August 11, 2019

Naval Weddings

The military world has built up a number of traditions around weddings, just as it has for most other areas of life. For some reason, these are shared between nautical and non-nautical branches, with minimal differences between the two. Despite this, it's still an area worth taking a look at.

For reasons that I do not understand, finding free pictures of military weddings is borderline impossible. Instead, please accept this picture of Iowa from exercise Northern Wedding 86.1

Traditionally, members of the military are married in dress uniform, although this isn't an absolute requirement, and this is an area of protocol which has seen significant development in the last few decades. In more and more cases, the servicemember getting married is the bride instead of (or in addition to) the groom. Some choose to get married in uniform, while others wear a traditional wedding dress.

This is technically a saber arch for an Army officer, not a sword arch for a naval officer. I tried.

The most iconic feature of a military wedding is the sword arch immediately after the ceremony. This is formed by personnel in dress uniforms and gloves,2 who can be from any combination of service, participation in the wedding party, and duty status. However, participants in the arch who are also members of the wedding party don't need to be balanced in the traditional manner. After the ceremony concludes, the bride and groom find somewhere to hide while everyone else leaves the chapel to observe the arch.

A USN officer getting married, because I actually found a photo of that.

Once everyone is outside, the couple is announced, and the arch party raise and cross their swords. The couple then walk under them, and are the only people allowed to do so. Many couples where only one member is in the military perform the so-called "Welcome Swat". In this, before the couple exit, the two arch attendants at the exit cross their swords at waist level, and one on the side of the civilian newlywed half swats her (or his) bottom and says "Welcome to the Navy"3 as a pledge of loyalty by the service. The couple then usually share a kiss before exiting the arch. The arch party return their swords to their scabbards, making sure to seat them in unison.

No, this is not the approved technique. But at least the man is actually a (British) naval officer.

Another interesting tradition is the use of a sword to cut the cake at the reception. The bride is on the left, and the groom presents her with the hilt of the sword over his left arm, cutting edge away from his body. She takes the sword, and he places his right hand over hers, with his left arm around her. The recommended method is to cut a corner or a small slice with a single stroke, instead of trying to cut a wedge. The sword is then handed off to be cleaned, and often used as part of the cake display. It's vital that the sword not be resheathed before cleaning, and for that reason, it's recommended not to bring the scabbard into the reception.

The ships that will decorate the wedding. I'll explain how I used them on Friday.

At this point you might be wondering why I suddenly decided to cover this topic. The reasoning is simple. About six hours after this post goes up, Lord Nelson and I are getting married. Because neither of us is actually military, we won't be using any of these traditions. But I did come up with some naval decorations for the reception, which I'll talk more about elsewhere.4

Some pictures from the wedding can be found here.

1 Yes, this was high on a page of search results, which shows just how bad the pickings were.

2 According to my main source for this post, the rather...interesting book Service Etiquette, handling a dress sword while ungloved is some kind of mortal sin. It has lots of interesting details, including loads of exceptions to rules I didn't realize existed in the first place.

3 Or other, inferior, branch as appropriate.

4 No, I haven't gone crazy. There were some interesting technical aspects to the work.


  1. August 11, 2019Alsadius said...


  2. August 11, 2019Alexander said...

    Have a great day!

  3. August 11, 2019DampOctopus said...

    Congratulations, to both of you!

  4. August 11, 2019beleester said...


  5. August 11, 2019Neal said...

    Congratulations Bean. To a long and prosperous marriage!

  6. August 11, 2019CatCube said...


  7. August 11, 2019Mike Kozlowski said...


  8. August 11, 2019Eltargrim said...


  9. August 11, 2019quanticle said...

    Congratulations! May your seas be calm and your ship be weatherly.

  10. August 11, 2019bean said...

    Thank you, everyone. Things went well.

  11. August 11, 2019David W said...


  12. August 11, 2019Directrix Gazer said...


  13. August 12, 2019ryan8518 said...

    Congrats on the growing size of your crew,

    Note the sword arch practice is not universally loved among naval brides, as my mother will never let the overzealous young officer who delivered her welcome swat live down the fact that he cut off hook holding up her train (and you forgot the part about how naval officers long trained in avoiding the strictures of a dry ship creatively sneak bourbon into Baptist churches)

  14. August 12, 2019doctorpat said...


    I'll add that my Italian fencing instructor also regarded it as a heinous offense to ever handle the fencing swords without wearing white cotton gloves (or the protective fencing gloves, where you are wearing the white cotton gloves underneath anyway).

  15. August 12, 2019Manly Reading said...

    Congratulations Bean and Lord Nelson!

  16. August 12, 2019Chuck said...

    Congratulations! May your life together be a long and wondrous adventure!

  17. August 12, 2019Alex said...


  18. August 12, 2019ADifferentAnonymous said...


    "The measure may be thought bold, but I am of the opinion the boldest are the safest."

  19. August 12, 2019Tim Shatz said...

    Good luck to both of you!

  20. August 13, 2019bean said...


    Unfortunately, one of the limits of working from official books is that they rarely give details like officers sneaking alcohol into Baptist churches. If you have suggestions for other places to read, I'd be happy to do so.

  21. August 13, 2019Inky said...

    Yay, congratulations! I ship you two!

  22. August 14, 2019John Schilling said...

    Congratulations even if there wasn't a battleship involved; looking forward to Friday's post

  23. August 15, 2019Eric Rall said...


  24. November 20, 2019Belushi TD said...

    Belated happy wishes for a wonderful wedding and a long and happy life.

    "May you live as long as you like, and love as long as you live.

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