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Published: 3 July 2023

Updated: 6 July 2023

The Club continue to see incidents where the use of alcohol or drugs has been a contributing factor. Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem that affects all industries, including shipping. However, the shipping industry can be particularly vulnerable to the problem due to the nature of the work. The long hours, isolation and high-stress levels experienced by many seafarers are all factors that can lead to alcohol and drug abuse. This article will explore the issue of drug and alcohol abuse in shipping and examine some of the measures that can be taken to address the problem.

The use of drugs and alcohol can impair a seafarer’s judgement and ability to perform his/her duties effectively and safely. In some cases it can lead to incidents, injuries and even fatalities. Furthermore, drug and alcohol abuse can lead to disciplinary problems, absenteeism and reduced productivity, all of which can have a negative impact on the overall performance of the crew and the vessel.

While the misuse of legitimate drugs, or the use or possession of illicit or non-prescription drugs is prohibited, alcohol may still be consumed on some ships. The IMO’s STCW[1] convention requires companies to implement a clearly written drug and alcohol policy. Given the obvious safety risk posed by alcohol consumption, many shipowners have implemented a strict no-alcohol policy on board. However, it should also be recognised that for many seafarers relaxing over a beer or a glass wine is an essential part of their social environment on board. Therefore, there is a balance to be struck when a shipowner formulates its alcohol policy. Whilst banning alcohol may, to some extent, enhance safety, it may also comprise a seafarer’s wellbeing which can have other serious consequences beyond safety concerns.

As part of their drug and alcohol policies many shipping companies have implemented pre-employment drug and alcohol testing and random testing on board by external companies and/or the master. Despite these measures, drug and alcohol related incidents still persist in the shipping industry.


Below is a list of things you need to remember as a seafarer:

  • Always comply with your company’s drug and alcohol policy. Be aware that some national jurisdictions may enforce stricter requirements and these are to complied with at all times when within these jurisdictions.
  • Remember that your drug and alcohol policy may also extend to shore leave. Being intoxicated ashore may lead to problems with locals, the relevant authorities and lead to the risk of not making your ship’s departure in time.
  • Don’t consume alcohol four hours before your watch and never be under the influence of alcohol during your work duties.
  • Where alcohol consumption is allowed, it should only be purchased as authorised by your company e.g., through the master. Don’t bring your own alcohol onboard – undeclared drugs and alcohol may cause major problems during inspections by local authorities.
  • All prescribed drugs should be declared and handled in accordance with company procedures.
  • Be aware of your colleagues. A colleague found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not be permitted to perform work duties – remember an intoxicated work colleague may also compromise your safety!
  • If you notice a crew member or non-crew member who appears to be intoxicated while performing their work tasks on board, raise this with the master or officer on watch. Company procedures should provide advice on how to deal with such matters.
  • Try to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle and engage in social activities to enhance your wellbeing.


As part of a company’s incident investigation procedure the requirements for post incident alcohol drug and testing should be defined. Determining whether a casualty, as well as others involved in an incident, were under the influence of alcohol at the time may provide valuable evidence in determining the contributing factors of an incident. However, such testing should be conducted appropriately and at the right time and not compromise any first aid treatment required.


Drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem that can have significant consequences for the safety of the crew, the vessel and the environment. Whilst the shipping industry has recognised this, and taken steps to address it, incidents still occur.

To further address this issue, there needs to be a greater focus on prevention. This includes increasing awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse among seafarers, providing education and training and promoting a culture of drug and alcohol-free work environments.  Some shipowners have established a drug and alcohol counselling and rehabilitation programmes. These programmes provide anonymous support and assistance to seafarers who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

However, what is also important is to ensure the wellbeing of seafarers. If alcohol is banned on board, introducing other social activities will be essential to prevent seafarers from becoming bored or stressed which may occur if social interaction is missing and could actually lead in turn to seafarers being tempted by alcohol or drugs to escape the boredom.

For further information, please do not hesitate to email lossprevention@tindallriley.com.

[1] Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 Reg. VIII/1