Falling Asleep On Watch

This was an extremely serious offense as being on watch was to guard all the lives aboard a ship. However, life at sea was boring, so falling asleep did happen a lot. If a grave punishment was meted out for the first offense, a ship would have no crew left. As a result, the consequences would escalate for sleepy sailors.

As listed in the Black Book of the Admiralty, the punishments for falling asleep were as follows. For a first offense, something as simple as a bucket of cold seawater would be poured over the offender while others laughed. Not so bad.

The next time, his hands would be tied up and cold water tipped into his shirt. Still nothing to cry about so far.

For taking a third nap on duty, a sailor would be tied to a ship’s mast and be made to hold up heavy objects with his arms stretched out wide. Most often, these objects were cannon chambers. This became quite painful after a while. In addition, the officer in charge was allowed to inflict whatever extra pain he wished.

The fourth punishment put an end to Mr. Sleepybones’s slumbering adventures—mainly because he was dead when it was over. He was put in a basket which was hung from the bowsprit (the pointy mast that sticks out at the front of a ship). He was guarded by an armed sentry who was instructed to kill the offender if he tried to escape. Then he was left to starve to death.

However, the prisoner did have a couple of options. He would be allowed a knife, so there was always the choice to cut his own wrists. Alternatively, he could slice the basket’s rope and drown in the open sea.[8]

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