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I'm listening to the song What shall we do with the drunken sailor and now can't understand what they advise to do with the drunken sailor:

Put him in the scuppers with a hose-pipe on him.

Scuppers is a draining system on a boat. I don't think it's big enough to put a man in there.

But the most weird phrase to me is with a hose-pipe on him.

How shall I understand it? Do they advise to cover the sailor with those pipes or use them any other way? How?

Please, help me to understand the metaphor.

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    A hose-pipe would be connected to a (manual) pump so that bilge water could be ejected into the sea. Sometimes, sailors found another use for it. How lovely that you have discovered sea shanties! – Mick Nov 3 '16 at 10:35
  • @Mick - what other use did sailors find for it? – user66974 Nov 3 '16 at 10:46
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    @JOSH Hosing-down drunkards, of course. The original form of waterboarding. – Mick Nov 3 '16 at 10:52
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    What shall we do with an awesome question? What shall we do with an awesome question? What shall we do with an awesome question, early in the morning? Exalt that post with a few more upvotes, Exalt that post with a few more upvotes, Exalt that post with a few more upvotes, Early in the morning! Way, hey, and up your rep goes, Way, hey, and up your rep goes, Way, hey, and up your rep goes, early in the morning! – Robert Columbia Nov 3 '16 at 12:09
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    @RobertColumbia Quite right, too! – Mick Nov 3 '16 at 12:14
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A hose pipe would be connected to a bilge pump to allow sea water to be removed from the bilges of a ship and ejected into the sea. Since ships' hulls were (and still are) not water-tight, this had to be done regularly, and was an arduous task in the days of manual pumps.

Drunken sailors were sometimes hosed-down with bilge water as a form of punishment. The sailor would simply be placed, face up, by the scuppers (where the water would drain off the deck immediately) and given a thorough soaking. It was far less dangerous than keel-hauling and much less painful than flogging, although there was possibly a risk of drowning, either on the bilge water or the sailor's own vomit. Perhaps we should consider it to be an early form of waterboarding.

P.S. Since I can find no reference to the custom as a form of punishment, it may simply have been used as a way of bringing a sailor out of a drunken stupor. The real punishment (if any) would come later. On merchant ships, it would probably have been a fine.

Royal Navy & Marine Customs and Traditions

BBC: What did they do with the drunken sailor?

  • I don't think that "hose-pipe" automatically implies "bilge water". A firefighting hose, or a general-purpose hose used for cleaning the deck, can take water directly from the sea. – AshleyZ Nov 3 '16 at 16:13
  • @AshleyZ You may be right. I'm not sure how viable hand-pumps were for fire-fighting in the days of sailing ships. – Mick Nov 3 '16 at 18:24
  • @AndyT Punishment per se would be something like captain's mast. This would be an informal unpleasant consequence. – chrylis -on strike- Nov 3 '16 at 19:38
  • @Mick Wouldn't the hosing down be partly an attempt to swill away vomit, urine and, possibly faeces resulting from the drunkeness? After all windjammers had no showers! I've always been more puzzled by the 'put him in a longboat' verse. – BoldBen Nov 3 '16 at 22:27
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    @AndyT I should have flagged that as a postscript. – Mick Nov 4 '16 at 10:15

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