No more bread and water

I witnessed a few Captain’s Masts in my day. Mostly extra duty, confinement to the ship, and maybe pay withholding. Anyone sent to the brig with just bread and water?

And as stated in the article, and as I posted in another thread, “bread and water” is still a punishment on the books for civilian seamen.
46 USC Chapter 115:
For continued willful disobedience to lawful command or continued willful neglect of duty at sea, the seaman, at the discretion of the master, may be confined, on water and 1,000 calories, with full rations every 5th day, until the disobedience ends, and on arrival in port forfeits, for each 24 hours’ continuance of the disobedience or neglect, not more than 12 days’ pay or, at the discretion of the court, may be imprisoned for not more than 3 months.

Our version of bread and water sounds even harsher than that of the USN which was limited to 3-days and all the bread one could eat.

  1. I wonder if the rules will be changed for merchantmen as well.

  2. Has anyone ever heard of this punishment being applied at sea on a merchant vessel in modern history?

Mine you that when they say “bread” what they mean instead is “biscuit” better known as “hardback” so give up any thoughts of a nice crusty baguette hot from a baker’s oven.

As far as water goes…potable water was so foul in the days of sail that beer was invented.

It is more of a punishment that beer has been taken away from US vessels.


I can’t think of any circumstances where punishing a crew member would be worthwhile.

Have to keep him locked up somewhere, merchant ships don’t have brigs, supervision is going to add to crew workload.

What’s the point? Is the crewmember going to reform and be kept on board?

Better just to fire the crewmember and get him off in the next port. The ship would be better off short-handed then having the burden of watching, feeding etc.

Not to mention running afoul of the union contract.

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Makes more sense on a four year voyage…

This bread and water thing is an irrelevant holdover from long gone era. It’s kind of like the old state laws that were slow to be purged from the books that required a man holding a lantern and ringing a bell to walk a head of a car being driven at night.

This makes perfect sense in a historical context. Youv’e just shanghaied yourself a fresh crew, now how to make them work? Bread and water, of course.

I feel this has some bearing on the discussion about assaulting the master. Would you actually get away with locking the culprit in an empty ballast tank, restricted to 1000 kcal per day? I bet if you did, word would get around, and you wouldn’t have so much trouble with the next guy.

The thing about a firing is that when it happens the Chief Engineer, the Chief mate and the bos’n are all witnesses, officially. They sign the firing letter as witnesses.

Those three, C/E, C/M and bos’n are usually permanent and regulars aboard. So the word seeps out, what is tolerated and what is not.

For the rotary crew it’s mostly based on what they’ve heard at the hall plus what they hear when the join the ship.

So when a crew member actually does get fired it’s OK, so it’s not just bullshit. The change in the crew after a firing is apparent.

The thread started about a change in the USN policy, but the comments address the historical use and, of course, the merchant service aspect.

Having served as enlisted and officer in the USN 1965-1993, I will throw in an observation.

The CO of a ship in the grade of O-5 or O-6 can award a wide array of punishments at NJP. For many infractions, the CO might impose punishment of forfeiture of 1/2-months pay for two months, reduction in pay grade, plus up to 45 days restriction and 45 days extra duty. I have seen that hammer dropped many times at Mast.

However, if the CO awards three days of “piss and punk” then no other punishment can be awarded. Many transgressors would prefer the short, harsh punishment to the one that takes a month’s pay and leaves you at a lower pay grade as well. The message gets to the crew either way.


Couple years back a 3rd Mate on one of the government ships was attacked by a young drunken O.S. (while the officer was carrying a sidearm, too…)

From what I heard he was confined to quarters and only permitted to come out to eat meals. He was not permitted ashore or allowed to wander the vessel until the day he was discharged and even then he was taken directly below to the launch and sent ashore for his flight home.

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What was that US ship a few years back where they were supposedly handcuffing people to the bulkheads and whatnot? I remember vague tales of lawsuits etc. at the time.