5 of the Rarest Unofficial US Navy ‘Certificates’

Line-crossing ceremony
Line-crossing ceremony (Wikimedia Commons)

The Navy has plenty of interesting and unique milestones for its sailors to strive for. Though they never appear on official paperwork and not all of them have ceremonies, they’re a fun bragging-rights challenge that sailors can use to flex on the uninitiated (aka "pollywogs").

By accomplishing one of several feats, sailors are inducted into an unofficial "order" and, with that order, typically comes eligibility for a specific tattoo. While not every order is represented by a tattoo, sailors with these markings are either full of sh*t or are undeniably badass.

Check out these five unofficial Navy "certificates" for the seasoned sailor.

5. Shellback Variations

shellback turtle tattoo
So, if you see a Shellback tattoo, they’re either a Navy vet or they just really like turtles. (Wikimedia Commons)

The shellback is simple enough: A sailor on official duty “crosses the line” of the equator. A golden shellback is more impressive; it means they’ve crossed the International Date Line. Even rarer, crossing at the Prime Meridian grants you access into the Order of the Emerald Shellback.

There is also the ebony shellback for crossing the equator at Lake Victoria (which is almost entirely in Ugandan waters) and a top-secret shellback for submariners who cross the equator at a “classified” degree of longitude.

4. Order of the Sparrow

Jack Sparrow tattoo
Not to be confused with a swallow tattoo for every 5k nautical miles … or the Disney Pirate. (Image from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean)

To be initiated into this order, one must sail the seven seas. While the ancients had a different idea and classification of the term “seven seas,” it is used in context of sailing the seven largest bodies of water. They are the four oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Indian), the Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Checking a few off a sailor’s list isn’t hard; stay in long enough, and you’ll get them. The challenge is getting on a voyage that goes through the last one you need.

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3. Order of Magellan

Magellan map
Nao Victoria, the ship accomplishing the circumnavigation and the only to return from the expedition. (Detail from a map by Abraham Ortelius/Wikimedia)

This order goes out to every sailor that completes what Ferdinand Magellan couldn’t, circumnavigating the world.

The Navy doesn’t really care or recognize fun ceremonies like these. They typically have a mission to set out, so we go from point A to point B efficiently. There is some leeway for morale purposes, which is why most ship captains don’t mind taking some time out to go through the “Golden X.” Circumnavigating the world, on the other hand, requires a specific mission to do so.

2. Order of the Square Rigger

USS Constitution

Square riggers just need to serve on a ship with square rigs.

Sounds simple enough — until you realize there’s only two left in the entire armed forces. One in the Navy, the USS Constitution, and one in the Coast Guard, the USCGC Eagle. Serving on either of those ships requires you to be the best of the best.

1. Double Centurions

While the Century Club exists for pilots who’ve made their 100th carrier landing or flown through hurricane winds in excess of 100 mph, you’ll need to double it to get into the Double Centurions.

It’ll take a long time to reach that number, and hurricane hunters usually aren’t willing to fly in CAT 5 winds that could shred their aircraft in seconds.

Usually …

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