There are serious ones, humorous ones and unusual ones. But any Sailor worth their salt will never rest until they have a scrapbook full of them.

They are the unofficial certificates that document where a Sailor has been, what they have done, and most importantly, what they are – a Shellback or a Blue Nose or a Mossback or a Double Centurion. Or even a Goldfish or Sea Squatter.

On any noteworthy occasion – and perhaps on some that might be otherwise forgotten – somebody in the crew is sure to spend hours at a drawing board to create a memorable certificate, replete with salty language, drawings of mermaids and Tritons and anchors and chains, and the signature of Neptunus Rex or some other high potentate, And forever after, the crew of that ship will treasure their copies as they treasure their rating badges.

Nowadays it’s all in fun and without official recognition. But mariners of earlier years, when it all began, were in earnest. As all sailors knew well, Neptune, god of the sea, was fickle. He played an important role in ancient rituals just as he does in today’s initiations into the Orders of the Deep. At his slightest whim, Neptune, it was believed, might throw a storm into the path of a ship that would splinter her oars and spars like matchwood, or cast her onto the rocky coast.

The superstitions of the sea provided for ways to stay out of that kind of trouble. In the earliest days, oxen and goats might be sacrificed to make the old man of the sea more favorably disposed. He could, under proper circumstances, become downright protective and benevolent….

Below are some examples of the UNOFFICIAL certificates bestowed on Sailors throughout the years. I’ve included a text version as well.

TO ALL SAILORS WHEREVER YE MAY BE and to all Mermaids, Sea Serpents, Whales, Sharks, Dolphins, Skates, Suckers, Lobsters, Crabs, and other Living Things of the Sea, GREETINGS:

KNOW YE: That on this ……., day of ………. 19…… in Latitude 000º 00′ and Longitude ……………….., there appeared within Our Royal Domain the ……………….., bound for ……………….. .

BE IT REMEMBERED: That said Vessel, Officers and Crew thereof having been inspected and passed on by Yourself and Our Royal Staff,

AND BE IT KNOWN: By all ye Sailors, Mariners and Land Lubbers, who may be honored by his presence, that

Seaman W, T. Door, USN, having been found worthy to be numbered as ONE OF OUR TRUSTY SHELLBACKS, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP.

BE IT FURTHER UNDERSTOOD: That by virtue of the power invested in me I hereby command my subject to show due honor and respect to him whenever he may enter Our Realm.

DISOBEY THIS ORDER UNDER PENALTY OF OUR ROYAL DISPLEASURE.

Neptunus Rex

Ruler of the Raging Main

For a more in depth look into the traditions and superstitions that have been as much a part of a Sailors life as swabbing the deck and ports of call, click here.  Enjoy! 

Images of certificates can be found here and the paintings of Sailors are right here. The Sailors we painted by Fred Calleri – Eisenhauer Gallery of Edgartown, MA