HUDDERSFIELD

No. 11 AREA

 Splice the Mainbrace

First Rate Men-o-Wars

"Splice the mainbrace" is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with a drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog.

Braces are the lines which control the angle of the yards. On the first rate men-o-war, the mainbrace was the largest and heaviest of all the running rigging; the mainbrace on HMS Victory is 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. Gunners commonly aimed for the ship's rigging during naval battles, with the mainbrace being the prime target.

If the mainbrace was shot away, it was usually necessary to repair it during the engagement; the ship was unmanoeuvrable without it and would have to stay on the same tack. Even repairing it after the battle was a difficult job; the mainbrace ran through blocks, so it could not be repaired with a short splice or a knot.

Splicing in a large run of hemp was strenuous work, and generally the ship's best Able Seamen were chosen to carry out the task under the supervision of the Bosun (Boatswain).

DIAMOND JUBILEE

The order was most recently given by Queen Elizabeth II on 19 June, 2012, for the Naval Services’ efforts in her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

She signalled:

“Please convey my warm thanks to all those who serve in the Royal Navy for their kind message of loyal greetings, sent on the occasion of my official birthday and the 60th anniversary of my accession to the throne.

In this Diamond Jubilee year, Prince Philip and I send our good wishes to you all. Splice the mainbrace.”

Elizabeth R.
On completion of the task, it was customary for the men to be rewarded with an extra ration of rum. The Bosun would take a sip from the ration of each of the men he had selected for task. Eventually the order "Splice the mainbrace" came to mean that the crew would receive an extra ration of rum, and was issued on special occasions: after victory in battle, the change of a monarch, a royal birth, a royal wedding or an inspection of the fleet. In cases where the whole fleet was to receive the signal, it would be run up with a lift of flags or signalled by semaphore.

A ration of rum a day was standard issue in the Royal Navy until 1970, when concerns over crew members operating machinery under the influence led to the rum ration being abolished. Restrictions were placed on those who could "Splice the mainbrace": any man or officer over the age of 20 who desired to take it received an extra issue of one-eighth of a pint of rum. Lemonade was issued those who did not wish for the rum.
The rum was mixed with water to make grog for all ratings below Petty Officer. Only ratings marked "G" (for Grog) in the ship's books could draw rum, grog or lemonade when the main brace was spliced and no payment in lieu was available. Those under 20 were marked "U.A." (for ‘under age’) in the ship's book; they were similarly barred from drawing the daily rum ration. "T" stood for Temperance. The issue of rum to Wardroom and Gunroom officers was stopped in 1881 and ended for Warrant officers in 1918; splicing the mainbrace was the only time that officers could be issued with rum.
INTERNATIONAL FLEET REVIEW

In Canada, the order was most recently given by Queen Elizabeth II on 29 June 2010 at the conclusion of the International Fleet Review for the occasion of the Royal Canadian Navy's 100th Anniversary. She signalled:

“It has given me great pleasure to return with the Duke of Edinburgh to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to witness the International Fleet Review celebrating the Centennial of Canada's navy.

Maritime Command has confirmed through the smartness of its people and ships, and superb execution of the International Fleet Review, the best traditions of service on the sea. I offer to all the officers, men and women of the Canadian Atlantic Fleet my congratulations.

Splice the mainbrace.”

Elizabeth R.
Permission to issue the order to splice the mainbrace is heavily restricted; the Royal Navy allows only the Queen, a member of the Royal Family, or the Admiralty Board to do so. When the Mediterranean fleet received the order from the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) in 1932 it was the first time it had happened since 1918; it was accompanied by the order to "Mend and make clothes", another archaic signal which grants the crew a half-day holiday. Ships in most of the victorious fleets received the order at the end of the Second World War; one ship received the order while still under attack.

King George VI issued the order in 1949 to the crew of the HMS Amethyst after the Yangtse Incident. It was ordered on the day of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953, and of Prince William's birth on 21 June, 1982, when "Splice the Mainbrace" was celebrated in the Fleet just one week after the end of the Falklands War. Nowadays, when rum is no longer issued daily, the order is somewhat more freely given (the Queen issued it after reviewing the fleet off Portsmouth in 2002).



[back to Naval Traditions]