Wetting-down is a raucous ceremony for newly promoted officers observed in the U.S. and Royal navies, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Marines, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps, and U.S. Public Health Service officers also participate in this custom as homage to their naval heritage.
The wetting-down celebration is always paid for and hosted by the newly promoted officer, who invites his or her friends, which usually include several officers of the same rank at which he or she has most recently served. It is customary for the officer to spend the difference between their pay at their old rank and their pay at the new rank on the bar tab for their guests.
Normally the party occurs at a bar or pub frequented by officers. Being located in a bar, there is typically a great deal of drinking of alcohol. There must always be at least one ceremonial toast. Friends present several rowdy speeches expressing their appreciation of the new officer's good comradeship and endearing faults. Often one of the speeches describes an embarrassing event in the new officer's career which occurred under the old rank, although this latter variety of speech is sometimes discouraged in order to avoid providing evidence pertinent to a disciplinary hearing.
A wetting-down party is informal and improvisations on the ceremony are the rule, not the exception.
The senior officer present may make the final speech, or if present, the commanding officer who made the promotion can make the final speech. Sometimes the final speech is presented by the new officer's father, especially if he has served in a navy. Although, for particularly exuberant wetting-down parties, parents and senior officers are not usually invited and the honor falls to one of the new officer's close friends.
In most navies, officers wear stripes on the cuff of their uniform jacket. Upon promotion, a new stripe would be added to the cuff. The new, clean stripe would often stand out from the older, more weathered stripes. Wetting-down was often an attempt to get the new stripe to match the older stripes so the promotion would not look as recent. Today, an officer will usually replace all of the stripes upon each promotion in an attempt to maintain a more professional uniform appearance.
Another version of this lore is that newly promoted officers would toss their new rank insignia (earlier, a fresh gold braid) at their wetting-down event into a glass of sea water in order to give it a worn patina that would belie the recency of the promotion. This can be done today, with the pint glass and new rank insignia being placed on display at the center of the bar.
In popular culture
In an episode of the American TV series, Major Dad, 2nd Lt. "Gene" Holowachuk (Matt Mulhern) is promoted to 1st Lt. and is, therefore, obliged to throw his fellow officers a wetting-down ceremony. However, Holowachuk wants the ceremony to be alcohol-free since he does not drink liquor. The episode, titled, "Wetting-Down", originally aired on October 22, 1990.
This ceremony was also shown in Star Trek Generations when Lt Worf was promoted to Lt Cmdr and dropped into the holographic ocean in the holodeck.
In the ninth season opener of TV series NCIS, Probationary Officer Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) receives her ID badges and shield which means she is officially a special agent of NCIS. Ziva wants to go out and celebrate and McGee (Sean Harland Murray) implies she means a wetting-down, but Ziva thinks he is referring to a wedding because of the language barrier. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) corrects her and explains it means she is paying. The episode, titled, "Nature of the Beast", originally aired on September 20, 2011.