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An Officer's Stripes

The Purser's Stripes - Island Princess - 1977

Now that I have started to cruise as a passenger some 44 years after working onboard Princess/P&O ships, I have got to admit that I am totally confused over the amount of gold braid and the colour of the strips the officers wear aboard ship. I have recently received a brochure from Regent Seven Seas that has confused me even further with the addition of three and a half stripers.

In the mid-1970,s there were a few two-and-half stripers, namely for one of the ranks l held as the Deputy Purser on Island Princess. Some engineers held this rank too l seem to remember. The purser in those days the equivalent today of the Hotel Manage or Hotel Director only had three gold bars as did the chief officer.

Salty Seadog wearing two and a half white stripes on Island Princess in 1977

Even more confusing, on a recent Silversea cruise, the Hotel Officer’s stripes were highlighted by red, whereas l always associated the Pursers/Hotel Officers to have white-backed stripes. On Silversea ships, the Ship’s Doctor and medical staff are highlighted in white. This threw me off completely when my covid questions were asked by a white-striped officer. It eventually dawned on me that the Hotel Officers and Doctors had reversed strips.

I am trying to get my head around the three-and-a-half stripers that Regent have recently introduced me to in their brochure. The Hotel Director has a mighty four stripes, but they also have a Chief Purser, F&B Manager and HR manager with 3 1/2 strips. Now keep up. This is getting very confusing.

Theyu now have a variety of three stripers that have appeared since my days at sea, Security Officer, Safety Officer, Surveillance Manager, Public Health officer, Executive Concierge, Systems Manager and Chief Housekeeper.

This brought back memories of Dave White who was the Accommodation Supervisor on Island Princess, he was the equivalently of Chief Housekeeper back in the day. The Accommodation Supervisor was not an officer but a Leading Hand who did not have officer privileges.

David White Accommodation Supervisor Island Princess 1977.

David is seen here with three silver stripes signifying his rank of Senior Leading Hand

In 1973 it was the officer privileges that attracted me to working at sea. As an officer, you ate in the passenger dining rooms. Initially, as a junior officer, you ate at mess tables or in the case of the early Princess ships in the officer's mess. Rising up the ranks you then had your own table assigned to you in the dining room where you entertained passengers. This was a double-headed, sword. In the early days, , there was only one main dining room normally serving two sittings or on some of the older P&O ships two dining rooms, Passengers were allocated one of these according to the cabin grade they occupied.

Entertaining passengers in the Coral Dining Room - Island Princess - 1977

Senior officers normally ate at the second seating, officially because of work commitments, but in reality as there was serious drinking needed before heading to dinner. The table guests were allocated to your table by the head waiter or on Princess ships the maître d’ Bearing in mind once these guests were allocated to your table you had the same group for the whole cruise. This could be very entertaining or incredibly boring. On boring cruises, it was amazing how many nights, you had to work late and were unable to attend dinner. One of the funniest tables I ever had was a group of American funeral directors, apart from the ladies dripping in gold it was a very hilarious cruise with the stories they told.

Princess Cruises Cocktail List - 1977

Pina Colada 80c

Fine Champagne Napoleon Brandy $1.20

Exchange Rate at the time $2.40 = £1

The deck privileges continued after dinner when you were free to mix with the passengers in the various lounges, bars and ballrooms on the ship, one of my great pleasures was dancing with the passengers. As an officer you also had an entertainment allowance, this was in effect to buy passengers drinks. As you went up the ranks the allowance got more generous. Drinks were also charged at officer prices and were very reasonable. Even the prices the passengers paid were well below what you paid in a pub in the UK. All drinks onboard were duty-free. I expect this is still the case but you would never know by the prices charged on today's cruise ships.

The cruise director who nowadays has 4 stripes, was a senior officer but never wore a uniform or insignia of rank, depending on the size of the ship he was normally assisted by two hostesses and two entertainment officers. Profession entertainers embarked for the duration of a few cruises, they were normally singers maybe a pianist and speciality acts or comedians. There were no production shows, instead, the entertainment crew and the ship's officers stepped into the limelight and trod the boards with home-blown productions, normally with the minimum of costumes that we made ourselves. I cannot lie, l absolutely loved this part of the job even though it was completely voluntary. Speciality nights were also manned by crew and officers, Island Night, Casino Night and of course Horseracing.

It is rare to see officers on deck during the evening on modern-day cruise ships with the exception of the cruise director and his or her staff. Only once have l seen an officer host a table in the dining room. I expect this could be to do with covid, l hope that soon it will become a normal feature of cruising once again.

Dancing with Passengers was an enjoyable part of the job.

One of the main advantages of deck privileges was the “Wheeling In” for those of you that have not worked at sea this was getting to know a young passenger and asking them back to your cabin for a nightcap, which for some strange reason might last all night or all cruise. Yes, it was a sport amongst the young officers and often led to embarrassment as fellow officers would play a prank. With the lack of officer presence on decks in the evening nowadays, I assume it is strictly forbidden for them to entertain passengers in their cabins. What was once fair game and a lot of fun has now become a hotbed of litigation and lawsuits against the cruise lines. SHAME.

I have a whole story about being lured into passenger cabins – For another day.

If you have a funny story about "Wheeling In"

please send them to Salty Seadog

I also have to ask the question do officers on cruise ships nowadays have to buy their own uniforms and gold braid, I suspect not, but on my next cruise l aim to find out.

As a P&O cadet in 1973, we certainly had to buy our own uniforms. We were shipped off to Miller Rayner in the city of London to be fitted out with uniforms,. Apart from the blue uniform we had the tropical uniform and the mess kit, , black shoes, white tropical shoes and evening shoes to buy. As you can imagine this came to a pricy sum and from memory, we were given the chance to pay by instalments, every time you had a promotion you had new epaulettes to buy. It also filled quite a few suitcases that had to be manhandled onto the ship. I forgot to mention the cap that had to be worn when ashore in either blue or tropical uniform. On recent cruises, I have not seen one officer wearing a cap. Not even the Captain.

Did we have the Best Time at Sea - Almost certainly

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John Martin
John Martin
Oct 16, 2022

I remember 'negotiating' as to what the shipboard entertaining allowance was for the role in which I was being interviewed. I still have many photographs of 'tables' accompanied with a number of letters of gratitude for my 'social skills'. It made working on cruise ships as a purser/hotel officer a lot more interesting. I thought it safer to ask the Headwaiters to have a mother/daughter combinaton assigned to my table. That occasionally created its own problem!

Starship 'Oceanic' November 1990

'Ocean Islander' April 1990

Your post was a good excuse to 'pull out' all those old photos. Still got their names written on the backs.

n.b. When I first went to sea the Catering Dept. officers (Opposed to the Purser's)…


Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Oct 16, 2022

Many happy memories here David, I should put my thinking cap on and recall some tales to share here. Officers stripes today, very confusing, why would centuries old traditions be changed on todays ships, assume it’s an American decision? Wheeling in on P&O sounds like our Chatty custom on Shaw Savill - now that’s another story !! Thanks for sharing sheer nostalgia with another purser !

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
Oct 16, 2022
Replying to

Every Officer from every shipping company back in the day must have similar stories to tell. But it's nice to reminisce Jamie.

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