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Passing honors are rendered by ships and boats when vessels, embarked officials, or embarked officers pass (or are passed) close aboard, usually 600 yards for ships and 400 yards for boats.  The junior ship renders honors to the senior ship.  Seniority is based on the rank (actually the lineal number) of the Commanding Officer or any embarked commander.  The U.S. Navy will always return honors, but will not render them to foreign naval vessels unless there is an associated command relationship (NATO commands are common).

Such honors are exchanged between ships of the U.S. Navy, between ships of the Navy and the Coast Guard, and between U.S. and most foreign navy ships passing close aboard.  While it seems simple, it takes care to prepare in advance and do everything correctly.  Ships generally prepare by learning which vessels are in the vicinity and creating a seniority list for use on the Bridge.  This simplifies things for the Officer of the Deck (OOD).  There are numerous possible scenarios, but I will describe some of the most common from the point of view of the junior vessel.

  1. The Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) or OOD takes station on the Bridge Wing on the side the senior ship is on.  With the JOOD on the Bridge Wing, the OOD makes sure things go smoothly and informs the Commanding Officer.
  2. The Boatswain's Mate of the Watch (BMOW) takes station at the general announcing system (1MC) microphone with a whistle.
  3. The JOOD signals the BMOW (we used finger signals with our left hand at the small of the back) to sound "Attention" with the whistle on the 1MC (one blast for attention to starboard and two blasts for attention to port).
  4. People on deck should then fall into ranks on the engaged side of the ship.
  5. As the ships near their closest approach point (this takes some experience and judgment to get the timing right), the JOOD signals “hand salute” to the BMOW who blows one whistle blast.  The JOOD salutes from the Bridge Wing.
  6. At this point, the junior ship follows the cues from the senior ship.  The senior ship should also signal hand salute.
  7. The ships should then pass their closest point together with everyone topside (not in ranks) holding their salute.
  8. The senior ship then blows two whistle blasts to signal “Ready, Two“ for everyone to drop their salute.  The junior ship mirrors the two whistle blasts.
  9. As the distance increases, the senior ship then blows three whistle blasts to signal “Carry On“ to let everyone continue with ship's work.  The junior ship mirrors the three whistle blasts.
  10. A successful JOOD breathes a sigh of relief.

If a merchant ship renders honors to a warship, they do so by dipping their ensign.  The warship mirrors the dip, but never dips first.

Posted on Sunday, August 7, 2005 5:31 PM Day Job | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: Passing Honors

# re: Nautical Terminology: Passing Honors
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Wow, what memories.

I remember this but being a weps guy I was usually below decks in CIC. I remember when I first stood OOD inport I had trouble remembering my bells and pennants. I can't imagine trying to remember all of that. Of course, like OOD duties inport you get used to it. I know there are quite a few people working together to make it smooth.

I remember the fuss that went on when it got screwed up too.
Left by Eric Hammersley on Aug 07, 2005 6:21 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Passing Honors
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> I remember the fuss that went on when it got screwed up too.

So do I. From that pain, you learn and teach others the tricks to make it easier, like the finger signals.
Left by Mark on Aug 07, 2005 6:25 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Passing Honors
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Yep, thank God I just had to worry about making things go BOOM! :-) Seemed pretty easy sometimes in comparison.
Left by Eric Hammersley on Aug 07, 2005 6:48 PM

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