The quote from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island: “Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum …” and Johnny Depp’s inebriated character, Captain Jack Sparrow, seem to sum up the quick answer to the question: why were pirates always drunk? But let’s take a closer look at the reasons pirates have a reputation for being drunkards.

Why were pirates always drunk

Why were pirates always drunk?
While the legendary liver strength of the sixteenth and seventeenth century buccaneers is a facet of many a pirate story, along with their prowess in battle and their snazzy fashion sense, it would be normal to ask just why pirates seemed to be continually drunk even when they weren’t drinking.

Well the reasons for this consistent state of semi-inebriation could be much more pragmatic than hedonistic; most journeys in the Golden Age of Pirates were very long, and as such the water supplies would go off. Strong alcohols such as rum and brandy were often used on long voyages to disinfect stagnant water, and to sweeten the flavour. So you see; pirates were always drunk because even their water had alcohol in it.

But why was rum such a staple beverage above cheaper alternatives such as, say, beer or ale you ask?

Well beer and ale were common on board pirate ships, but they went off on long voyages. They needed something that could weather the test of time. Rum became popular among English sailors and pirates after the capture of Jamaica by the British Royal Navy in 1655. What made this so influential was that Jamaica produced spiced rum using the molasses that were a natural by-product of sugar production. This meant that the British could buy rum cheap rather than trading for brandy which was generally a French and Spanish commodity.

So not only was rum a pirates’ best friend, but it was a great opportunity for the British to disassociate themselves financially from the heated rivals that were the Spanish and French at that time.

I hope this helps answer your question: Why were pirates always drunk?