Dear Straight Dope:
I am curious about what I assume is a naval tradition. In movies spanning more then 30 years I have seen U.S. Navy personnel saluting as they board and disembark submarines. It appears that they are saluting the American flag (big assumption on my part) since there isn't always another individual standing in the direction they are saluting, just the flag. Is this a tradition and if so how and why was it started? Or am I just spending too much time watching the details of movies involving submarines?
Ah! An easy one!
Today’s custom in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard is that upon boarding the vessel, the boarder first salutes the National Ensign (the flag) if it’s aloft and then the Officer of the Day or Junior Officer of the Day (whichever happens to be standing watch on the brow at the moment). The OOD/JOOD “returns” both salutes. The procedure upon leaving the vessel is reversed: first salute the OOD/JOOD and then the National Ensign (if it’s aloft). Again, the OOD/JOOD returns both salutes.
This procedure is contained (Monty thinks) in “U.S. Navy Regulations,” which are available online from http://www.bupers.navy.mil. To view them you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free download from the same site. How it all got started we dunno, but the purpose is pretty obvious. One of the jobs of the OOD/JOOD is to control access to the vessel. The ritual makes sure he gets a good look at everyone who wants to come aboard, and adds a snappy nautical touch besides.
Almost forgot. After you salute when boarding you say, “Permission to come aboard, sir?” When debarking a ship after a cruise, one salutes the flag and the Officer of the Day and says, “Get outta my way, sir!”
SDSTAFF Jeff and
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