could be worse. Regardless, I think we can all agree that getting 3 sheets to the wind on the water is not what you want to be doing unless it’s actual sailing.

    Thanks for the blog, guys. I really love it!

  • Dave

    I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.  I know alcohol is a part of boating, it shouldn't be, but it's a fact.  My wife and I are on the five year plan to sell the house and buy a liveaboard sailboat.  I read about 80% of this comments and didn't really see any mention to the potential of increase crime in a marina due to alcohol or drug abuse.  This is a concern to us where our current home has been broken into.  Any additional thoughts would be appriciated. 

  • strathy

    You know … I've never really seen any crime due to alcohol or drugs where we are.  Sometimes they leave a mess in the bathrooms, and sometimes they end up sinking their boats or drowning, but I don't think I've seen crime.  There is no real heavy drugs here though – pot is pretty much the extent of what I've seen.  Mostly I would describe it as a party scene rather than a down and out druggie scene.

    Thanks for the visit and the comment!

  • John

    Thank you for addressing an all too common problem that most simply don't want to hear or choose to ignore. Alcoholism won't go away by ignoring it, or well intentioned advice to not pee off the boat when drunk. People suffering the disease of alcoholism need help. It can not be 'controlled' or willed away. It is here to stay, and our sailor alcoholic friends will continue to put themselves, loved ones, and other sailors and their guests, at risk of peril or death.
    I am a sailor, and an addiction counsellor. Alcohol and boating don't mix. If alcohol finds it way onto your boat despite repeated promises to yourself, or another, that 'it will never happen again', you need, and deserve help.  If you want help,  I'd be glad to. You can not do it alone.
    If you need help, the only shame is in NOT getting it!

  • Oscar

    I know your post has been up a few years now, and not too sure you read it any more seeing as to how it has been nearly a year since your last post. But I want to thank you for taking the time to write all of. I don't drink anymore so the last part doesn't really apply to me, though it was insightful that people are still ignorant enough to drink on a boat.

    My wife and I are wanting to move to mexico and buy a boat there to live on. We are hoping boats, just like everything else, will be much cheaper there than in the states.
    My question goes back a few pages of your posts. If a person wanted to live on a boat year round, but wasn't sure they could afford the slip fees, is it possible to anchor out in the ocean a ways and just come in when it is absolutely needed? We are on a very tight budget with no options left in the states. It is a shame that people work their butts off for 21 years, get hurt at work and can't even get enough off of Social Security benefits, nor have any retirement after medical costs took everything that they have to move to a less expensive country in order to eat. That being said, would it be possible to do what I asked. live in the Ocean most of the time. Maybe take a smaller boat in when we needed to go, but I am not too sure how to make sure my big boat would still be there when I returned if I did that.  Any suggestions?
    Thanks in advance,

  • Billmeister

    I have enough issues trying not to vomit while on board a boat because of motion sickness.  Adding alcohol would just make things even worse for me. 
    Common sense is a good idea.

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