Life on a sailing vessel was generally miserable. Sailors were forced to endure the terror of constant sea storms, malnutrition, lack of privacy, and fetid living quarters. The food supply was one of the biggest problems faced by sailing vessels. Hardtack, a kind of unappetizing bread was a stable, along with salted pork or beef. It was nearly impossible to keep the food from spoiling during long journeys, and sailors were forced to consume food crawling with worms, maggots, bugs, and rodent droppings. When the food supply was totally consumed, sailors resorted to eating leather and sawdust. Based on these unhealthy diets, it is no surprise that some sailors were stricken with Scurvy, a condition brought on by a lack of Vitamin-C. Sailors stricken with Scurvy would suffer a horrifying demise as their gums and tongue became black and swollen, and their bodies covered with sores.

Sailors lucky enough to maintain their health lived in cramped, disgusting living quarters with no access to clean sheets, clothes, or water for that matter. Many suffered from severe insomnia. Sailors had no privacy and risked their lives every time they had to go to the bathroom, as "bathroom equipment" failure resulted in a sailor plunging into the sea.