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A history of the Royal Navy’s rum ration

By Lia Sanders on 17/12/14 3:00 PM

The Royal Canadian Navy has banned alcohol at sea, making it an appropriate time to recall the drinking history of the Royal Navy.

Beer was the drink of the British Navy until the 17th century, popular because it was one of the few enjoyable things about the rough life at sea. Every man got eight pints a day which became problematic as ships went on increasingly longer journeys and were unable to carry as much.

When the British captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the navy started distributing unofficial tots of rum. This was formalised in 1731 when each seaman was given a daily half pint of 57% ABV rum.

In 1740, “Old Grog” Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed for his grogram cloak, ordered that the ration be watered down with two pints of water because of the “many fatal consequences to [the sailors’] morals as well as their health”. The watered down rations came to be known as “grog”.

On the 31st of July 1970, was the last day of the rum rations, deemed out of place in a modern world. Sailors across the world held funerals on Black Tot Day with black arm bands worn and tots buried at sea.