As we hurtle towards the 50th Anniversary of Black Tot day, a lot of interest is focused on the British Royal Navy’s tradition of issuing a daily rum ration to its members.
One of the hallowed auxiliary traditions of the rum ration was the order of “Splice the Mainbrace”, called by an officer on the occasion of a momentous occasion. Perhaps a battle won, the coronation of a new sovereign, or whatever else deemed suitably important. Any excuse for an extra ration of rum to be served. The phrase’s history relates to a particular difficult task involving a ship’s rigging.
By the time the daily ration ended on July 31st, 1970, the British navy had naturally stopped making rum to supply their sailors. Much of the existing stock was sold off, and can still be tasted in rums like the Black Tot Last Consignment.
However, while the daily rum ration end five decades ago, the tradition of ordering a splicing of the mainbrace did not. For example, it was ordered in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.
That point leads to an interest question. One I’d had, and even debated with Rocky Yeh about:
Should a Splice the Mainbrace order be called today, what would sailors about ships at sea be served, since ships are (presumably) no longer carrying around casks or flagons of British navy rum?
As with many things in life, there’s a government regulation for that:
0527. Splice the Mainbrace. The order ‘Splice the Mainbrace’ authorises the issue of 62.5 ml of commercial spirit to all entitled Royal Navy, Royal Marine and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel over the age of 18, alternatively a 500 ml can of beer may be issued to those not wishing to take the spirit. Personnel under 18 years of age, and those who do not desire the spirit ration, may receive a 330 ml can of soft drink in lieu. Under no circumstance is any cash payment to be made.
The order ‘Splice the Mainbrace’ may only be given by:
a. Her Majesty the Queen or members of the Royal Family.
b. The Admiralty Board on special occasions of celebration or national rejoicing.
c. Governor Generals when acting as Viceroy to Her Majesty the Queen.
In short, any available commercial spirit (gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, etc.…) can be served. Interestingly, no minimum or maximum strength is specified, whereas British navy rum was issued at 54.5% ABV. Also, there’s no requirement that it be diluted with water (“grog”).
In place of the spirit, a half-liter can of beer may be selected instead. Or, if alcohol isn’t your thing, a can of soda.
You can read the regulation for yourself here.
Header image: Imperial War Museum; IWM (TR 20448)