Morale is the most important thing on any ship. If morale drops, the crew’s work suffers, and on long sea voyages, it is critical that the crew keep working in top condition, as the smallest mistakes can sometimes lead to disaster on a ship. Ships have sunk because members of the crew forgot to shutter lamps properly, masts snapped because of improperly tied knots, and food spoiled because of improperly packed cargo. In worst case scenarios, serious drops in morale can lead to mutiny, when a crew decides its ill fortune or circumstances are the result of ill leadership and decides to take that matter into their own hands.
For these reasons, keeping morale up is of critical importance to the captain of any ship. Making sure that pay is given on time, that drink is available, that games are had, that the crew has ample shore leave and so on. Many ships will also hire an officer specifically to oversee morale on the ship. Morale officers are reasonably commonplace and their duties can be quite varied. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say their duties are always the same—to keep morale up—but how they choose to go about them can be very different from ship to ship.
On some ships, morale officers are something similar to jesters, performing, joking, singing or dancing for the crew’s entertainment. On others, they are more like bartenders, responsible for keeping alcohol flowing to the crew in reasonable measure. It is not infrequent for morale officers to work closely with ship’s cooks or to be the ship’s cook, if their skillset includes cooking. Sometimes morale officers are more like event organisers, making sure that game nights and other entertainment are frequent enough to keep the crew from getting bored. Depending on how much the captain trusts the morale officer, they may also have a say in scheduling shifts to ensure that sailors are given shifts amenable to them, and also in scheduling shore leave to make sure that everyone gets the free time they need. On almost all ships, the morale officer is responsible for making the captain and first mate aware of any grievances the crew might have that they haven’t yet brought to the first mate.
Of course, the most common way that morale officers keep morale up is with sex. A not-at-all surprising motivator, sex is the most powerful tool in the arsenal of almost any morale officer. The availability that morale officers will have sexually for the crew varies from those who schedule their encounters with a limited number per day, to those who are available in an unlimited capacity for whatever desires the crew might have. Most sailors learn very quickly to respect whatever limits their morale officers puts on sexual encounters, lest they be excluded and left without sexual outlet.
Morale officers are nearly always male to minimize the risk of unwanted pregnancy, and generally are younger than the rest of the crew by at least a few years. It is not unusual for a ship to hire a prostitute looking to learn naval skills to be a morale officer, given that sex is nearly always a part of the morale officer’s duties, but many ships, if a young person is looking to be a sailor but has no demonstrable skills or experience, will hire that person as a morale officer, presuming they are willing to carry out the duties of that office. On many ships, the morale officer and the ship’s cabin are the same individual doing two jobs simultaneously. On some, however, the cabin boy may be the captain’s personal morale officer, a promotion from the communal morale officer and a segue into being a member of the regular crew. Nearly all morale officers eventually get promoted out of their role and into a different position on the ship, and typically will help find their replacements as well.
Of course, ships of the less savoury variety will often have morale officers too, more often known as morale boys or ship’s boys, and on some of those ships that person will have somewhat less ability to control their own experience. On many pirate ships, a morale boy is often less an officer and more a slave, captured in some raid or perhaps an orphan lured or coerced onto the ship in exchange for a promise of food, lodging, freedom from their circumstances. In a surprising number of cases, the morale boys on pirate ships manage to make something of themselves, becoming full members of the crew after a number of months or year or two. In most of those cases, the former morale boys end up being the hardest and most dangerous among the crew, quick to resort to violence and pain. Sometimes they don’t stop maintaining their sexual duties on the ship. A large number of pirates will, if forced to answer honestly, report that their ship has a boy who will demand sex randomly and frequently and often at knifepoint, and whom they are too afraid of to refuse. The vast majority of pirate captains are very, very careful to maintain the tacit support of any former morale boys their ship employed.
On vessels that aren’t helmed by pirates, the morale officer is often one if not the most beloved members of the crew, and not always just because they’re the ones who are sexually available to everyone. The good morale officers are friends with all or most of their crews, knowing more about them than most of the other officers, and being the person they can talk to when they have problems. A good morale officer will have a heart and ears as open as his legs, and be as emotionally and mentally available as they are sexually available. An interesting facet of morale officer experiences is that they often come to be taken care of by the whole crew even as they are taking care of the whole crew, a mutual relationship that benefits everyone. A good morale officer makes for a happy ship, and a happy ship makes for a happy morale officer, and a happy morale officer is a sign, for many sailors, of a good ship to work on.
From “The Definitive Atlas of the World, Vol. 2: Peoples and Cultures,” by Pascal Tiberius Naoton Quimbell Haeverine anNatalie, published in White Cape in DN 1997, with thanks from the author to Emvel Degmen Denver of Ran Errevir for his editorial assistance.