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5 of the rarest unofficial US Navy ‘certificates’

Sailors are often inducted into an unofficial 'order' and, with that order, typically comes eligibility for a Navy certificate. Who doesn't want to be a shellback?
Eric Milzarski Avatar
shellback certificate
A golden shellback certification for Sailors aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). Pacific Partnership is in its tenth iteration and is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy Illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark El-Rayes/ Released)

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, or Navy certificates. 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 5 unofficial Navy ‘certificates’ for the seasoned sailor.

1. Shellback certificate

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 at or near 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.

The shellback certificate is presented in an official ceremony

shellback tattoo navy certificates
So, if you see a Shellback tattoo, it is either a Navy certificate or they just really like turtles. (Image via Imgur)

2. Order of the Sparrow

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.

order of the sparrow
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)

3. Order of Magellan

This order goes out to every sailor that completes what Ferdinand Magellan couldn’t well, alive anyways, 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.

order of magellan navy certificates

4. Order of the Square Rigger

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, USS Constitution, and one in the Coast Guard, USCGC Eagle. Serving on either of those ships requires you to be the best of the best at looking pretty for tourists.

square rigger navy certificates
Still the only active ship that sank another enemy ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Rooney)

5. Double Centurions

While the Century Club exists for pilots who’ve made their 100th carrier landing or flown through hurricane winds over 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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