Shipboard Pranks

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Image of a buoy out in the middle of the ocean with a Mail bag attached to it and a naval vessel nearby with a lookout peering through binoculars to illustrate the shipboard prank Mail Buoy watch.

Shipboard Pranks:  Mail Buoys, Sea Bats, Water Line, and Monkey Shit

I learned a lot of new things during my time aboard ship.

A Westpac cruise is filled with all sorts of fascinating opportunities to view the world and learn about new cultures. Including shipboard culture.

It also provide opportunity to see the ocean lots of ocean sometimes nothing but ocean for days at a time. During these long stretches at sea sailors tend to make their own fun. This includes a kind of hazing that involves pranking. Not like being in a college frat hazing, just some let’s go mess with some of the noobs fun and games.

There are some imaginative pranks played aboard ship. Some have been around so long, they’re practically tradition.

Here are just a few of the shipboard pranks I saw during my tour:


Mail Buoy Watch

Imagine first time on a naval ship and you’re on your first cruise.  When someone tells you that it’s important for us to not miss the mail buoy because it’s the only way we get our mail while out at sea. Not only that, but it’s your turn to stand Mail Buoy watch. It’s an extremely important duty. You’re handed a life jacket, a hardhat, a pair of binoculars, and a gaffe (a four foot pole with a hook on the end of it).

You’re assigned to stand at the prow of the ship (which in the case of the USS Jason, was about four stories above the waterline) where you are to stay for the next four hours and watch for the mail buoy. If you spot it, you are to shout out “Mail Buoy ahoy!” and prepare to hook the mail bag off the buoy.

The rest of the crew would wait to see how long it took for you to realize that hook was not long enough to reach anything.

Some people stood the entire watch.


Rare Sea Bat

 A message is piped over the shops comm that a rare and unusual sea bat has been captured on the boat deck. When you arrive, a cardboard box is sitting upside down on the boat deck. Standing by is a sailor with a broom, keeping watch. He tells you that anyone who wants should feel free to bend down and lift the edge of the box and view the rare beast underneath. But be careful not to let the creature escape.

Crewmembers gather around and watch as a sailor bends down and reaches for the box, gently lifting the corner, only to be smacked on the ass with the broom.

You would think this would be a clue, but I watched in amazement as one sailor tried three times to look at the bat, becoming more and more annoyed each time they were smacked with a broom, until, that third time, no one could stop laughing and they finally got it.


BT Punch

 This one is likely no longer allowed. TBH-this one would have caught me had I not watched someone else fall prey to it aboard the Jason during my assignment, who was told to go down to the tool locker and requisition a BT punch and not to come back without it.

Apparently, he had to be quite insistent as the sailor manning the locker kept stating that he did not believe he really wanted a BT punch. Finally, he got his BT punch and came back rather unhappy and with a sore shoulder.

 FYI- the tool locker on the ship was always manned by Boiler Technicians.


 Water Line (Relative Bearing Grease, Bucket of Steam)

 Noobs could be sent after sorts of fun things. These included things like relative bearing grease, a bucket of steam, an electron counter if you worked in the ET space, or even 50 feet of waterline.

I watched sailors one after another fall for these pranks. As a life-long word nerd, I found it amusing to see how many of them didn’t immediately catch on.

One day, my division chief told me to go get a container of monkey shit. assuming it was my turn in the barrel, I laughed, shook my head and said, “Nice, try, Chief.”

Imagine my surprise when I was accused of laughing at a superior, refusing a direct order,  and threatened with being written up for insubordination.

That’s the day I found out that the putty used to seal small holes around cables as they pass through the bulkhead was commonly referred to as Monkey Shit.

Yes, it was my turn in the barrel, but they came at me from a completely surprising direction.


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