Can You Drink Alcohol in International Waters?

Drink Alcohol in International Waters

Drinking alcohol can be fun, especially when you’re traveling with friends or even family, but there are some things that you need to put into consideration when doing so. In the US, it’s a rule of thumb that individuals below the age of 21 are not allowed to drink alcohol in all states. However, some states may have some provisions to this general regulation, such as consent from parents or guardians, religious matters, or, in rare instances, if it’s medically necessary.

Now, this is if you’re in the US, but what if you’re away from the mainland or traveling? This is just one of the few things you’ll need to think about before you even grab a glass of whatever drinks you fancy.

To put more context on drinking alcohol while in international waters, it’s important that you’re at least in the know about the existing regulations and how the business establishments are working to comply with such restrictions or regulations.

The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984

The act is a collaborative regulation designed by the Federal and State governments; its primary objective is to control alcohol-related problems, the manufacturing and selling of alcohol, and age restrictions. In this act, the Federal government hands over the authority to the States to make a sound decision on whether they will allow the selling of alcohol, which includes importation, distribution, and possession in the State. 

What is definite is the age restriction across all States; it is clearly stated that anyone below 21 years of age is prohibited from buying, possessing, and consuming alcoholic beverages with the exceptions provisioned by some States if there’s parental or legal guardian consent.

This regulation and provision is strictly implemented in all States because part of what’s written is that the Federal body can take away a considerable amount of funds for the States allocated for infrastructure like highways. 

Now, why set the age to 21? The logic of this standard is based on research stating that younger people have different physical and psychological reactions to alcohol compared to adults. More so, the research found that younger people enjoy the newness of the experience and may end up not being able to decipher when they have reached their limits. This may lead to a greater probability that these individuals may end up carrying alcohol-related problems to their adulthood.

The Distance from Areas Where the Regulations Implemented

By definition, you’re considered to be in international waters when you’re 3 miles away from what is mapped as territorial waters. Unless you’re on your private yacht or whatever vessel you’re traveling on, cruises are very much aware of the distance and when regulations should be implemented. But then again, you need to keep in mind that there are some cruises that will still strictly implement the regulations through their company policies on alcohol consumption even if the cruise is already out of the territorial waters, simply because they’re a US-registered cruise line.

Parental or Guardian Consent Depends on the Location or Venue

There are no restrictions in holding private events so long as it’s not in violation of any established and acceptable community norms. Unless someone’s going to report and complain about it, alcohol in private events is common especially if everyone in the event, including the hosts, is serving alcoholic beverages in their private properties or locations. 

Things play differently if you’re traveling in international waters on a cruise. As mentioned, a US-registered cruise line or those cruises that are departing to and from any US territory are covered by the age restrictions in alcohol consumption as stated in the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984. Anyone below 21 years old is definitely not allowed to purchase and drink alcohol while on the cruise, but there are some cruise lines that will allow drinking alcohol and lower the age restriction to 18 provided that they have parental or guardian consent, and if they’re on an international cruise.

Now, if you’re 21 years of age or older and traveling in international waters, then you really don’t have to be concerned about any restrictions in ordering alcoholic beverages for yourself or your companions (who are 21 years or older), because the bartenders won’t have any issues in serving drinks to you. All you need to remember is you need to drink within your limits because having too much alcohol can also cause safety and health hazards to you and possibly anyone within the premises where drinking is allowed. 

You may be asking why these restrictions are in place. The primary reason is to make sure that the state is addressing the welfare of its people when it comes to health and general public safety.

The bottom line is that generally, adults 21 years and older can drink alcohol in international waters. There isn’t anything much of concern about that, while those that are not younger than 18 years of age can and may still be allowed to drink alcohol while traveling in international waters but they must have parental and guardian consent, and also taking into consideration the alcohol consumption policy of the cruise line if they will be allowed to, all these are connected to the existing regulations.


With that being said, if you’re planning to go on a cruise, you may want to check first with the cruise lines if they would allow the drinking of alcoholic beverages onboard while traveling within the territorial waters and while in international waters, especially if you’re not old enough as defined by regulation to do so. Just always remember that US cruises are required to comply with alcohol consumption regulations and international cruises may still impose this regulation even if they’re cruising in international waters already.

To save yourselves from disappointment, it’s always best to contact the cruise lines at least a month before booking your trip with them. It’s easier to know these things nowadays because there are plenty of websites that even provide a list of US and international cruises and their existing policies while on board.

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