Navy Traditions and Customs
Change of Command Tradition
The Navy's "Birthday"The U.S. Navy traces its origins back to 13 October 1775, the date the Continental Congress ordered the construction of ships for the fledgling U.S. Navy.
The Navy Department was established as a separate department on 30 April 1798 (it
was previously part of the War Department). The first Secretary
of the Navy was Benjamin Stoddert.
The official Navy colors are blue and gold.
Navy Flag, Origin of
The Navy Hymn: "Eternal
Father, Strong to Save"
Navy March: "Anchors Aweigh"
"Anchors Aweigh" was written in 1906 as a march
for the Naval Academy Class of 1907. The music was composed by
Lt. Charles A. Zimmerman, bandmaster of the Naval Academy; the
lyrics were written by Midshipman Alfred H. Miles. It was first
performed at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia in 1906
(Navy beat Army 10-0!).
Today, the song has become an important part of Chief Petty
Officers training. While there is a proposal to include protocol
for performing "Anchors Aweigh" in the Navy Regulations
and to designate it the official song of the U.S. Navy, it remains
an unofficial service song. There are numerous variations in the
words to "Anchors Aweigh;" this version is considered
the original version.
Anchors Aweigh (1906 version)
Stand Navy out to sea, Fight our Battle Cry;
We'll never change our course, So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll out the TNT, Anchors Aweigh. Sail on to Victory
And sink their bones to Davy Jones, Hooray!
Anchors Away, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to foreign shores, We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night on shore, Drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more. Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.
Blue of the Mighty Deep; Gold of God's Sun
Let these colors be till all of time be done, done, done,
On seven seas we learn Navy's stern call:
Faith, Courage, Service true, with Honor, Over Honor, Over All.
There is no official motto for the U.S. Navy. "Non sibi
sed patriae" (Not self but country) is often cited as the
Navy's motto, however.
U.S. Navy's First Jack
Why is a ship referred to as "she?"
It has always been customary to personify certain inanimate
objects and attribute to them characteristics peculiar to living
creatures. Thus, things without life are often spoken of as having
a sex. Some objects are regarded as masculine. The sun, winter,
and death are often personified in this way. Others are regarded
as feminine, especially those things that are dear to us. The
earth as mother Earth is regarded as the common maternal parent
of all life. In languages that use gender for common nouns, boats,
ships, and other vehicles almost invariably use a feminine form.
Likewise, early seafarers spoke of their ships in the feminine
gender for the close dependence they had on their ships for life
Wetting Down a commission
In the old Navy, an officer's commission was hand-written
on heavy parchment. According to some sources, the newly commissioned
or promoted officer held a dinner for his shipmates and friends.
During the course of the evening, the new commission was rolled
into a cone, the small end folded up to form a cup. This paper
cup was passed around the table for all the guests to toast the
new officer. Thus, the new commission was "wetted down."
Considering the importance of the document, however, this interpretation
may be doubtful. Commissions in the early U.S. Navy were signed
and issued by the President and were of great legal and personal
According to other
sources, the wetting down party was once quite a rough and tumble
affair. It was the custom for the officer to wear his new uniform
or stripes for the first time at the wetting down. The guests
would then proceed to christen the uniform, the occupant, and
the commission with whatever liquid refreshment (paid for by the
victim) was available. Over the years, however, Navy life has
became more calm, the price of gold braid has skyrocketed and
a literal christening is not usually condoned. It might even be
considered downright unsociable.
Who shines the ship's bell
An old Navy tradition has it that the ship's cook shines the
ship's bell and the ship's bugler shines the ship's whistle. This
tradition may still be observed in some of the ships of the modern
Navy. However, in normal practice, the ship's bell is maintained
by a man of the ships' division charged with the upkeep of that
part of the ship where the bell is located.
Dining In/Dining Out
Need More Information? - Check the Facts and Traditions: Bibliography