Rum and the Royal Navy have a long intertwined history dating back hundreds of years. Rum quickly became the drink of choice for British sailors due to its availability, low cost, and most importantly, its ability to withstand long sea journeys without spoiling. But why exactly did rum become the go-to drink for sailors in the Royal Navy?

Let’s explore the origins of this naval tradition.

Life in the Colonies

Rum’s origins begin in the Caribbean islands where it was first distilled from sugarcane by-products such as molasses or sugarcane juice. The climate of the Caribbean was ideal for growing sugarcane, and during the 17th and 18th centuries islands like Jamaica and Barbados became major rum producers. As the British Navy explored the Americas and established trade routes and colonies, Caribbean rum began flowing back to England.

A Tasty Tipple on Long Voyages

Given that beer, wine and brandy did not travel well on long voyages, rum’s durability gave it a clear advantage for naval purposes. Rum was ideal for storing in the hot and humid cargo holds of ships. Unlike other spirits, rum maintained its potency in the barrels even after months at sea. This made rum the perfect drink to pack along on extended journeys across the Atlantic and beyond.

A Cheap Beverage

There were also economic reasons behind rum’s rise as the Royal Navy’s drink of choice. Sugar products like molasses and sugarcane juice were cheap and abundant in the Caribbean colonies. Distilling this waste product into rum was a profitable way to make use of the excess. Rum could be purchased cheaply from the Caribbean islands before ships set sail for Europe.

Rum Rations

The daily “rum ration” became an ingrained part of naval culture starting in the late 17th century. Sailors received a daily portion of rum (around half a pint per sailor) as part of their wages. This helped make up for the poor pay and harsh conditions sailors faced. The rum ration gave sailors a morale boost and allowed them to temporarily escape the drudgery and challenges of shipboard life.

Alcohol content was kept relatively low so sailors remained functional enough to perform their duties. The rum was diluted with water and given out in portions twice a day. The rum ration became a daily ritual sailors looked forward to and gave structure to life at sea. Specific times and procedures developed around serving the rum ration on naval ships.

Limited Access to Rum On Board

Of course, copious amounts of rum also brought problems like drunkenness and rowdiness. To keep things under control, the navy regulated sailors’ access to rum. Things like locking up the rum supply and prohibiting shore leave prevented overconsumption. Punishments like withholding rum rations kept most sailors in line. Only on special occasions were sailors allowed to indulge in extra rum.

Enjoy Navy Rum Today

Rum is still a popular beverage today, with companies like the Gibraltar Distillery Company producing Caribbean spiced rum. Visit the or book a Gibraltar Distillery Tour to sample the kind of run drunken sailors would have loved.

From boosting morale to providing liquid courage before battle, rum was the faithful companion that aided the navy in ruling the waves.