Medical Officer's Guide to the Navy

Wardroom Etiquette

The wardroom originally was known as the Wardrobe Room, a place where officers kept their spare wearing apparel.  It was also the space where any loot secured from enemy ships was stored.  In an effort to have some privacy on a crowded ship, officers would sometimes take their meals in the Wardrobe Room.  Today, the wardroom aboard ship is where officers take their meals, relax, and socialize.

The ship’s wardroom is also the name given to the collective group of officers aboard the ship.

There are many traditions and unwritten rules associated with the wardroom.  When entering, take off your cover and definitely do not place it on the table.  Either infraction will cost you a round of drinks at the next port call for everyone who is in the wardroom at that time.  On a deployed carrier with over 150 officers, that can get expensive.

On a carrier, there are three different wardrooms (places to eat).  They are large and cafeteria-like in style.  On smaller ships, however, there are typically one or two tables, food is brought out to you, everyone sits down at the same time, and your place at the table is decided by rank.  Those with higher ranks sit nearer the head of the table.  The Captain and Admiral each have their own dining areas.  Occasionally, you may be invited to dine with one of them.

When sitting down to dinner on the carrier, it is customary to ask the most senior officer permission to join him/her.  On smaller ships, you must ask permission from the person at the head of the table.  Depending on the mood of that officer, you may be required to say why you are late or may even be required to dance a little jig.

You are financially responsible for meals onboard the ship.  At sea, you are charged a flat $7.10 / day regardless how much you eat (as of Aug 2005).  In port, however, you are only charged for the meals you eat.  The old navy adage applies: “take all you want, but eat what you take”.

There will be wardroom dues as well.  They are usually on the order of $5-10 per month.  They pay for flowers from the ship for births and deaths, gifts at hails and farewells, and help defray costs at wardroom functions off the ship.

The XO is in charge of the wardroom, and the XO’s wife is typically the point of contact for all wardroom spouses.  When checking in to the command, the XO will want contact information for your spouse.  This will allow his wife to pass on information regarding ship’s movement and local support group gatherings while you are at sea.

Keep conversation pointed towards non-controversial topics.  Typically sex, religion, and politics are not discussed at the wardroom table. 

Throughout the ship you may notice certain areas where traffic is limited to official business only.  This really means to only pass through those areas when necessary.  You may be on a ship that has an admiral and staff embarked.  There will be areas marked with stars as "admiral's country", or "official business only".  The messages on those signs should be heeded...

Leave and Liberty

Leave is a navy right guaranteed by law.  You earn 2.5 days of leave per month.  When taking leave, you must submit a chit with requested dates, contact information, and mode of travel.  Each day you are away from work counts as a day of leave (even weekends).  For example:

Begin leave after work on Friday afternoon and return the following Wednesday morning would be charged as 4 days of leave (Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday).

Leave can be cancelled or denied if ship’s movement (getting underway) would be missed.  Leave cannot be denied at the whim of a supervising officer.  As an officer, you may recommend denying leave, however, the chit must be forwarded through the entire chain of command.  You must provide written reason to deny leave.  Here is a link to an excerpt from the MILPERSMAN (Article 1050-090) that can guide you guidance on how leave is computed.

Liberty, on the other hand, is controlled by the ship.  Liberty is given at the end of each work day, over the weekend, and in foreign ports.  When entering a port (home or overseas), to prevent mass confusion and hysteria, liberty is usually granted by pay grades.  Liberty can be restricted at the discretion of the commanding officer.  Places where you can go while on liberty can also be restricted.  In foreign ports, limitations may be placed on how big your group can be. 

Leave and other policies, rules, and practices for administration of personnel within the navy are governed by the Naval Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN).  This link will take you to the Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS) website where the entre MILPERSMAN is contained.  As you'd imagine, it is a large document, so the table of contents may take a while to load.  Incidentally, you will find more information regarding leave policies under Article 1050.