EDITORIAL: Navy booze policy change smart idea

Longstanding tradition needs a modern update

The presence of cheap or free alcohol on Royal Canadian Navy ships is a tradition that goes back generations.

It can likely be traced back to when the captains of sailing ships heading out for long voyages to new lands felt it prudent to carry rum on board to give crew members something to look forward during long stretches at sea, and to keep them from going stir crazy.

While ships and personnel in today’s navy still spend extended times at sea away from home and family, the need for a loose liquor policy on board is a vestige from the past that has long outlived its pragmatic need.

There will no doubt be crew members who will grumble about the move announced by the RCN last week to ban self-serve drinking while its ships are at sea or in port. But it makes sense, since these ships are workplaces 24/7, with crew on duty at all times.

The change was one of a variety of recommendations stemming from an Internal Review of Personal Conduct, launched after shorebound charges relating to drunken misconduct were lodged against three members of HMCS Whitehorse on exercise in San Diego this past summer.

Among the review’s findings was that clearer guidance on the RCN’s expectations for personal conduct needs to be communicated to officers and sailors, a result it stated should come from better leadership training and communications efforts.

Leaving ship’s personnel to police themselves around alcohol consumption has worked well for years for the most part. But the RCN has acknowledged that the number of alcohol-fuelled negative incidents has been on the rise in recent years.

That said, the navy realizes that the vast majority of personnel behave respectfully when imbibing on board or in port. As such, one recommendation is to offer alcohol on ships for special occasions, but for a higher price than in past and never in a self-serve scenario.

The military is designed to be structured and discipline-oriented – that’s why many people join in the first place. Letting that structure  loosen over booze is simply not acceptable.

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