What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with Catholic interests, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.


If it's true that British Naval history is written in rum, sodomy, and the lash, one can't help but imagine what colorful fates have befallen drunken sailors early in the morning. Like many folk songs, "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor," is a great template for verbal improvisation. For each verse, you just need four counts of lyrics, which you repeat between choruses. This provides ample time to set down your mug and gesture to your buddies, "Hey-- I've got a good one!" so they will give you the floor next time around.

I wish we could all be together now, singing sea chanties in some friendly tavern. That's not possible, but I think we can still have some fun coming up with and sharing new verses for What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor. I'll start, and if you have any, please post them in the comments:

• Ream his bunghole with a rusty scupper (repeat)
• Wring his sack in the starboard windlass (repeat)
• Soak his cheeks in the Devil's bath, now (repeat)
• Coat his mizzen-mast with tar and feathers (repeat)

(Obligatory Distancing Comment: Yes, this is totally immature.)


  1. It was on the good ship anus,
    the captain was a penis.

    He wasn’t fit to shovel shit from one place to another.

    Friggin in the rigging cos theres fuck all else to do

  2. yeah i’ve actually improvised on this one before :)
    tie him up and cut his nuts off – early in the morning
    hold him down and waterboard him – early in the morning
    make him puke and feed it to him – early in the morning

  3. “rusty scupper”? Shouldn’t the lyrics at least make some kind of sense? [a scupper is a drain hole]

  4. Ok this is really terrifying. I woke up this morning with Drunken Sailor stuck in my head. STOP ALTERING MY DREAMS BOINGBOING!

  5. Shave his head with a rusty razor (repeat)

    Brand his leg with red-hot spanner (repeat)

    Mark his face with big black marker (repeat)

    Tell him he just tongue kissed his sister (repeat)

  6. I was interested to find out that a ‘tot’ of rum was in fact half a pint of rum served twice daily.

    Which kinda explains the drunken sailor song.

  7. my brilliant friend jim many years ago had one that i’ve always loved…

    what do you do with a drunken sailor?

    leave a bucket by his bed.

  8. Throw him in the hold with Father Francis (repeat)

    Cram a bunch’a chum in his starboard gunwale (repeat)

    Swab down his deck with inadequate sunscreen (repeat)

  9. I’d be careful if I were you…

    Earlier in the year a British educational book company (Bookstart) released a book with altered lyrics to the song as a way of allowing interaction between children, acting, performance and encouraging improvisation in just the way you suggest and almost all the media (left and right) in this country went mad claiming that the company (and therefore the government because that’s media logic) were being PC by removing “drunken” references. The company release many books like this with various lyrical changes for the entertainment of children (and educators) and as somebody pointed out what child today would actually even remotely understand “Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under”. Hell, even I don’t. Taffrail?!?

    So the moral of the story is that you lot should be careful. You don’t want the dodgy British media after you! (In case, anyone is wondering, I just thought I’d get in before somebody who believed the media’s nonsense story got in)

    1. I’ve actually encountered this – apparently, the lyric deemed to be more child-friendly was “What shall we do with the grumpy pirate?”

      Yes, piracy is so much more acceptable than drunkenness, wouldn’t you agree?

  10. “Paint his taint with some quick-set concrete”
    “Chum his bum and keelhaul his carcass”
    “Kiss his junk and vote for DOMA”

  11. Draw a penis on his face and post it to 4chan;

    Transfer him to the Edmund Fitzgerald;

    Make him sing Neil Diamond’s “captain of a shipwreck”;

    Make him ride an Indonesian ferry;

    lock him in the brig with an Indonesian fairy;

    A sailor who had too much rum
    was waking on seeing the sun
    his clothing was gone and a bra he had on
    with a strange throbbing ache in his bum

  12. Couple of more traditional verses:

    – Put ‘im in the bed with the captain’s daughter
    – Shave his belly with a rusty razor
    – Put ‘im in the longboat ’til he’s sober
    – Put ‘im in the crow’s nest ’til he’s sober

    Chorus as I learned it:

    Yo ho, (and) up she rises (3x)
    Ear-lie in the morn-ing.

  13. Tell ‘im we love ‘im and get ‘im counseling…
    Tell ‘im we love ‘im and get ‘im counseling…
    Tell ‘im we love ‘im and get ‘im counseling…

  14. The Texan folk-rock band Blaggards sing a version that includes the suggestions:

    “Shave his balls with a rusty razor.”


    “Throw him in the hold with the captain’s daughter.”

    In answer to @annoyingmouse, the taffrail is the railing around the stern of the ship. A ship whose yardarms – the tips of the horizontal parts of the mast – are under (i.e. in the water) must be rolling extremely heavily in very rough seas, so being tied to the taffrail in such conditions would probably have a very sobering effect.

    1. My grandfather (a Texan) also used those same two versions when he sang it to me all the time growing up, except the “Shave his balls” part was “Shave his face”. I don’t know if “face” was original and the modern band desanitized it or if “balls” was original and my grandpa sanitized it for singing around a little girl.

      Maybe those two lines the Texas versions or maybe somebody famous, like maybe a country/western singer did a popular recording of it at some point that used those two? A lot of the songs that my grandpa used to sing were from 30-50’s country/western music.

      The other line he used from time to time was “throw him in the brig until he’s sober”

  15. Put him in his bunk with his pants on backwardsPut him in his bunk with his pants on backwards
    Put him in his bunk with his pants on backwards
    Early in the morning

  16. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how odd it was that my grandmother sung this song to me as a lullaby when I was a child. Of course she was kind of a drunk and had married a sailor.

  17. A neat case of the lyrics shifting over time: The original “Captain’s daughter” lyric was “Give ‘im a taste of the Captain’s daughter.” Far from being a reward, the captain’s daughter was a cat o’ nine tails whip. It’s interesting how that has been lost and the standard plot device of getting caught in bed by her dad has been put in its place.

  18. Hi, Paul. I need to go listen to some music now to make this inebriated seaman stop looping in my brain. That’s what I get for checking BB before coffee.

    Put him in the bilge and make him drink it.

  19. I believe this is meant to be sung from the point of view of the sailor’s bed partner. Woman of loose morals, or fellow sailor – you choose. What can you do with him when he’s too drunk to perform? Stick him in the longboat till he’s sober, put him in the scuppers with a hosepipe on him, all sorts of things either to sober him up so he can perform or to punish him for being unable to.

  20. This is one I used to hear, usually just after the verse about the captain’s daughter:

    Put ‘im in bed with Margaret Thatcher.
    (slight pause) No, I wouldn’t do that to a drunken sailor!

  21. Possibly the most gruesome, hellish verse I’ve ever heard:

    “Put him in the brig with a purple dinosaur”


    “I love you and you love me…”

    Gives me the screaming meemees just to think about it.

  22. I first heard “his belly” as the part to be shaved with a rusty razor, just for one data point. Here are mine:

    Tie him down for a bilge-rat gangbang!
    Tattoo “Welcome!” across his buttcheeks!
    Dress him in lace and call him Shirley!

    Or, more macabre…

    Steal his liver and leave him naked!
    Pull his guts out for sausage casings!
    Hang him up for the kosher butcher!

    Hmm. Those macabre ones come a bit too easily. I think I’ll stop now.

  23. ooh ooh, I’ve got more!

    “Tell him it’s time for an Hawaiian dicking”

    “Make him star in High School Musical”

    “Lock him in a room with Bill O’Reilly”

    “Feed him kim chi by the barrel”

  24. So a scupper is a drain hole… and all this time I’d just assumed (like you, I guess) it was a tool for scupping things. I love that I can learn from a drunken sailor (“Arr, the things you’ll learn!”).

  25. The Steel Bonnets, late of Milwaukee, used to sing “Put him in the hold with the Captain’s daughter” followed by the next verse, “You’ve never seen the Captain’s daughter,” thus updating the antiquated cat-o’-nine-tails reference with something far more threatening: “She’s what they call ‘coyote ugly.'”

  26. I yield to Matt Deckard! Anyway, “Exxon Tanker” is courtesy of *another* Houston folk band, The Flying Fish Sailors.

  27. I’ve actually encountered this – apparently, the lyric deemed to be more child-friendly was “What shall we do with the grumpy pirate?”

    Yes, piracy is so much more acceptable than drunkenness, wouldn’t you agree?

    Along a similar vein, my six year-old daughter just learned this song in school, and the sanitized lyrics were:

    “What do you do with a scurvy Pirate?
    Make him walk the plank!”

    I thought it interesting that even though she goes to an ultra-liberal, arts-integrated Reggio Emilla school, capital punishment is deemed more appropriate than drunkenness.

  28. Line his ass
    With broken glass
    And circumcise the Skipper

    For those who don’t know, that line is actually from a marching song taught at the Air Force Academy (or at least it was, way beck when I had some friends there). It’s from a song about Columbus.

    The Cabin Boy! The Cabin Boy!
    The dirty, little nipper!
    He lined his ass with broken glass!
    And circumcised the skipper!

  29. @ BikerRay

    “Scupper nails” were nails with a broad head, used for fastening leather and canvas to wood.

  30. A lot of the nursery rhymes out there could use a good scrubbing, too, couldn’t they? Sanitisation, pff, do me a favour…

    “what child today would actually even remotely understand “Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under”

    Ideally, a child who’s curious enough of the world around them to go look in a dictionary. Or google, since the times they are a-changin’. Songs and ditties are very important to preserving history and customs because they travel through time, becoming more and more obscure with every new generation which adopts them…and yet just a little bit of research can solve their riddle and open the door to a wonderful and interesting past.

    For the record, the taffrail is the railing along the stern of the ship, where all the fancy carving is. Scary not to know exactly which side of the taffrail and on what length of rope the drunken sailor is to be tied…especially when the ship is yardarm under. The yardarms are the horizontal spars which support the sails…you can picture the rest of that miserable situation, I’m sure.

  31. Ambiguity- I also learned this song as a kid in school (in 4th grade). We kept the drunken sailor line but I think the follow up (what you actually do to the guy) lines were sanitized.

    I was in the “gifted” program in elementary school, which apparently meant we didn’t need to learn silly things like “math” and “spelling” so we spent all of 4th grade doing a living history program about sailing. We learned sea chanteys, made hard tack, and who knows what else (yet only spent a week on long division…). This all culminated in an overnight field trip on a historic ship, the C.A. Thayer, in the San Francisco bay on the rainiest, stormiest day of the year. This included living history actors/employees playing the part of “captain” etc. who actually yelled at us as if we were real sailors. We had to do actual sailor chores like rowing the lifeboat out in a thunderstorm in the SF bay and getting up in the middle of the night to do a watch on the deck.

    I blame this school for my inability to spell or do basic math.

  32. Make him get tea-bagged by a mob of birthers! (repeat)

    Make him ‘splain evolution to the young-earthers! (repeat)

    Call him a maverick. Make him dig up the gipper! (repeat)

    Make him take a 3-hour-tour with the skipper! (repeat)

    Spray him fake-tan and give him a faux-hawk! (repeat)

    Take his helmet away. Push him out of the airlock! (repeat)

    Make him watch back-to-back all the “Look Who’s Talking”! (repeat)

    Make him play cowbell for Christopher Walken! (repeat)

    Make him dance naked for Coachella’s tasers! (repeat)

    Make him in dire need of unicorn chasers! (repeat)

  33. LOL– everyone is so clever (not surprisingly)!

    Yeah, I didn’t know what a scupper was– it just sounded good. I still think you could use a scupper if the bung-hole in question is accustomed to being reamed by larger objects– in which case it would be quite a sight!

  34. First, Throw him in a cabin with the captain’s daughter (repeat)

    Then, You ain’t seen the captains daughter (repeat)

    Feed him a hair of the dog that bit him (repeat)

  35. Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with Catholic interests

    That would be a lowercase “catholic” (from the Greek katholikos, “universal, general”), even if those catholic interests were to embrace Roman Catholicism.

    Catholic interests would be a good band name, though.

  36. Teabag ‘im then take some pictures

    Make ’em his new profile picture;

    post the texts to Texts From Last Night

  37. @ Ambiguity

    The Cabin Boy! The Cabin Boy!
    The dirty, little nipper!
    He lined his ass with broken glass!
    And circumcised the skipper!

    The song is called “North Atlantic Squadron”. It’s actually an old Newfoundland song.

  38. God damn our little cabin boy
    the dirty rotten nipper
    he rubbed some gum around his bum
    vulcanized the skipper!

    Friggin’ in the riggin’
    friggin’ in the riggin’
    friggin’ in the riggin’
    there’s fuck aught else to do!

  39. Everything gets scrubbed for the consumption of kids. Barnacle Bill the Sailor used to be Ballocky Bill. I guess that was considered too spicy for the little ones but I doubt it.
    I work at an elementary school. Some of these kids would be really hard to shock.

  40. …well the Antelope sloop was a sickening sight
    (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!)
    with a list to the port
    and her sails in rags
    and the cook in the scuppers
    with the staggers and jags!

    God damn them all! I was told
    we’d cruise the seas for American gold
    we’d fire no guns
    shed no tears!
    Now I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier
    the last of Barret’s privateers.

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