How to Incorporate Navy Tradition into Meaningful Gifts

The United States Navy isn’t just a branch of the military; it’s a living, breathing testament to centuries of maritime history and tradition. From its earliest origins as a fledgling fleet defending a young nation to its current status as a global naval powerhouse, the Navy’s journey is woven with stories of bravery, sacrifice, and honor.

When it comes to honoring those who serve or have served, tapping into this cultural heritage and Navy tradition can make for a truly meaningful gift. Recognizing the significance of Navy tradition and culture can bridge the gap between past and present, connecting sailors old and new in a shared legacy of service.

In this blog, we dive into Navy tradition, exploring some of the sayings, customs, and symbols that show up throughout Navy culture, as well as some ideas for incorporating this Navy tradition into meaningful gifts for Navy service members or gifts for Navy veterans. 

What’s the Navy’s motto?

The United States Navy doesn’t have an official motto in the traditional sense, but a phrase often cited as its guiding principle is “Non sibi sed patriae,” meaning “Not self but country.” This expression encapsulates the ethos of the Navy, emphasizing selflessness and dedication to serving the nation above all else. It reflects the core values and mission of the Navy, highlighting the profound commitment of sailors to their country and its defense.

Acting as a sort of pledge of allegiance, the Navy Sailor’s Creed reminds sailors of who they are, why they serve, and what they stand for. It serves as a guiding principle for sailors and underscores their commitment to duty, honor, and service.

“I am a United States Sailor.

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America

and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me.

I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me

to defend freedom and democracy around the world.

I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment.

I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.”

Anchors Aweigh, the unofficial song of the US Navy, also speaks to these values, extolling the virtues of faith, courage, and service. It reminds sailors of their duty to uphold honor above all else, echoing the sentiment that service to country is paramount on the seven seas and beyond.

Navy Song “Anchors Away” Lyrics:

“Blue of the mighty deep:

Gold of God’s great sun.

Let these our colors be

Till all of time be done, done, done, done.

On seven seas we learn

Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true,

With honor, over honor, over all.”

Incorporating lines of text from these cherished traditions into a custom gift can be a cool way to honor traditional values and remind recipients of their service. Whether a wooden plaque engraved with excerpts from the Sailor’s Creed or a personalized piece of artwork featuring lines from Anchors Aweigh, infusing these timeless words into a tangible keepsake honors the values behind their courage and provides a tangible connection to Navy tradition.  

What Are Some Common Navy Customs?

While every branch of the military boasts its own set of cherished rituals, Navy tradition is particularly strong with its roots in ancient maritime history and seafaring. Here are just a few of the many Navy customs still well known among Navy sailors today.

Shellback Ceremony

Though it’s an unofficial Navy tradition, the Shellback Ceremony remains an integral part of Navy tradition and culture, passed down through generations of sailors. The ceremony marks the crossing of the equator by sailors who are transitioning from being “pollywogs” (those who have not crossed the equator) to “shellbacks” (those who have). It’s a rite of passage that often involves various rituals, challenges, and festivities, fostering camaraderie among crew members. 

The Navy Bell

The Navy bell holds significant historical and current symbolism within the United States Navy. Used in various customs and ceremonies, the bell tolls during memorial services, commemorating fallen sailors and paying tribute to their sacrifices. Its practical function aboard Navy ships continues as well, with the bell signaling the passage of time through distinct patterns of ringing and marking important moments such as the end of a watch. Additionally, the bell plays a central role in commissioning, decommissioning, and change of command ceremonies, symbolizing the entry into service, farewell, and transfer of authority. 

Getting Inked

Tattoos, particularly with nautical themes, have been a longstanding Navy tradition with roots in old maritime culture. Sailors have been getting tattoos for centuries, often as a way to mark significant events, express their identity, or commemorate their service at sea. These tattoos typically feature images such as anchors, ships, swallows, mermaids, or other symbols associated with life at sea.

Navy tattoo traditions have historical roots dating back to the early days of sailing. Sailors would get tattoos as a sort of good luck charm to ward off harm. Additionally, tattoos served as a form of identification in the event of death or shipwreck.

While the specific designs and meanings of sailor tattoos may have evolved over time, the Navy tradition of tattooing remains prevalent today. Many sailors still choose to get inked with designs that reflect their naval service, personal experiences, and pride in their maritime heritage.

What Are Some Navy Symbols?

In the United States Navy, symbols hold significant meaning, ranging from rank insignia to emblems representing the Navy’s identity and mission. 

The official emblem of the United States Navy features an eagle atop an anchor encircled by a rope. This emblem symbolizes the Navy’s commitment to defending freedom and democracy, with the eagle representing the United States and the anchor signifying maritime tradition and stability. 

Beyond official insignia, many symbols hold personal significance for sailors and veterans, reflecting their experiences and traditions within the Navy. Symbols from the traditional sailor tattoo culture continue to hold special meaning, like the nautical star, a symbol of guidance and the hope of returning home safely. Many others represent a sailor’s naval travels, their role on the ship, or important milestones. Here are some of the most common symbols in Navy tradition:

Swallows: Symbolize the journey home or a safe return from sea. Sailors often got a Navy swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled.

Fouled Anchor: Represents a seaman who has crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Shellback Turtle: Signifies a sailor who has crossed the equator, likely having participated in the age-old Navy tradition—the Crossing the Line ceremony.

Gold Dragon: Symbolizes the crossing of the International Date Line.

Full-Rigged Ship: Commonly represents sailing around Cape Horn—a treacherous route known for its stormy waters and difficult conditions.

Dagger Through a Swallow: Represents a fallen comrade, with the dagger symbolizing loss and the swallow representing the soul of the deceased

Knot of Rope: Symbolizes a deckhand or someone who works in the rigging.

Dolphins: Often a symbol of the qualified submariner, symbolizing their initiation into the ancient mariner’s fraternity.

The Words “HOLD FAST”: A reminder to hold onto the rigging tightly during rough seas, symbolizing perseverance and steadfastness in the face of adversity.

What Are Some Famous Navy Sayings?

The Navy culture is steeped with its own unique sayings and phrases, passed down through generations of sailors. These expressions have deep historical roots and reflect the seafaring culture that has shaped Navy tradition over centuries. 

“Port and Starboard”

In the maritime world, clarity and precision are essential, even in language. Sailors refer to left as “port” and right as “starboard.” This Navy tradition stems from the early days of sailing when ships had a steering oar, or “steerboard,” on the right side. “Starboard” evolved from “steerboard” and “port” refers to the loading side of the ship. 

“Fair Winds and Following Seas”

One of the most popular sayings in Navy tradition is “Fair winds and following seas.” While it’s no longer used in everyday conversation, it remains a common phrase in ceremonies and other symbolic messaging. It embodies the wish for smooth sailing and favorable conditions in life’s journeys. 

“Anchors Aweigh”

“Anchors Aweigh” is more than just a song; it’s a rallying cry for sailors embarking on new adventures. Originally a call to raise the anchor and set sail, it now represents overcoming obstacles, embracing change, and embracing the unknown with courage and determination.

These Navy sayings tend to hold pretty significant meaning for sailors, and they can make a great complement to any personalized gift—from an engraved compass to a Navy coin

Meaningful US Navy Gifts: Incorporating Navy Tradition Into Gifts

At Navy Paddles—a veteran-owned small business—we take pride in handcrafting mementos that symbolize and honor individuals’ time in the Navy. Each of our custom Navy gifts is crafted to capture the essence of Navy tradition and personal sacrifice. Our creations offer the perfect opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the dedication and service of our brave troops. 

Here are some specific gift ideas:

Wooden Plaques: Our wooden plaques offer a timeless way to honor naval service. Engrave the recipients name, naval rank, and symbols or phraseology like a Sailor’s Creed excerpt, a Navy song lyric, or famous Navy saying that reflects the individual’s role in the Navy. 

Wooden Paddles: Wooden paddles are not only decorative but also symbolic of naval tradition. Each paddle is crafted with care and can be customized with engravings, symbols, and insignia personal to the recipient. Consider wrapping the paddle with knots to signify rigging or adding a dolphin engraving to commemorate their service as a submariner, adding a special touch that speaks to their individual experiences and achievements.

Coins: Challenge coins hold significant meaning in the Navy, symbolizing honor and appreciation. Customize challenge coins with engravings of significance, such as the iconic “Anchors Aweigh” or values of the Navy like “Honor, Courage, and Commitment.” These coins serve as tangible reminders of camaraderie and shared values among Navy personnel, making them cherished keepsakes for those who have served.

Engraved Text Plates & Picture Plates: Engraved text plates and picture plates offer versatile options for customization. Whether it’s a heartfelt message, a significant date, or a memorable quote, these plates provide a great way to personalize Naval gifts. Consider engraving them with naval insignia, ship names, or scenes from naval life to create a meaningful and visually appealing tribute to their service.

At Navy Paddles, we understand the importance of personalization when it comes to honoring military service. That’s why our range of custom gifts provides the perfect opportunity for you to tailor your memento exactly how you envision it. 

Whether you’re seeking gifts for Navy retirement, a change in command, or going away, our craftsmen work closely with you to create a personalized gift that reflects the unique sailor. From choosing the perfect wood finish to selecting the ideal engraving or design, our custom gifts allow for a truly unique and meaningful representation of your recipient’s time in the Navy.

By integrating Navy tradition into personalized gifts, you’re not just giving presents; you’re sharing in the pride and camaraderie that define Navy life.

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