Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Before I went to work on offshore supply boats in the Gulf of Mexico, I called up a former captain of mine that had worked for the same company to ask him what I should wear at work. He told me to bring normal work clothes, like Dickies or something similar, and steel-toed shoes. I made a quick trip to the army/navy surplus store and stocked up, stuffed by brand new clothes and shoes into my sea bag (this is back before I saw the light of luggage on wheels), and headed off for Louisiana. When I turned to for my first watch wearing my stiff khaki work clothes, I saw that I was bit overdressed; t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers were the uniform of the day. Many of my fellow ABs didn't even wear socks. The only thing anyone ever required us to wear: hard hats and life vests, when the work required it.

My experience in the Gulf was very different than what I saw in the small passenger industry. Passenger vessel crews may be the last ones to wear the old-style merchant marine uniforms like you see me and Capt. Norway wearing above. These uniforms are similar to military uniforms, are are indeed based on navy usage. What you see pictured above is the standard uniform: navy or black pants, white shirt and navy or black tie. I was chief mate at the time of this photo, so my shoulder boards, or epaulets, have three stripes (the captain has four) and the "fouled anchor" insignia indicating the deck department. On American vessels, the engineers would have a propeller insignia and the stewards department crossed quills. On some vessels, including many foreign flagged yachts, the interior crew will have a "crescent moon" insignia in silver or grey instead of gold. The hat, or "cover," has the merchant marine insignia on the brim, and a vessel captain may have the gold-trim "scrambled eggs" on the brim.

Non-officer crew members, and even officers on many private yachts and some small commercial passenger vessels, may simply wear a "day uniform" consisting of a polo shirt and matching or complimentary pants or shorts. On a private yacht, bare feet may be required to protect the deck and carpeting on the vessel. Engineers may wear simply coveralls or a black uniform with the proper insignia.

Uniforms for women. While many vessels require the same uniform for men and women, on some the women may wear women's blouses, skirts, and the "combination hat" worn by women in the military. The private yacht industry is turning to a more "modern" look for women especially, with more form fitting shirts, skirts, and "skorts."


  1. Do you think wearing uniforms creates a more professional atmosphere at sea? Do more comfortable, casual clothes create a looser environment and less attentiveness to detail? I'm curious as to your thoughts on that.

    1. Yes ! I wore them while working OSV vessels, passenger and river tugs on the miss. I am going to wear it at my daughter`s wedding. If you earned it, wear it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I agree, Time and effort got you the rank so be proud. I earned mine and wear it to formal affairs

  2. Cold is the Sea: I once saw the crew of a megayacht standing on the dock in Juneau, Alaska waiting for a tender. They were dressed in shorts and bare feet with temps in the 40s and rain coming down hard. They were in the uniform of a professional yacht crew, but looked ridiculous in that environment. A uniform should be appropriate for the environment the vessel is operating in and the crew member is working in. It should also be functional and, most importantly, safe. On passenger vessels, uniforms denote authority of the crew and are cues to the passengers when receiving instructions during an emergency. I don't think comfortable, casual clothes in and of themselves create a looser environment, but I do think having a dress code of any sort can create that environment if it's not enforced by management. In that way, it's like any standard.

  3. TECHNICAL QUESTION: I am a photographer working on a series of images that will comprise a 'story.' Essentially a "movie" made up of still pictures. Part of the 'plot' involves a large container ship navigating through a stormy night. I am planning on showing the captain, on the bridge, illuminated by the glow of the navigation equipment screens. Initially I was going to have him dressed in the traditional uniform shown on your blog - to make it clear to viewers that he is the ship's Master. But now I must ask if this is accurate..? Would the captain of a large merchant ship wear the tradtional jacket and epaulets nowadays? Or is it going to immediately tell viewers (especially those in-the-know) that I went for 'stereotype' instead of doing my homework?

    I had Google-searched the topic and found that many of the images showed tradtional as well as "polo shirt and khaki's" look, so I was not sure what would be more accurate...

    Many thanks for your technical help with this!

  4. First of all, the uniform shown in the blog, i.e., black slacks and necktie, white "pilot" shirt with epaulettes and a black, zipper-front jacket with epaulettes, isn't really traditional. It's much more modern. Since the latter part of the 19th Century, the traditional service dress blue uniform for officers of most of the navies and merchant maritime services of the world differs in outward appearance in that that zipper-front jacket is replaced by a black, double-breasted jacket (called a "blouse") with gold buttons. Instead of epaulettes, it will have gold braid rank stripes and gold bullion embroidered corps insignia on the sleeve cuffs. The rank stripes for merchant mariners are typically master-4, chief mate-3, second mate-2 and third mate-1. The corps insignia vary somehwat, but for merchant maritime services, they are typically a fouled anchor for deck officers (inclluding the master/captain and mates), a propeller (engineering) and a crescent moon for the steward's department. US Naval rank stripes are 4-captain, 3-commander, 2-1/2-lietenant commander, 2-lieutenant, 1-1/2-lieutenant junior grade (US), and 1-ensign. They denote rank vs. billet. Most Naval uniform corps insignia are a little different too. For line officers (deck and engineering) it's typically a five-pointed star (e.g., US) or a round (UK) or diamond foil or loop in the first (upper) sleeve stripe. Sometimes, navies that use the foil, will use a "trefoil" (three loops) in the upper stripe for line officers of flag rank (commodores and admirals) whose lower stripe is of double with. For naval staff corps officers, there are typically special insignia for doctors, dentists, nurses, medical service corps (US), lawyers (JAG-US), civil engineers (US), supply officers, and chaplains (christian, jewish and muslim-US). The U.S. Coast Guard used to wear this same uniform, but with a gold shield instead of the star. The U.S. Public Health Service wears this uniform as well, and it has naval rank stripes, but with a special USPHS corps insignia.

  5. Patrick H. Yancey is an attorney consultant Maritime Lawyers in Houma with extensive familiarity and knowledge of the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise ships.With experience as both petroleum engineers and roustabouts we are cruise ship injury attorney Jones Act and Maritime lawyer and personal injury lawyer in Louisiana.Our total comprehension of the maritime industry allows us to provide unsurpassed representation to our clients.

  6. I have an interesting question to ask about shoulder boards and uniforms. When being a guest on a ship, is it allowable for the guest to also wear a uniform denoting rank? The reason why I ask is that I am a counselor at a camp program that works with disabled kids and adults and I create a cruise liner type atmosphere at the location by wearing old Captain uniforms from defunct cruise lines. We might be going on trips to visit various working ships in my area so I thought it would be appropriate for me to ask the question to prevent possible misunderstanding or disrespect toward ship crews as I am a fan of anything maritime and so are the clients that I work with. Are Captains or ship crews ok with guests being dressed in maritime uniforms too?

    1. You would be correct in assuming that wearing a command uniform of " any branch of seafaring service . Would be disrespectful. The military code of uniform dress, including the merchant marine fleet. Strictly forbids, the transfer, sale, or donation of service uniforms, to the general public, period complied uniform law 1020.3 E uniform dress code. Your welcome

    2. Your wearing of a uniform, more correctly a costume, at "camp" is one thing while wearing a uniform you have not earned or have a right to wear in public is unlawful, disrespectful and frankly strange. If you were to wear it aboard my vessel I would have you put ashore while alerting Homeland Security of an imposter in an unlawful uniform. Leave your costume at home.

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