A Sailor’s Tradition and a Gambling Game of Chance


As a Disabled Navy Veteran of the Viet Nam era, I have since read many ways that folks try to document and explain this naval invention. This game was a way to eliminate boredom aboard ship when there was a lull in duties. In older times, Scrimshaw was very popular aboard whaling ships. A few sailors would take a whale’s bone or ivory and scrimshaw (carve) a scene or detailed objects onto it. Some of them today are highly prized for their beauty (See Photo 1).

Photo 1

Other sailors carved Love Tokens. A creative mariner would take a silver coin and carve anything from initials to small pictures. When finished, he would put a hole at the top and bestowed it upon his lady as a pendant, when he returned to port. It was a token of his love to show her how he often thought about her while he was away at sea (See Photo 2).

Photo 2

Before the modern sea vessel evolved, a mariner would learn rope work or better known as marlinspike seamanship. It was the precursor of macramé that most all recognize. All sailors learned to sew, knit, crochet, and weave (as do I). Rope knotting was an integral part of sailing on square-riggers and for a few, some intricate knotting, was a closely guarded secret. Many a sailor would wait until a master rope rigger would teach him a certain knot because he was desperate for the perfect design. It was a time of artistic work and it took away the boredom when work was completed (See Photo 3).


Photo 3

However, as most of you know, sailors were notorious for chasing women while in port, or gambling away their hard-earned wages (as did I) while at sea. Even to this day, boredom was prevalent after a hard day’s work. The thought of bringing home more money than was earned was always a tempting lure.

Ship’s, Captain, and Crew was no different. It was a sailor’s crap game, with five (5) dice in lieu of two (2). Whether they played this game in bars and taverns, well, that may be a bit subjective. Rather than play games, most had other ideas when finally reaching a port, if you get my drift (pun intended).

In lieu of only reading bits from one and bits from another article, I can tell you how a seasoned chief petty officer, while in transit, taught us every aspect of the game. Funny, he taught four (4) of us the game and he ended up losing $40. He was not a happy camper by the time he had to leave.

Needs: Five (5) Dice
Money or chips fer ye landlubbers

• The basics: (See Figure 1)

– The Ship = 6 (Six)
– The Captain = 5 (Five)
– The Crew = 4 (Four)
– Of… = Total Numbers of the Remaining Two (2) Dice – From Two (2) to Twelve (12)

Figure 1

• Numbers of players = no limit, however, six (6) participants or less is an easier number to handle.

• To choose first player, everyone tosses all five (5) once. Largest combined sum begins play. All players that tie with the highest number will toss again until only one (1) winner is established. Play begins with the winner of each round, at all times.

• During play:

• Players are A, B, C, D, for identification purposes.

Player A rolls all five (5) dice but none are sixes (See Figure 2). You must roll ALL 5 dice again even if one of the die is a 5 (Captain) or a 4 (Crew). You cannot keep a 5 (Captain) or a 4 (Crew) until you roll a 6 (Ship). The same rule applies to the rest of the sequence. You must get the 6, 5, 4, in the correct order before you get the final number for the Crew.

Figure 2

• During play:

All players are limited to a maximum of three (3) rolls. However, the starting player will determine the number of rolls each player thereafter is allowed to roll (i.e. if the starting player only used two (2) rolls to achieve his goal of 6, 5, 4, and a crew of XX, all others must follow and try to beat his crew number XX within two (2) rolls of the dice).

• Exception: If the starting player used all three (3) rolls to achieve his goal, any player beating the starting roll in less than three (3) rolls can stop if he chooses or roll again for a possible higher numbered crew.

• If the starting player A wins the round, A will begin the round again until he loses. The winner of any round begins the next round.

• If the starting player fails to achieve his goal, the dice pass to the next player and player B becomes the starting player. All rules apply as previously discussed.

• When no one reaches their goal, and the dice return back to the original starter, all starting rules begin once again.

• Exceptions to the rules, players are A, B, C, D:

• If starting player A, rolls 6, 5, 4, Crew of 6, 6, on the first roll, it is called Midnight** (See Figure 3). Player A wins the round automatically and all players lose the round. If a 6, 5, 4, 6, 6, occurs on a second (2nd) or third (3rd) roll, All other players must match it to be in a final tiebreaker, or they can drop out.

Figure 3

• If player A rolls 6, 5, 4, Crew of 4, 5, after his third try, he passes dice to player B. If player B rolls all three chances and does not beat 4, 5, he drops out and passes dice to player C.

• In the same round, if player C rolls 6, 5, 4, and a Crew 6, 6, he beats player A and is now the leader of the round. The dice pass to player D. If player D rolls the dice and matches player C, a tiebreaker ensues. If player D fails to tie, player C wins the round and player C is now the new starter. All rules again apply. Starter sets the number of rolls.

• Once the starting player sets the number of rolls, all players following must adhere to that number of rolls. If the starting player only rolls once, all players can only roll once. If the starting player rolls three (3) times, all other players can stop after 1, 2, or 3 rolls if he chooses, providing the player can beat the current high sum.

• Here are the rules for the gambling aspect of the game, using the same players as in the previous step:

• Like in poker, all ante according to the starting player A. Starting player A can regulate how high the ante should be. All players must ante or drop out of this particular round by stating the term. “I pass”.

• If player A rolls a playable set of numbers, he has the option to bet again if he thinks that he may win, or pass if he does not.

• All players must “see or match” the bet if player A bets, otherwise all others have the option to bet to stay in the round or pass to get out of the round.

• There is no “raising of bets” in this game.

• Following all the rules from the beginning, betting is always the option after the final toss of the dice of the current player’s turn. All remaining players have similar options as stated earlier.

• If no one makes the necessary Ship, Captain, Crew, and the play returns to player A once again, everyone must ante for the second time or pass to get out of the round. This rule applies for all repeated or similar conditions. I have seen it repeated four (4) times in one (1) round.

• Note: Midnight is the correct term for the time between night and morning 12:00 PM. However, there is no such thing as 12:00 PM hours in the military or naval services. The correct time is 00:00 or zero (0) hundred hours. The next minute following would be zero, zero, zero, one (00:01) hundred hours.

• This is the correct way to play the Navy game of chance. However, it may be a game just to pass the time, but it was always a serious gambling game on board ship. Watch your wallet, it could be lost at sea (pun intended).

• The pictured Monkey Fist (Photo 3) had a heavy weight (lead or stone) in the center of the ball and it had a long tail tied to a heavy mooring rope. A dockworker would twirl the monkey fist and cast it up over the rail of the docking ship. The sailor aboard would grab it and pull the heavy rope up and aboard so that he and others can slowly pull the ship close to the dock. It was then that they looped the heavy rope to a stationary peg.



  1. Dont wanna say it publicaly said,

    January 17, 2017 at 13:38

    Nice! This really helped me on my school project! Thanks!

  2. buzzard33 said,

    September 12, 2013 at 17:36

    Thanks, It’s too bad I sold it long ago. I’ve always kept a photo of it to remember it.


  3. Basiati said,

    September 12, 2013 at 16:13

    I love the pendant!!! So… you can sew, knit, crochet, and weave ? So you have the same skills as my father! He is also a soldier but is able to sew fur coats and even make colurful embroidery! heh… I love it!

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