Home / Nautical Sayings / SUN OVER THE YARDARM - origin


Tuesday May 10th, 2011

The expression is believed to have originated in the north Atlantic where the sun would rise above the upper mast spars (yards) of square sailed ships around 11am. This coincided with the forenoon ‘stand easy’ when officers would go below and enjoy their first rum tot of the day. Eventually the phrase was adopted universally as meaning it is a suitable time to have an alcoholic beverage.
Comments (27)
13/07/2021 @ 8:39 pm
Jon Smyth
The sea is an off-aqua-marine colour, to be precise..
17/11/2019 @ 2:31 pm
David Jones
For many years, from the First World War (1914 - 1918), English public houses, pubs, could not open their doors to ply their trade until 11:00 a.m. in order to ensure that essential industry workers turned up each morning to manufacture weapons and munitions. All English 'pubs' then had to close again at 15:00 each day before opening again at 19:00 until 11:00 (different, more stringent, hours applied on Sundays) much to the bemusement of visitors from abroad during the summer months who wished to quench their thirsts. Restrictions which were not lifted until the late 1980's.
'Over the Yard-arm', still applies, socially and is a good yard-stick to sensible consumption of aqua fortis!
06/09/2019 @ 11:22 pm
Always thought it was a sailing joke, if the yardarm is low enough the sun will be above it when you sit up from your current hangover.
08/05/2019 @ 4:09 am
It is 11am, first morning break.
Officers had access to Rum, Wine and Brandy generally
Senior sailors could have their tots neat not as Grog
Drinking water was not at option at sea.
They did carry Ale which was a good substitute.
17/01/2019 @ 2:42 pm
It's always 5 o'clock somewhere!
27/11/2018 @ 3:11 pm
Deadeye Dick
The 'arm' is only the end of the yard and usually painted white and outboard of the lifts. But to be pedantic not all yards have arms! To be strictly accurate only vessels that set stunsails had arms because the ends were markedly longer than yer common square rigger's yard.
And I didn't answer the security question incorrectly when I said the colour of the sea is grey!! It is in my neck of the woods.
07/09/2018 @ 2:15 pm
Prince Igor
Flippin eck! I’m sticking to “splice the mainbrace” that means anytime
15/04/2018 @ 6:04 pm
Officers didn't drink rum. That was for the jack tars.
06/12/2017 @ 3:49 pm
Dave Dicko
God bless the yardarm
30/07/2017 @ 10:17 am
I am an alcoholic, I try to wait until the sun has at least risen - mind you most days I do not get up until noon so I feel justified in driving immediately to the pub.
04/07/2017 @ 8:35 pm
I remember my father saying to me (many years ago) "the sun is Always over the Yard - Somewhere"!
29/05/2017 @ 12:21 am
All this time I thought I had to wait until after 4:00 pm!!
07/05/2017 @ 6:43 pm
Jean Horan
Tracey, I am still laughing at your hilarious response. Must go now and have a drink as the sun is well over the yardarm!
05/05/2017 @ 3:06 pm
Tracey Wilson
Bet life's a bundle of laughs in your house Tom.
29/07/2016 @ 8:41 pm
Tom Beardwin
It sounds very nice, but in my location {North Yorkshire} the sun is about 28deg south by east and low on the horizon about 25deg at 11am{during the Summer}.
So if the Sun is rising over the yardarm their location will be more Southerly regions of the Atlantic and clost to the Equator (11-12 midday).

This means bad idear to get sloshed on Rum in those hot temperatures - they would become dehydrated - Best drink water instead. Sorry fellows.
24/07/2016 @ 8:26 pm
Ted Vandebint
Blimey, the discussion still going on... It would appear that the whole "Over the Yard Arm" thing is an old naval joke, the condition always pertains, like "So long as your A### points down" it means it is always appropriate to have a rum. In modern language we seem to have lost the knowledge which gives lie to the phrase, so it has come to mean a real time, assumed to be in the early evening as the sun is sinking over a mythical "yard arm", when in polite society, it becomes acceptable to "open the brandy darling".
01/04/2016 @ 7:24 pm
3:PM is traditionally observed as "Happy Hour" in neighborhood bars & pubs.
04/01/2016 @ 5:28 pm
Neil MacDonald
It is interesting to hear how early in the day the sun can be considered to be over the yardarm. It is also a bit disappointing. Half past ten (I hate the sloppy "half ten") is very early. I like to think I am exercising some self-restraint by waiting till, say, 6 p.m. to have a drink.However, I like the expression as it seems to mean whatever time of day you want it to,so I will stick with it.
26/12/2015 @ 10:56 am
All sightings of the sun were taken from the Captains usual position next to the ships wheel. Thus giving a standard point of reference and a morning stand easy of around half ten to elevenish.
If anyone cares the sea off of the Isle of Grain is a muddy brown colour.
27/04/2015 @ 7:17 pm
My father said if you got into the right spot aboard, the sun would be over the yardarm - if there were sun, and it weren't just rising or setting... So, it was always time to start drinking. The sea is sewage-coloured at Spithead, by the way.
11/12/2014 @ 7:20 am
Blue Water Sailor
It's strange that no one has mentioned the difference created by the angle of view from different parts of the ship, as well as which mast the yardarm in question is attached to. By moving from the bow to the stern, and even climbing up an adjoining mast, a sailor could view the sun above a yardarm almost any time of day. Perhaps that accounts for the claim that most ships carried more rum than water aboard.
11/10/2014 @ 10:00 am
The oracle
The first sailors crossing the Atlantic would have all sailed east to west. Therefore, with lengthy crossings, the saying would have been developed and continued its usage, even once the aspects of it no longer made logical sense...
15/07/2014 @ 9:21 pm
HG Crew
Not a bad habit to have @Bowers
15/07/2014 @ 12:52 am
My Uncle Charlie was a windjammer captain and sailed mostly the Atlantice between London and Rio.. I remember him telling me that when he "graduated " from a cabin boy to an officer he took his first shot of undiluted rum around noon every day thereafter !
07/04/2013 @ 5:32 pm
The med is blue, the Atlantic is blue off the North West coast of Scotland. Whether it is blue or green is to do with the depth of the sea and how much light sythesising organisms (which would make it look green0 are found in that region.
30/03/2013 @ 4:25 pm
@Ted Vandebint

The OP was absolutely correct while you, kind sir, are out of your depth.
09/12/2012 @ 10:49 pm
Ted Vandebint
That would seem to only work if all the ships were sailing west to east...otherwise its all backwards! And what if they are headed south or North?
It simply makes no sense at all.

Have you actually been to sea? The sea is not Blue!
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