A New Hat for Mariners

May 21, 2013

North America’s largest mariners’ service agency, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), debuts new garb for mariners this winter. Earlier this year, SCI asked the world to outfit the next generation of mariners with an original knitted hat pattern based on feedback chaplains received while visiting vessels in port. Mariners said their ears were cold.

Mariners must dress for the extremes of the world’s temperatures. Common shipping routes take them through exceptionally cold climates, which feel even colder on the water. In the North Atlantic, winter temperatures drop down to -30˚C (-22˚F); and in the United States, mariners on the inland waterways work outside for hours in temperatures hovering below -20˚C (-4˚F).

Each year, volunteer knitters for SCI’s Christmas at Sea program knit and crochet tens of thousands of hats and scarves for mariners working on the water during winter months. These handmade gifts connect mariners with land dwellers, who, as the beneficiaries of mariners’ sacrifices to deliver goods from all over the world, offer a sign of thanks.

Workplace safety restrictions mean that mariners must wear specially designed apparel; those restrictions even include the “extras” mariners don to stay warm. Accordingly, SCI’s knitting program, a venture of the Institute that began 115 years ago, developed patterns to meet these requirements. The patterns exclude features like pom-poms and tassels commonly found on store-bought winter knitwear.

Up until now, seafarers wearing handknit hats supplied by SCI have topped their heads with the sea’s most famous hat: the watch cap, a pattern almost as old as seafaring itself. SCI pairs that with a scarf (also specially designed by SCI for the maritime workplace environment) and delivers it to mariners working at Christmastime. If you imagine mariners as hardened old sea dogs, their faces at the delivery of these knitted gifts will change your mind.

Curiously, while visiting ships this past winter, SCI’s intern, 24-year-old Jania Billups, lost three hats. The wind did not take them nor did the sea. Rather, seafarers—seeing her wooly hat—asked Jania if they could have it … because it had earflaps.

SCI’s Christmas at Sea Program Manager Paige Sato took this as a directive for the 4,000+ volunteer knitters she coordinates from across the United States. Sato inaugurated a contest for a new mariners’ hat pattern to supplement the watch cap—a special design that would meet workplace safety requirements and also incorporate the ear-warming features that mariners requested.

Called the 1898 Hat (in honor of the founding year of the Christmas at Sea volunteer knitting program), the winning design of the contest features a double-knit earflap that stays put without tying below the chin. Chosen from a pool of 12 submissions, the hat should keep mariners’ ears sheltered from the cold. Seafarers themselves evaluated the various designs, trying them on and offering feedback to the contest judges. They told the judges they liked the design because it looks good on, and, “The hat feels warm over my ears,” said one seafarer of the MV Ever Refine, traveling up the East Coast of the United States.

The 1898 Hat pattern goes into circulation this month to the joy of mariners everywhere. Knitters can download the pattern from SCI’s website at seamenschurch.org/cas and submit finished products throughout the year. This winter, SCI hopes that, while providing a new, warming style for seafarers, its interns get to keep their own hats.