Crossing the Line Ceremony … a Sailor’s Adventure

Many travelers cross the equator when traveling to the Southern Hemisphere. But Crossing the Line Ceremony on a Navy warship is a very different experience.

Dating back centuries, sailors initiated their shipmates in the ancient practice of crossing the line (the equator) at sea. Those who were previously initiated themselves are called Shellbacks, those not initiated are pollywogs.

When crossing the line, a sailor is entering Neptune’s kingdom and must pass certain tests to be allowed entry. Now everyone on a navy ship regardless of rank will go through this initiation, up to and including Captains and even President Roosevelt participated in one on board the USS Indianapolis. Of course, the officers are typically spared the brutal hazing that accompanies the crossing.

I crossed the line on October 20, 1980, and back then the ceremony was little changed from WWII. meaning 24 hours of brutal hazings, beatings with salted firehouses (Shillelaghs) and crawling through slime, garbage and other sailor’s vomit, all on a rough steel deck that ripped up your skin.

Finally at the end, you are presented to King Neptune and accepted into his realm.

I have purposely left out a lot of details (as this is supposed to be a secret society) but also today’s Navy does it much different than in the WW2 to post-Vietnam era , of which I served.

Crossing the line ceremony USS Niagara Falls: 1980

I did this! And got the certificate!

my Shellback certificate

The following deployment in 1982, when I was a Shellback, I also participated in the ceremony, but this time as a trusted Shellback and not a slimy pollywog.

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