Submariners’ insignia that was once presented to qualifying trainees in a traditional tot of rum - which they had to drink back until the badge hit their teeth - is marking 50 years since its inception in 1971.
The Gold Dolphin Badge, awarded to qualifying submariners who have passed what is thought of as one of the most technically challenging courses in defence before they join Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines, is considered a mark of pride and respect within the Royal Navy to signify those who maintain Britain’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent.
Commodore Jim Perks CBE, Head of the Royal Navy Submarine Service, said: “The dolphin badge represents the ethos of the Royal Navy Submarine Service and our values of operational excellence, unswerving commitment, absolute professionalism and team unity.
"It is a real ‘badge of honour’ - one that signifies that the recipient has completed one of the most challenging training courses in defence and is ready for one of its most challenging, but fulfilling, missions.”
Are Dolphin Badges Still Presented With Rum?
Nowadays, health and safety has put paid to the tradition of drinking back the rum to receive the badge upon qualifying to the service – but the insignia is nevertheless still presented with a tot of rum to keep the tradition alive.
This is just one of the many Royal Navy traditions that involve rum - which has played a significant part in the history of the service.
Once qualified, the submariners will then be a part of Britain's submarine defence operation - which is certainly continuous.
For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarines patrol the world’s oceans on a mission to carry the nation’s Trident missile defence system that defines the United Kingdom’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
How Do Submarine Trainees Qualify For A Dolphin Badge?
Earning the badge is no easy task - submariners must first pass a series of brain-aching training courses, exams and practical procedures to demonstrate they have the expert knowledge needed to join the highly professional ranks of Britain’s Submarine Service.
This could include everything from nuclear power and reactors and how to maintain one on board a submarine, to the complex technical systems that keep a submarine in operation and ready to unleash its deadly cargo of nuclear warheads should the unthinkable need ever arise in the nation’s defence.
Trainees face an intense 18-week course that is made up of hours of classroom-based learning in the first part, or ‘Dry Phase’ of training, before they then shadow crew members at sea to learn the practical skills and professional experience of the complex operations of a submarine in the “Wet Phase” of training – before then having to demonstrate what they have learned to pass the qualification.
To qualify to wear the Gold Dolphin, trainees must pass the Submarine Qualifying Course, or SMQ, which is considered one of the most technically challenging training courses in defence for good reason.
The Submarine Qualifying Course provides future submariners with the knowledge essential for joining their first Royal Navy submarine.
A spokesperson for the Submarine Service at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane, said: “The course instils the absolute professionalism demanded by the Submarine Service with trainees required to demonstrate an intimate understanding of more than 30 complex engineering systems which operate the nuclear submarines and keep the crew safe.
“Prospective submariners join SMQ for the ‘dry phase’ (shore-based phase) of their training. After successfully completing a final exam, oral board, and walk-rounds of a nuclear submarine, they pass-out, joining a Royal Navy nuclear submarine for their next phase of training known as the ‘wet phase’.
“Students complete their SMQ training at sea and it is only then that they are entitled to wear the coveted gold dolphins, the mark of a qualified submariner.” He added:
“Traditionally, the Gold Dolphins were presented in a tot of rum, the recipient having to catch the badge in their teeth.”
What Is A Black Dolphin Badge?
Royal Navy Submariner Trainees now also get to wear their own badge of honour after they were given the right to wear ‘training dolphins’.
The men and women undergoing initial Royal Navy training, who have chosen, or have been selected, to join the Submarine Service can wear a badge similar in size and design to the traditional Gold Dolphins - but this is black in colour.
The new badge was introduced on September 25, 2020.
History Of The Submarine Service Dolphin Badge
The Royal Navy’s Gold Dolphin Badge introduced in the 1970s was based on a design used by the Australian Navy, which issued its first submarine branch badge in 1958 - initially to be worn on the left sleeve.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff and who is the professional head of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy and Naval Service, paid homage to the badge's history in a post on social media that marked the historic milestone, saying: “Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first presentation of Dolphins to Royal Navy submariners.
“Based on an Australian Navy design, Dolphins are awarded to all newly qualified submariners. Traditionally they’re presented in a tot of rum.”
In 1950s Australia, it was thought submariners would be proud to wear insignia that would distinguish them from the rest of the navy and to recognise the specific role they played in naval operations.
Commander Alan McIntosh RAN came up with the design and Australian sailors who qualify as submariners are now awarded a badge based on that insignia which depicts two dolphins and a crown.
The thinking behind why a dolphin was chosen, and not say, a shark or other sea predator, is not entirely clear but is understood to have come from the idea that dolphins are a familiar sight on seafaring journeys, as pods of the sea mammals swim alongside many a navy vessel - and perhaps too because they were popular, and familiar, among the wider public.
Before the official design was introduced in Australia, a sample group of sailors were asked to wear a dolphin badge for a year as a test, before a survey was carried out.
There are reports that there had been some initial resistance to the design among some ranks but the postive feedback from the survey convinced the Australian Navy to push ahead before it was officially introduced to all submariners in 1958.
Britain's Royal Navy Submarine Service decided it too wanted to present its submariners with a badge of honour to highlight their distinct role in the navy early in the Sevevnties and based its design on the Australian version before introducing it officially in the UK in 1971.
It was the first official insignia marking the Submarine Service as distinct within the Royal Navy since its first submarine, Holland 1, was launched and the service was born in 1901.
Through both world wars and other global conflicts, what is now known as 'The Silent Service' has proven itself time and again as an indispensable fighting arm.
Submarines combine the qualities of stealth, endurance and flexibility - characteristics which give them unparalleled freedom to operate worldwide in support of national and coalition operations.
Today, the Royal Navy Submarine Service is headquartered at HM Naval Base Clyde on the west coast of Scotland.
The navy’s flotilla of Vanguard-class ballistic submarines and the conventionally-armed HMS Talent and the Astute-class of vessels are all based at the site in Argyll & Bute.
The Faslane Naval Base will also be the future home of the Dreadnought-class of submarines.