On February 27, 1990, one of the longest-standing traditions aboard Royal New Zealand Navy ships came to an end—the daily rum ration. In a solemn ceremony in Wellington Harbor, sailors bid farewell to their beloved "Black Tot Day," a tradition that stretched back hundreds of years and affected naval cultures around the world.
Origins of the Rum Ration
The practice of distributing daily rations of rum began in 1655 when the British navy issued each sailor a gallon of beer per day along with lime juice to prevent scurvy. Over time, this changed to rum due to its better preservation qualities and ability to be stored onboard ships without spoiling. As time went by, more regulations were introduced to ensure sailors weren't getting too intoxicated while on duty. The term 'Black Tot Day' was first used in reference to August 31, 1970, when the last official rum ration was served in the British Navy.
A Milestone for New Zealand Naval History
For the Royal New Zealand Navy, Black Tot Day marked an important moment in history, not only for its seafaring culture but also for its place in global maritime history. It was also seen as something of a symbol of national pride by many New Zealanders, proud of their country's role as an international leader in maritime laws and regulations.
Changes in Attitudes Over Time
In addition to being remembered as an important part of naval culture, Black Tot Day has become widely associated with stories about heavy drinking and parties before the final hour struck, scenes which moved many seasoned veterans who had grown accustomed to life at sea. Despite this emotional attachment by some, it is clear that attitudes have shifted over time, and modern officers recognize that issuing daily rations of alcohol is no longer suitable given today's safety standards aboard vessels.
Looking Forward – A Modern Navy Today
Today, Royal New Zealand Navy ships rely heavily on technology and precise regulation as opposed to relying on tradition or superstition as they did during days gone by, although there will always be nautical traditions maintained throughout military vessels across all nations worldwide, even if alcoholic rations are no more. Black Tot Day marks an end of an era for sailor culture, but it remains a defining moment in New Zealand's naval history–one which will never be forgotten among those who took part or remember hearing stories from those who did.