Boat Cloak Blues

New dress regulations will sever a sartorial link to the Navy's Age of Sail

September 1, 2015 will go down as a dark day in the annals of the United States Navy—at least for those with a fondness for tradition and the elegance of days gone by.

That was the date that NAVADMIN 208/15 was released amending Articles 3501.4 and 3501.12 of the United States Navy Uniform Regulations. As of October 1st of this year, the Boat Cloak for men and Cape for women—optional items for Formal and Dinner Dress uniforms—will no longer be authorized for wear with Navy uniforms. According to the NAVADMIN message, the “infrequent use, procurement and low demand requirements of these items precipitated the decision to delete their use as Navy uniform components.”

While it’s true these two throwback items probably were in low—make that extremely low—demand, the decision seems to be a case of addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.

At the “Save the US Navy Boat Cloak” Facebook page, active and retired USN officers were encouraged to add their names to a letter to be forwarded by the Association of the United States Navy to the Navy Uniform Board for “relief from the decision to eliminate the boat cloak.”

After delineating the historical significance of the boat cloak—FDR was a big fan—the letter goes on to say that “the Boat Cloak has always been an optional, made to measure, special order item with no cost to the government.” In short, not allowing boat cloaks or capes to be worn saves the Navy neither time nor money, which means the decision was made either on subjective aesthetic grounds or as a move toward gender-neutral clothing.

FDR like the boat cloak more than Uncle Joe or the British Bulldog
FDR is likely rolling over in his grave over the decision to cease authorization for the wearing of boat cloaks and capes.

The boat-cloak boosters on Facebook, realizing the latter was likely the real reason for the otherwise pointless decree, point out that “The Department of the Navy’s move to a more unified appearance among male and female sailors could be satisfied by making a single cloak (i.e. the current male version with black lining) as the sole Authorized Version.”

Apparently, their efforts have been for naught, and interest has died down: the Facebook page hasn’t been updated since last October, and Google Trends reveals a complete drop-off in searches for the phrase “boat cloak.” What’s a boat-c
loak devotee to do?

Here’s a suggestion: start a drive to incorporate a multi-purpose, gender-neutral boat cloak as a mandatory item in every sailor’s sea bag. You know, a boat cloak that could perform another function—say, convert into an inflatable life raft, complete with a hand-powered bellows for quick deployment. What’s that you say? It’s already been done, and even the Royal Navy turned its nose up at the idea?

Just why a boat cloak that converts into a life raft never caught on is beyond all understanding.

Don’t let the shortsightedness of the 19th-century British Admiralty deter you. Simply add solar panels to the lining of your 21st-century boat cloak, dub it “sustainable wearable technology,” and submit it for consideration as a small but integral component of the Great Green Fleet.

Then again, perhaps the letter thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

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