Ultimate guide to Navy retirement gifts (Anything and everything you need to know)

Looking for the perfect gift is like finding your soulmate. It’s that sting you feel when you lay your eyes on that beautiful piece of jewelry, art, apparel or anything and you instantly know; they are the one! 

If you are still reading, I’ll go out on a limb and say that you are looking for a navy retirement gift for your near and dear one.

The essence of gift-giving is to make the receiving person feel happy and loved. This can be challenging as it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Sh*t really hits the fan when the person belongs to the military and that too the Navy! 

Why? Because they’ve remained away most of the time trapped in metal boxes we call warships these days, or at a faraway base. They’ve developed a specific taste and if you’re not their spouse, chances are you need some help in selecting these gifts.

Navy men/women are peculiar creatures. Exposed to the sea for extended deployments, changes a person in ways a civilian cannot fathom. A vacation on a cruise ship sounds exciting to most of us but for those in the navy, it’s a regular Tuesday. 

This ultimate guide to Navy retirement gifts is going to dissect every aspect to help you find the ideal gift for your lovable sailor. We’re going to follow a 5 step formula to arrive at your perfect gift.

How to select your gift?

Who are they?

Selecting your ideal gift or present starts with what that person means to you. Your real-world relationship sets some boundaries within which you are expected to behave. Or, in case of old pals obliterates them.

  • Your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or old buddy. These people are the closest we normally get to in life. We spend the most time with them. We love them the most and we get this love back the most. Suffice to say, if this is the category of the person you are gifting, you need to bring your A-game. Because, when you are this close, expectations are set and when they aren’t met people get hurt. It’s not that you need to go overboard and buy something insanely expensive, it just that presenting something good that lasts for a lifetime costs a decent penny. Gifting something like jewelry, apparel, hilarious gag-gift or any hobby items is usually preferred.  
  • Your parent, child, sibling. You grew up feeling the love and warmth of your parent’s love and brotherhood or sisterhood of your siblings. These people are what you call family, literally. They know you in-and-out. There is no artificiality no façade in between you and them. A decent gift is going to strengthen your bond and tighten your relationship more than ever. Budget is often not an issue over here because they are the first ones to understand if you’re in a tight spot. Gifting something personal, nostalgic and classy is often the best way to go with them. 
  • Your formal friends, family, and acquaintances. This lot is a bit tricky to deal with. You need to take into consideration your level of formality and interaction for coming to the right decision. While you can play riskier gifts like some gag gifts for the above two categories, going this route with these people is usually not recommended. An ounce of miscalculation can cause embarrassment and you surely don’t want that! Playing the traditional safe gifts like military recognition plaques, shadow boxes, Challenge coin displays, wall hanging pride décor, etc. are your safest bet. 
  • Their preference. While it’s easy to just focus on what the person means to you, it’s easy to overlook what they actually WANT. Your service member has some hobbies, passions or preferences they like to nurture. This may not have any relation to their military life whatsoever. They may love to hike, woodwork, gardening, running, reading books, etc. Dig into that passion of theirs and draw inspiration from that. You will see a spark in their eyes and probably a tear when they receive that very running shoe they’ve been longing for. Dig into this aspect and you will not regret it.

Your relationship level

  • Very comfortable. As you guessed it, this level is reserved for your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend and closest of friends only. You can express your darkest humor, deepest feeling or craziest gag gifts without getting judged. Don’t go giving traditional military gifts on this level like plaques and challenge coins. Be a little bold and personal. You want them to remember your gift for the rest of their lives. Give something that is closest to their heart but only known by you.
  • Comfortable yet respectable. Your parents, siblings, close family normally fall into this category. You’ve probably spent a lot of time with them and know they like and dislike well. Use that knowledge to get something that has meaning. Celebrate their career spent in defending this country. Honor them and advertise how the value they have provided has made this country great again. Whatever you choose should show immense pride. They choose the hard path when they could’ve easily wanted away; like most of us.
  • Formal. Bosses, Elder family, Acquaintances normally fall in this category. You respect them deeply and have probably learned a few life lessons from them. Reflect your gratitude by giving something classy. Watches, Plaques, Shadow boxes are in play. Good presentation here makes all the difference. 

Their service job specialty

Drilling down further into the topic, your gift should show that you know your service member well. In today’s world, the feeling of someone taking the white the effort to know you well is priceless. Their job specialty tells you volumes about their likes, dislikes, and preferences. Take a hint from these.

  • Surface ships, Submarines, Aviation, Special forces. Navy service members are hardened seafarers. They have traveled the world, seen cultures and interacted with all manner of people. There is a saying in the naval community: “The seawater that touches my shore also touches yours”. As always, they always have awesome stories to tell from where you can take your hints. Few maybe like:
    • Cultural memorabilia from a particular country
    • Visit a place again to explore more. A grand vacation there would be perfect.
    • Delicious food they’ve eaten at a foreign port they would love to try again.
    • Beautiful scenery from their favorite scenic place.
  • Operations, Maintenance, Support, Medical, Education. Your serviceman has served in a particular specialty in the Navy. Warfare or Operations deals with personnel dealing with running the ship, combat planning, weapon firing and many more. Likewise, the rest is self-explanatory. The point is: take some time to learn about the work your service member did. Find something unique that fits their job description. Free ideas would be Nautical compass, ship’s wheel, nautical shaped dress wear like lapel pins, tie clips, ring and much more. 
  • Awards, Accomplishments, Battle experience. Learn what your service member has been through. If they’ve distinguished themselves with an award or medal, you can amplify their achievements and make them more proud. Remembering the good times with your gift will make them nostalgic and cherish the service they’ve put in for this country. This gift could be anything ranging from simple framed picture or picture album to customized cake or statue.

Setting your budget

Ah, the budget. The maker and breaker of dreams. You may want to gift the world to your loving retiree service member but that may not happen. If you’re not Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the money will be a limited resource for you. However, if you’re creative enough, this limitation will not stop you from giving a legendary gift. Here are a few tips for gifting your Navy retiree in your budget preferences.

  • Money is not a problem ( > $250). The world is in your hands and you can afford to give customized high quality presents to your lovable Navy service member. Why not? They’ve given everything for their country and they deserve the very best. Examples include customized watches, shadow boxes, jewelry, smartphones, etc.
  • Somewhere in the middle ( $50 ~ $250). This middle road is often the safest bet. In this budget, you will be able to afford the most decent gifts but will have limited customization options. For most of us, this is the road to go as you can get a pretty decent item in this range. Examples are tech gadgets, shoes, clothing apparel, home decor, etc.
  • Strictly on budget ( < $50 ). Like it or not, sometimes you will be low on cash. Hey, it’s not the end of the world and there is NOTHING wrong with giving a gift with a low retail value. You can kick it up a notch by putting some effort into researching for the perfect gift (like reading this guide now). Examples of gifts in this category are Mugs, T-shirts, Plaques, Auto decals, Caps, etc.

Taking gifting inspiration 

Presenting something which doesn’t match the taste of the receiving person is a big No-No. Gifts need to be tailored to the needs and want of that particular person. A big part of that is their workplace as we roughly spend a big chunk of our life at our jobs.

The military is a bit different. Here the level of emotional attachment and brotherhood is unparalleled to any other job you’ve seen. These guys are very protective, sensitive and nostalgic about their time spent in service to their country.

To make your idea machine running, I’ve scoured the internet and categorized the gifts from four places: Navy service members themselves, Social media popularity, Amazon bestsellers, and traditional gifts.

Straight from the horse’s mouth ( service members themselves speak) – Reddit, Quora, Forums

Reddit/r/navy has by far the largest presence of this service online. Naturally, these guys have a bunch of good ideas and these listed in the order of popularity are:

  • Shadow boxes (Framed, Chest)
  • Decorative wooden paddles
  • US Navy jack
  • Get something from his first ship
  • Scrapbook with comments of fellow mates & pictures
  • A flag that flew over the capitol
  • Challenge coins withstand (collection of ships where they served)
  • Cutlass sword
  • Retirement photo in dress uniform framed
  • Kabar that has USN engraved
  • Gun with engraved name
  • Replica of the aircraft they flew
  • Old rocking chair
  • Custom wooden Anchor/flight wings
  • Old navy ship model
  • Bosun’s whistle
  • Navy aviation patches

Quora and a bunch of other popular forums also gave some pretty good ideas. Often directly replied by the service members themselves, the gifts they favored were:

  • Professionally framed Nautical chart
  • shadow box with their service medals, awards, and flag
  • Chelsea clock
  • Porthole clock
  • Nice fishing rod and reel set up
  • Customized pistol
  • Nice set of bbq tools
  • Personalized baseball hat
  • Custom zippo
  • Cocktail glasses with the Navy logo
  • Image Stabilized binoculars

Gifts are visual items and the platform that best supports visual creative ideas is Pinterest. This place is a treasure trove of ideas and few ones making the top of the list are:

  • Shadow box chest
  • Retirement cake
  • Plaque
  • Custom caricature
  • Custom wooden anchor plaque
  • Challenge coin
  • Wooden wall signs/ décor
  • Watch
  • T-shirts
  • Retirement personalized pillow
  • Navy anchor string art
  • Nautical compass
  • Navy telescope
  • Custom Navy cigars
  • Retirement woven blankets
  • US Navy wine decanter

Let the data speak (Amazon best sellers)

Of course, Amazon being a retail giant has its own set of good ideas. This bestseller data is backed by people’s buying patterns and shopping preferences. Few top ideas from there are:

  • Funny mugs (Gag gifts)
  • Wine decanters
  • Beer glasses with embedded bullets
  • Liquor hip flasks
  • T-shirts
  • Playing cards
  • Wall Clocks
  • Navy themed blankets
  • Challenge coins
  • Plaques
  • Nautical themed items
  • Navy-themed Desk and wall decor
  • Certificate and flag display frames
  • Baseball caps

Tradition and history

Going old school and banking on tradition is always the safest bet. This shows your intellect and knowledge on the subject. Also, who doesn’t want to own a piece of history? Few of the best historical gifts for the navy are:

  • Sailors creed – themed gifts
  • Navy flag
  • Anchors aweigh tunes
  • Ship’s bell
  • Ship’s anchor

Now you’ve made your mind and got a PERFECT  gift for your lovable sailor, what now? You can’t leave it at their front door now, can you? Sometimes a perfect gift needs perfect exposure other times a subtle handover will do the job. Below are some events best suited for presenting gifts.

The Navy retirement ceremony is a strictly official affair. It’s usually held on a ship or base from where the service member retires. Depending on the rank of your service member, you can expect the participation of a flag officer, ceremonial band and guard as well. 

The Commanding officer formally presents the US Flag to the retiree in behalf of the SECNAV. Certificate of appreciation is given to both the retiree and their spouse and speeches are given. Needless to say, if you’re not a Shipmate of the retiree, presenting your own gift at this ceremony is not appropriate.

During a private ceremony

Most retirees arrange for a private retirement party at the comfort of their homes. Invitations are sent beforehand. Toasts are given and light refreshments and finger food are often served. Sometimes the family gets creative and spouse (usually heading the charge) arranges for custom made Navy-themed baked goods like cake and cupcakes. This becomes a very artful event and kicks the party up several notches.

This is the IDEAL place and time to present your gift to the retiree. It is also expected and good-mannered of you to present something tasteful. Remember, it’s YOUR version of the celebration for your loved one. No judgment at all.

Separately in an exclusive setting

Maybe you’re not a fan of the crowd and like a quite exclusive setting (and can afford it). These are only reserved for the ones nearest and dearest to your heart. So why not throw an exclusive dinner at a fine dining restaurant to celebrate the going away of your favorite sailor. 

Once the party gets started, inside stories can be shared, tearful toasts given and delicious meal devoured. In the end, your unique and customized gift to match the event’s level can be given. A perfect closing to a perfect event.

Gift Delivery

Being physically distant is in no way an excuse to skip out on the celebration of your favorite service member. While you cannot attend their retirement party, you can make your presence felt by sending an appropriate gift through the mail. The effect of this gift far outweighs any of the above options. Your love will be instantly felt because while you could’ve easily skipped out, you didn’t. 

Wrapping it up

I’ve tried that you get the most out of this guide by dissecting every aspect of military gift-giving etiquette. In the end, it all comes down to YOU. your relationship, budget, and comfort level will land you on the perfect gift. You can visit our curated list for Navy officers and Navy chiefs retirement gifts to get further ideas.

As I’ve said repeatedly, don’t get hooked up on the price. Also, whatever you present will be good enough provided that you have put your thought and life behind it.

Now armed with this knowledge, choose the perfect gift from our website which your loved one will surely remember it forever.

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