Adapted from stories by Norman Reilly Raine, a woman tries to operate a tugboat business with her alcoholic husband.
Annie Brennan (Marie Dressler) helps her son Alec (Frankie Darro) with his homework. Her husband Terry Brennan (Wallace Beery) asks her for money, but she says no. Terry sells hawser rope in order to drink. Annie's boat races the boat of Red Severn (Willard Robertson) for a job. Their hawser rope is too short, and Annie loses the job. Young Alec tells Annie he doesn't want to go to school; but she insists.
Years later Terry tells Annie he stopped drinking; but he drinks hair tonic. Captain Alec Brennan (Robert Young) kisses his fiancée Patricia Severn (Maureen O'Sullivan) on his steamship. Terry is so drunk he can't get his clothes on right. Annie is proud of her son Alec and invites him and Pat to dinner. She hides the rum; but Terry drinks and drops the soap in the sauerkraut. Pat, Alec, and Annie taste it. Annie kicks Terry, breaking a bottle. Alec invites his parents to a reception on his ship. Annie tries to keep Terry from drinking the punch by taking his drinks, getting drunk herself. Alec got Terry a job as wharf manager so that Annie can live on shore. Terry goes to Red Severn drunk and quickly loses it. Annie fights with Terry. Alec tells Annie to leave Terry; but Terry says he will go. Alec makes Annie choose, and she slaps him.
Three months later Annie has bad boilers and is losing business. She tries to borrow money to get new boilers and finally gets a loan. While she is ashore, Terry takes the boat out for a job and runs into a ferry boat. Annie sees what happened and rips up the check. Annie's boat Narcissus is auctioned for $3200 to pay the ferry company. Reynolds bought it and asks Annie to be skipper to haul garbage. Pat visits Annie, who gives her a baby photo of Alec. On a garbage run Annie and Terry see a storm coming. Alec's steamship is damaged in the storm. Annie worries about Alec, sees the distress flare, and goes to help. Alec shoots a line to the Narcissus, and Terry ties the line. Annie refuses to cast off the line despite the danger. Terry heroically repairs the tubes in the boiler with plugs amid much smoke. Their boat holds the steamship. Annie, Alec, and Pat visit bandaged Terry in the hospital. The steamship company buys the Narcissus, renovates it, and gives it back to Annie and Terry. In the final scene Annie finds a bottle in Terry's arm-sling.
Terry's drinking is played for laughs, but it causes much grief. Yet the struggles of Annie and Terry represent the difficulties of many, who hope their children will have a better life.