Rum do for drunken sailors

June 2, 1995

The drunken sailor may be a figure of fun in maritime history, but recent research has shown that his drinking habits would not have dimmed his seafaring capabilities all that much.

Marine studies student Calum Veale tested the navigational skills of his colleagues on a simulator after they had consumed large quantities of vodka and whisky and discovered they were still perfectly capable of circumventing an island.

Tests in the University of Plymouth's navigation simulation suite found the decidedly sauced guinea pigs were able to guide their vessels to within 0.2 nautical miles of their destination.

However, when confronted with an emergency or a new command they had problems responding.

Tony Redfern, head of the university's Institute of Marine Studies and Mr Veale's supervisor, said the results were consistent with the circumstances of many accidents at sea.

Most shipping companies have strict codes of conduct which ban the consumption of alcohol by staff while at sea. But some do not, and drink has often been found to be a factor when ships have collided or run aground. The Plymouth study shows how navigators who drink could be lulled into a false sense of security.

Mr Veale, who conducted the research as part of his work towards a marine studies degree, commented: "Considering the state that the subjects were in by the end of the controlled exercise, they all performed remarkably well by getting within 0.2 nautical miles of the last waypoint.

"However, as each of the ships was about to reach the last waypoint, they were suddenly told that they had to head for a particular port. The response to this instant change of plan was both confused and minimal."

Further work on the regulations on alcohol or drugs at sea revealed "significant problems" in some sections of shipping.

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