Royal Navy Updates Nelson’s Toast

For two centuries, British sailors have toasted their "wives and sweethearts." No more.


For two centuries, British sailors have toasted their “wives and sweethearts.” No more.

MailOnline (“Navy ditches toast to ‘wives and sweethearts’ for the first time in 200 years because there are now so many women at sea“):

Royal Navy sailors will never again make their traditional Saturday night toast and drink to ‘Our Wives and Sweethearts.’

The toast, which prompts the response, ‘May they never meet’, has been banned because there are so many women officers serving in the Navy.

The seafaring tradition – often made with a tot of rum – has stood for 200 years, but will now be changed so that servicemen and women toast ‘Our families’ instead.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘To reflect cultural changes and our modern and inclusive Navy, two of the naval toasts, used at mess dinners, have been updated.

‘The Royal Navy values the diversity and range of its personnel and it is only right that its traditional toasts should reflect the fact that women have been at sea for over 20 years.’

The other tradition which has changed is that the Tuesday night toast will be made to ‘Our Sailors’ rather than to ‘Our Men’.

The custom has been practised since Admiral Nelson’s era but after women first served in service vessels in 1990 it has become increasingly outdated. In 2012, Sarah West became the first female frontline ship’s captain in the frigate HMS Portland.

Other time-honoured toasts which follow the toasts to the Queen will remain unchanged.

On Mondays, a glass is raised to ‘Our ships at sea’, and on Wednesdays, sailors drink to ‘Ourselves (as no one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare!)’.

On Thursdays they toast to ‘A bloody war or a sickly season’, referring to the better prospects of promotion in wartime in the 19th century and pestilence.

‘A willing enemy and sea room’ is toasted on Fridays, referring to the reluctance of other navies to face the British, and on Sundays they drink to ‘absent friends’.

Some old sailors are naturally balking at this change but it’s long overdue. What amuses me about this is how steadfastly the Brits have held on to drinking aboard ship; their American counterparts all but abandoned it long ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. So they don’t want their families to meet? That’s kind of strange.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Presumably, the call-and-response of the old version will either go away or be changed as well.

  3. walt moffett says:

    @James Joyner:

    To our families and lovers

    Never shall they met

    seems workable

  4. PogueMahone says:

    This quote seems apropos.

    “The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy, and the lash.”

    Winston Churchill

  5. Kari Q says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Your wife and your sweetheart know each other? How French of you.

  6. MattT says:

    Years ago I was doing some research into WWII naval actions, and came upon an entry in the log of the French battleship Richelieu: “Struck mine. Wine tank damaged.”
    Mon Dieu! Set course back to Marseilles, at once!

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @PogueMahone: And a hearty toast for this naval hero:

  8. merl says:

    I always thought their toast was “Rum Sodomy and the Lash”!

    When I was in Bahrain in 1978, there was a Royal Navy ship there. The enlisted men still got their daily rum ration and the Officers weren’t allowed to drink

  9. merl says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Maybe because they doing each other’s spouses and don’t want anyone to find out?