Rein in old habits that hurt to make new ones possible

Jan 9, 2017 by Rob Gannon

Happy New Year to all. Yes, it’s that time again; the calendar flips to another year and we can also start anew with our habits and goals. Be aware, however, that some old habits can keep us from hitting new goals, and any kind of substance abuse is certainly at the top of that list.

The issue of drinking in this industry keeps coming up in my conversations with captains and crew. I’d thought I would share a few thoughts on the matter this month.

It’s all good, till it’s not. It can be fun and games, till it’s not. A steady drinking habit can sometimes be indulged in responsibly but can also slip out of control quite easily. Some folks can have just one or two after work and be all set; others can’t stop.

Let me be clear from the top: the yachting industry is not unique regarding this issue. All kinds of industries have drinks flowing around them, but I think yachting has some unique factors that can contribute to excess consumption.

Let me also add that I don’t write about this to preach or judge any generation; that would be pretty hypocritical. Although my wildest days are decades ago, I consumed more than my share and just kept it under control enough to not affect my professional life. So I address this from a place of experience and retrospect with a desire to offer insights to help in the present.

“What do you do with a drunken sailor?” We’ve all heard that little ditty, I’m sure. Or how about “he spends his money like a drunken sailor”, another little saying heard from time to time. We’ve been connecting the grog and the sailor for centuries.

Wine onboard

So let’s play connect the dots here. What does the drunken sailor of maritime lore and the captains and crews of today’s yachts have in common? Ok, yes drinking; but what attracts them to it? What is it about this lifestyle that can lead to overindulging whenever one gets the chance? That phrase — whenever one gets a chance — is a big clue.

Just like sailors of old, modern yacht crew live and work together in tight quarters on a ship. It’s way more comfortable, for sure, but tight quarters still. There can be pressures on the job, rules to follow, and many separated from loved ones. Loneliness and stress can feel overwhelming. The old tall ship jack tar, the guys off the navy ships 50 years ago, and our crew today all can feel the same feelings. A lack of personal freedom, loneliness, following strict rules for days and weeks at a time can lead to … drinks ashore, perhaps lots of them in a short period of time. And that free time is limited, so it’s time to hit it hard.

I’m not attempting to rationalize poor or unprofessional behavior. I’m just trying to point out some valid factors in this lifestyle that can lead to overindulging. If those who don’t drink at all or who indulge lightly can understand some of the human emotions behind a shoreside binge, there may be a chance for a conversation there and possibly an opportunity to help a mate who may be struggling. We should be looking out for one another out there.

We also have to understand sometimes we are not able to reach someone with a substance issue. They are not ready and able to receive. Sometimes just showing we care is all we can do. Sometimes the work time way outweighs the free time. That’s just the nature of the game. We’ve got to know that going in and adjust to the onboard routines.

Captains, keep an eye on your crew, and crew, understand that your captain may be having some struggles as well.

As we head into the busy charter season, some of the habits of the off-season may need to be changed. With no owners or guests aboard and tied to the dock, some behaviors can be accepted. But once we’re out there, it’s game time, it’s show time and it’s time to tighten things up. Captains are going to set some rules, so it’s time to follow them and don’t cross the line.

Have a good season, a safe season and a little self-discipline with the drinks. Enjoy the voyage.


Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach ( Comments are welcome at