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Crossing The Equator - King Neptune Ceremony

King Neptune Ceremony

This ceremony was performed when the ship crossed the equator. It was also called crossing the line. It was also an initiation rite commemorated the first time a sailor crossed over. This line-crossing lunacy was sanctioned to boost sailor’s spirits. But it was also authorised by Captains to entertain the passengers on merchant ships like the Ashmore. The crew were expected to become seasoned-sailors, capable of handling long periods of time with rough seas. 

Check out this week’s video at the bottom. You will see old military footage from an actual King Neptune Ceremony.

King Neptune Ceremony on board the Polish ship Chrzest Równikowy

Photo: Wikiwand

Honorable Shellbacks or Son’s of Neptune was the name given to a sailor who has already crossed the equator. Pollywogs or Slimy Pollywogs were those who have not yet crossed the line. The Royal Canadian Navy named them Tadpoles or Griffins.

The ceremony itself was based on the ‘Court of Neptune’, where Shellbacks inducted the Pollywoggers into the ‘mysteries of the deep’. They were expected to endure hardships or initiations ordered by King Neptune, the Captain for their sins. The event often lasted two days and normally followed a standard transition.

Pollywogs received subpoenas after crossing the equator and were made to appear before King Neptune and his court. King Neptune's First Mate was called Davy Jones and the Second Mate was called Her Highness Amphitrite. Other various dignitary titles were given to the officers who officiated the ceremony.

A beauty contest was held with one man from each department dressed up in women’s swimsuit drag. Interrogations were held by King Neptune and his entourage who used truth serum (aftershave and hot sauce), or whole uncooked eggs in the Pollywogger’s mouth.

They also were made to suffer embarrassing ordeals including:

  • Being swatted with a fire hose while on their hands and knees

  • Locked in stocks and pelted with mushy fruit

  • Locked in a salt-water coffin with a bright green die made of a fluorescent sodium salt

  • Crawling through long containers filled with rotten garbage.

  • Made to kiss an axle-greased ‘Royal Baby’s Belly’.

  • Had their heads shaved.

  • Anything else the Shellbacks could think of

The controlled order often turned to chaos if a Pollywog revolt began. The crew finally converted the Wogs after the endurance tests were accomplished, ending the ceremony with an affirmation of the new Shellbacks by way of a certificate declaring their new status.

The Golden Shellback was awarded to those who also crossed the equator and the International Date Line or 180th meridian, (where the world is divided between Eastern and Western Hemispheres) at the same time. Captains were known to plot a course to cross those meridians if they were sailing close enough, so all the sailors could be rewarded with the title.

The Greenwich Meridian didn't become the International standard until 1884, two years after the Ashmore crossed the equator. This ceremony is still practised onboard numerous ships today.

King Neptune Ceremony


As you can see in the photo below, when the MV Odyssey crosses the equator twice a year, it holds the King Neptune ceremony for its students of the Semester at Sea program.

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