Maritime Ceremonial


Imagine that you are invited to attend a ceremony or a reception aboard of a Navy Ship alongside a port of your country or place where you are living. As you might notice, Navies around the world tend to be very conservative regarding their traditions. One of these is the Maritime Ceremonial. Therefore, when you arrive to the beginning of the ship’s gangway what to expect from the ship’s sailors?

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Independently of your protocol precedence, the sailors who usually stand near by the entrance of the ship’s gangway will salute you. Just reply with a Good afternoon or Good evening. They are doing their job and receiving the guests the way Navies do, with respect.

When walking through the gangway two situations can occur. Firstly, you might be entering the ship before the sunset; therefore the ship’s colours are up. In this case, you should stop half way through the gangway, turn towards the back of the ship, that we call a rear of the ship, and salute the National Flag with a bow. These are the Portuguese Navy standards. In other Navies you just salute the ship before entering it. Secondly, if you are entering the ship after the sunset, the ship’s colours will be all down, so you just cross the gangway and enter the ship.

If you are a guest entitled to military honours, namely an Ambassador, you might hear some members of the crew whistling while you are crossing the gangway. Keep crossing the gangway and when having arrived to the top, just wait for the whistling to stop.

As there is a ceremony or a reception aboard, you will be received by the Commanding Officer of the ship, the duty party and, depending on the situation, the Defence or Naval Attaché. Sometimes, even the ship’s country Ambassador will stand near the Commanding Officer to receive the high dignitaries that have been invited to attend the reception or ceremony.

To leave the ship, after the closing of the event or during its duration, the procedure is followed in reverse. Therefore, if you are leaving before the sunset, keep in mind to salute the National Flag, which is hoisted at the rear of the ship or at the main mast. I would like to underline once again, that these are Portuguese Navy standards. The sailors will be there to salute you after you cross the gangway, this way they are both greeting and saying farewell to the guests.

Of course I could elaborate on this issue further, but I really believe this is a good start, because the most important moment of the Maritime Ceremonial for a civilian, army or air force guest is, in fact, entering and leaving the ship’s gangway.

*About the author

José Lucena is a Portuguese Navy Officer, with the rank of Commander. His present post is Protocol Adviser to the Chief of General Staff of Portuguese Armed Forces. Since 2010 his tasks have been related to protocol, diplomacy (Defence Attachés) and Military Ceremonies.


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