Yeoman 1st Class Margaret Royal from the USA, participates in a swim call aboard the USS Halsey. Picture: PJF Military Collection / Alamy

Yeoman 1st Class Margaret Royal from the USA, participates in a swim call aboard the USS Halsey. Picture: PJF Military Collection / Alamy 

Navy

Your Memories Of Hands To Bathe Tradition At Sea

Crew members share their experiences of the naval custom

Yeoman 1st Class Margaret Royal from the USA, participates in a swim call aboard the USS Halsey. Picture: PJF Military Collection / Alamy

Yeoman 1st Class Margaret Royal from the USA, participates in a swim call aboard the USS Halsey. Picture: PJF Military Collection / Alamy 

Memories of the times Royal Navy crew members took part in the ancient tradition of Hands To Bathe are being shared as many recount the moments that they took a dip in the sea on deployment.

Some who recall their time on board Royal Navy and other military ships have told of the moments they fondly remember of taking part in the age-old custom, which is known in the US as Swim Call, during their time in service.

It follows a look back at the history of the tradition on forces.net, and how this is a naval custom that has carried on through the ages to modern times.

Hands To Bathe is one of many Royal Navy traditions that has survived through the ages of its seafaring history and is a custom that many a crew member looks forward to, especially during a long deployment at sea, as it is a chance to have some fun in downtime and is a boost for morale.

It is not just the Royal Navy that has followed the custom over time – many other of the world’s navies have a version of the tradition including the United States where it’s known as Swim Call and the Royal Australian Navy which stick to the traditional “Hands To Bathe” title.

Hands To Bathe - Extreme Swimming On Board Ship

Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Iwo Jima participate in a swim call on 18 April 2015. Picture: US Navy.

Alex McKechnie told how he enjoyed Hands To Bathe, not with the Royal Navy but the British Army.

The Royal Corps of Transport (RCT), which was disbanded in 1993, used to have a maritime regiment as part of its transportation role across land, water and air. Alex said: “When the Army still had its own ships (Her Majesty's Army Vessels) this custom was observed there too.

“On passage to Cyprus with ‘military stores’ aboard HMAV St George, we stopped in the Mediterranean to "cool off".

“After about an hour of swimming and jumping from various parts of the ship everybody was back on board, dried off, back at their duties and the ship underway again.

“Following his enthusiastic participation in the activities, the second cook, a private from the Army Catering Corps, happened to ask me how far it was to the nearest land.

“I told him it was approximately one kilometre straight down. He refused to participate in subsequent ‘hands to bathe’ until we reached Cyprus and he could swim from the beach.”

Terry Collins, who served in the Navy and took part in the tradition in the South Atlantic Ocean, wrote in to say: “Hands to Bathe, Hands to Bathe, Hands to Bathe - a load of us jumped off and the ship didn’t stop.

“The ship disappeared really quickly as did the machine guns attached to her.

“Nearest land was Rio, hundreds of miles away. It took about five minutes to get a boat to us, longest five minutes ever!”

Dave Miller, who served in the Royal Navy, said: “My first time was in the bitter lake, Suez canal on passage to the red sea on HMS Centaur between Christmas and New year 1963.

“No one had checked the water temperature and on hitting the water I stopped breathing as it was so cold.

“Since then I've always said it was called the bitter lake, not for the salt content but for the temperature.”

Gary Paterson, posting on the Forces News Facebook page, said he took part in the Caribbean, adding that he took to the sea while a gunner “with beer-bottle glasses” scanned the horizon for sharks with an SA80 rifle. He added:

“Safe to say, I didn’t stay in long.”

Jimmy Hill, who serves in the Royal Navy, said the ship he is on took part in Hands To Bathe last week but didn’t want to say where or when for operational reasons.

Greg Pettigrew said he took part with the Royal Navy on HMS Chatham, saying it was years ago in the Indian Ocean.

Others highlighted previous social media posts featuring moments of Hands To Bathe at sea with the Royal Navy.

 

The comments came after a report on the history of Hands To Bathe on forces.net in which Commodore (Ret'd) Alistair Halliday, who was in command of three ships from 1995 to 2001, told how he had taken part in Hands To Bathe more than 50 time during his time at sea, adding: “I used to jump in off the bridge roof!  Submarines do it too - but they have more safety issues and don’t have a boat either.”

He also told how he used to jump into the water off the roof of the ship’s bridge.

Have a story to tell about Hands To Bathe, or another Royal Navy tradition? Let us know at [email protected] or comment on our social media pages.