Welcome to everything and anything you ever wanted to know about Fleet Week.
Typically when the United States Navy amasses the United States Marine Corps offshore, a foreign enemy has reason to tremble at the sight.
However, once a year in cities throughout the nation, they are greeted not with trepidation but unrivaled celebration.
Fleet Week marks the celebration where the American civilian population and the sea services of the United States Armed Forces mingle, mix and revel in one city-wide patriotic party. As Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsman pour on shore, the civilian population gets the chance to step on board the ships.
The civilians love it, the military loves it, and rumor has it that any establishment known to serve a stiff drink, really loves it.
Fleet Week: A Celebration of Sea Services
The United States Armed Forces are comprised of five branches. The oldest of these five would be the United States Army founded on June 14th, 1775. The newest branch to emerge given the evolution of flight is the United States Air Force founded on September 18th, 1947.
Right in the middle, you will find our nation’s sea services.
The Navy was founded on October 13th, 1775 with the Marines following suit on November 10th of the same year. The Coast Guard would come along a few years later in 1790 and with that, you have the complete armed forces.
Fleet Week is about celebrating the latter three, namely the sea services. Those who since this nation’s founding have left port to guard our shores and fight beyond the horizon.
Fleet Week is celebrated on various dates throughout the year in port cities throughout the nation to celebrate ships who take part in operations across the globe. It’s a time where those who served step ashore and those curious about the sea services have the opportunity to come aboard a ship.
Sea meets land and military meets civilian in a tradition revived over the past 40 years.
The Origins of Fleet Week
Fleet Week can trace its origins in America back to the 1930’s as President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to beef up the presence of the United States Navy in response to the clouds of war gathering over the world.
At the California Pacific International Exposition, a color guard of US Marines raised the flag to open the exposition as over 100 warships and 400 military planes descended upon San Diego.
Then over 55,000 enlisted men and 3,000 commissioned officers visited the town throughout the week in what would become known as the first Fleet Week.
Similar, yet smaller, traditions would occur during the ensuing decades.
Although the US Navy was a little tied up during the early 1940’s, it would be common for several ships to pull into various port cities throughout the nation. Civilians would have the opportunity to visit and tour the warships while the Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsman hit the town for a little liberty.
However, it was a 1981 fleet visit to San Francisco that revived the name Fleet Week and kicked off the tradition as we know it today.
Now, port cities from the West Coast to Southern Florida and up to New York city revel in the tradition of Fleet Week.
So what exactly can you expect from Fleet Week?
Well, let’s just take a look at what the past few years have had to offer.
Fleet Week Airshow: The Blue Angels
The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 with the stated mission “to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.”
Translation: you get to see some of the most amazing aerial acrobatics on the planet.
The Blue Angels appearance during Fleet Week in San Francisco has become a crowd favorite. The landscape of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge makes their performance as picturesque as anyone could imagine from almost any vantage point.
The famed blue jets are McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets that are modified for this special mission. The weapons are removed as they are not quite required for an air show and the planes are pained their recognizable blue. The pilots are comprised of elite aviators from the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.
Watching these aircraft fly in formation at what seems like frighteningly close distances and speeds is a thrill. Their precision and showmanship are truly second to none.
While the Blue Angels don’t make an appearance at every Fleet Week across this nation, they are a must see should they find their way to your port town.
Around the Nation: Parades, Ship Tours, Silent Drill Teams, & More
Each year, the roster of entertainment varies for each city hosting the US fleet, but to say that they are action packed is an understatement.
New York’s Fleet Week typically kicks off with a parade of ships through New York harbor. It’s a remarkable sight to take in as the awesome power of the United States Navy parades by with its mighty ships.
The scene becomes, even more, moving as you can see the humanity behind the power as thousands of Sailors and Marines in dress uniforms line the decks of the ships as they pass.
Most Fleet Weeks will offer some similar lineup as terrain and weather allow.
Each year the exact ships to take part in Fleet Week are announced ahead of time. These include some of the most advanced weaponry the Navy has to offer. Tours of these ships typically take place during pre-scheduled times as identified by the ship’s commanders.
It is important to note that these times are dictated by the ships and are subject to change at last minutes notice. However, for the most part, these tours are available on time with military precision.
Another huge favorite of Fleet Week that takes place in various cities throughout the nation is the silent drill teams.
The Coast Guard silent drill team regularly participates in New York while the famed United States Marine Corps silent drill team from Washington D.C. is known to make appearances at various events.
This precision rhythm of cadence and pomp as rifles and bayonets are thrown the air produces a little a little thrill with a few gasps of fear.
Military bands will regularly hold concerts throughout the various cities and are free and open to the public. Each city’s Fleet Week will always hold some common themes, but they are a unique as the cities themselves.
3 Facts You Didn’t Know About Fleet Week
Whereas the events and celebrations of Fleet Week are widely publicized, there are lesser-known facts about Fleet Week and the sea services that one might not know. So let’s tackle a few points of historical fact that might help you win that fleet week trivia night.
- The birthplace of the Marine Corps was, in fact, a bar. Tun Tavern in Philadelphia was the historical birthplace of the Marine Corps and is a fact celebrated by imbibing Marines to this day. While it’s rumored the Marines like to hit the local bars when they come ashore, there is actually a historical precedent.
- The Coast Guard often takes the brunt of the jokes among the 5 military services. Often referred to as the “puddle Navy” due to their shallow water roots.
- When you step aboard a Navy ship, you will be shocked to find out there are no walls or floors. Rather, walls are bulkheads and floors are decks in keeping with long-standing naval terminology.
These unique facets of military life are but a few of the fascinating elements to be revealed when the civilian and military population mix for Fleet Week.
Fleet Week SF
By far the most famous of the celebrated Fleet Weeks, San Francisco’s takes place in October during the Columbus Day weekend.
This cities tradition began in 1981 and has continued without interruption with the exception of 2013 when it was canceled due to budgetary concerns.
So just what can you expect during San Francisco Fleet Week?
Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule and highlights from the past.
Annual October Celebration: SF Fleet Week Schedule 2018
In 2018, San Francisco Fleet Week is scheduled to take place October 1st through October 8th.
While the 2018 full schedule to include visiting ships have yet to be published, we know it will contain all the favorites. This includes an amazing air show by the famed Blue Angels, a dazzling decent by the Navy Leap Frogs skydiving team and a complete airshow comprising of over a dozen different acts.
In addition, there will be a veteran’s art exhibit, military K-9 demonstration, high school band challenge, of course, the famed tours of US warships.
Not to mention for a week there will be thousands of Marine, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen hitting the town for an evening out.
Highlights: Fleet Week San Francisco 2017
In 2017, the celebrations of Fleet Week went off without a hitch.
The air show was without a doubt the crowd favorite among the many celebrations that took place around San Francisco Bay. The city was host to multiple US warships to include the USS Dewey, USS Essex and USS Champion.
Even the Canadian Navy got in on the action while bringing HMCS Winnipeg Halifax class frigate to town.
Highlights: San Francisco Fleet Week 2016
In 2016 the crowds took in a performance by the United States Marine Corps 1st Marine Division Band out of Camp Pendleton, California.
The United States Navy Pacific Fleet band then followed suit and, of course, the famed air show.
After the parade of ships sailed through the harbor the public then had their opportunity again to visit these mighty pieces of American power.
Highlights: Fleet Week SF 2015
As you will see again in 2015, the consistency of entertainment, history and patriotic revelry happens without fail.
2015 consisted of the famed air show, ship tours along with daily festivals at the humanitarian village which celebrated the humanitarian work of the United States sea services. Marines and sailors hit the town and somehow miraculously as they do every year seem to make it back on ship in time despite the constant celebrations.
Year after year you can expect the same high level of celebration in San Francisco Fleet Week, but what about a few other cities?
Fleet Week NYC
Almost equally well known and celebrated with equal fanfare, New York’s Fleet Week dates back to 1982 and routinely timed to be celebrated with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Much like San Francisco, New York offers a picturesque scene as warships sail through New York Harbor with the Statue of Liberty providing the overwatch.
So when thousands of Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen hit the Big Apple you can be sure party is ready to ensue.
Annual Memorial Day Celebration: Fleet Week New York Schedule 2018
In 2018, fleet week NYC will take place May 23rd through May 28th.
The festivities kick off with the famed parade of ships as the men and women of the sea services line the decks through New York Harbor. The exact ships that will participate are often announced closer to the event as operational needs of the fighting forces of the sea certainly come first.
However, the spectacle of America’s military sailing into the harbor is not one to be missed.
Once on shore, the party begins to kick off in earnest. In years past, the Navy Band can be seen rocking out in Time Square while demonstrations of unique military skills take place throughout the city.
The Coast Guard Silent Drill Team takes to the streets to perform an awe-inspiring march of cadence, precision, and accuracy. Then, of course, the beloved ship tours will take place throughout the week. Participating ships can be viewed at piers 86, 88, and 92 in Manhattan along with Sullivan’s Pier on Staten Island.
It’s a week of patriotic revelry that always lives up to expectations. If there is any doubt, let’s just take a look at Fleet Week NYC from years past.
Highlights: Fleet Week NYC 2016
Fleet Week in 2016 kicked off with your standard parade of ships that included the USS Farragut, USS Bainbridge, USCGC Forward and more.
2016 featured service members conducting read aloud book sessions with children at the Brooklyn Public Library. The Navy Band once again rocked out, but this time they were on the pier.
BBQ street parties took place in Brooklyn and the civilian population was able to witness the tradition and history of several re-enlistment and promotion ceremonies.
It was truly a week where the civilian and military community were able to come together and celebrate the nation’s great military heritage.
LA Fleet Week
Fleet Week LA will take place in 2018 on August 31st through September 3rd during Labor Day weekend.
Like every Fleet Week, LA’s celebration is free to the public and hosts some of the most thrilling events around. From airshows to parties to discounts on existing military museums, LA Fleet Week lives up to the name.
Annual Labor Day Celebration: LA Fleet Week Schedule 2018
The current schedule for LA Fleet Week 2018 is still being developed, but one can expect a similar format as year’s past.
The Port of Los Angeles comes alive as an event expo kicks off the celebrations. Several military comedy groups will perform for the crowds taking them back to the classic era of Bob Hope and the USO.
You can also expect a regular flyover of several military aircraft along with those from local first responders.
In keeping with other Fleet Weeks, you will be able to take guided tours of several US Naval vessels and take in the view of these massive ships.
This celebration also hosts a variety of food courts, basketball tournaments, and bands to ensure this weekend is one to remember.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2017
As 2018’s schedule has yet to be released, we can look at 2017 as a further guide on what to expect.
In addition to the ship tours and flyovers, 2017 hosted a basketball tournament between the city of Los Angeles vs US Military Basketball. A crowd favorite, the city watched as some of their best athletes competed against warriors who dropped the uniform and laced up the sneakers.
While it is no longer part of the operational fleet, the USS Iowa serves as a museum staple in LA and was host to many of the festivities in 2017.
It was a great week for LA and one the Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen were sure to remember.
Fleet Week San Diego
Fleet Week San Diego typically takes place in October. As a prime Naval town, the activities in San Diego contain a little of everything you could imagine from the sea services.
Annual October Celebration: Fleet Week San Diego Schedule 2018
While Fleet Week 2018 has not been scheduled yet, if San Diego Fleet Week goes as it did in previous years it will be an event to remember.
While it contains all of the standard ship visits, parties and fanfare as the other Fleet Weeks San Diego has a few unique offerings.
The United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot is located in San Diego and a place where young men are made into Marines. A recruit challenge is a unique staple for the civilian population and can expect that again in 2018.
With 2018 not yet scheduled, it might be better to take a look at the events in a prior year.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2015
Fleet Week 2015 hosted an array of parties, picnics in the park and the famed sea and airshows.
Ship visits were scheduled throughout the week and include ships from the US Navy, US Coast Guard and even an appearance by the Canadian Navy. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot challenge was in full force.
In addition, a race known as “The Race on Base” took place at Coronado Naval Air Station North Island.
Fleet Week Baltimore
Baltimore’s Fleet Week will take place October 3rd through 9th in 2018.
Much like the other Fleet Weeks, the full schedule of activities has yet to be posted. However, Baltimore is unique in that it’s proximity to the nation’s capital makes it a prime destination for some the military’s best performers.
Annual October Celebration: Baltimore Fleet Week Schedule 2018
Like many cities, the full schedule for Baltimore’s 2018 Fleet Week is not yet posted.
However, if years past are any indication, this one will live up to the name and the hype.
It’s worth continuing to check the Baltimore Fleet Week website for updates to survey the full list of fleet week events once posted. So let’s take a look at Baltimore Fleet Week 2016.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2016
Fleet Week 2016 was packed from the first day until the last.
Unique to Baltimore would be the parade of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race vessels. They fire a salute to the fort in the bay and kick off the festivities as the rest of the naval vessels pour into the harbor.
An airshow was hosted in 2016, which featured the famed Blue Angels that year, and a marathon run took place in the city with each evening a host of parties and festivities.
Fleet Week Seattle Seafair Parade
Fleet Week in Seattle is unique in that it is combined and intertwined with it’s annual Seafair Parade.
Typically taking place the last week of July and the first week of August, this event can trace its roots back to the 1950’s.
Hosting an airshow, parade of ships, and more, this event keeps with the traditions of Fleet Week while adding its own unique flair.
Annual June Celebration: Seattle Fleet Week Schedule 2018
This year’s event will kick off on July 28th and run through the Seafair Weekend Festival on August 3rd through 5th.
Keep in mind while this even certainly lives up to many typical Fleet Week expectations, it is an overall celebration of maritime life in general.
The town will host its annual 5k/8k torchlight run through the center of Seattle as well as a torchlight parade fanfest then wrap up the weekend with the Boeing Seafair AirShow and high-speed boat races sure to thrill the crowd.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2015
During 2015, the Seattle Fleet Week took place on June 29th through August 2nd.
It was host to several US Naval vessels as well as ships from the US Coast Guard and Canadian Navy. Ship tours thrilled the civilian population as they were able to see up close some of America’s mightiest ships.
The weekend hosted an airshow, boat races, and the traditional parties where military bands rocked out to the delight of the crowds.
Fleet Week Portland
Similar to Seattle, Portland’s Fleet Week joins an existing celebration in Portland’s Rose Festival.
Several ships from the sea services along with their crews will sail into port to take part in the weekend of festivities.
This year, the Rose Festival Fleet Week will take place on June 6th through June 10th.
Annual June Celebration: Fleet Week Schedule 2018
The full schedule for Portland’s Fleet Week has not been posted yet, but we can assume it will contain many previous elements.
Ship visits will likely be a staple of this weekend along with great food, music and military demonstrations to enjoy. The Rose Festival itself will contain floral arrangements that are jaw-dropping as well as parades, races, and more.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2017
Fleet Week 2017 saw over 8 ships sail into port along with thousands of sailors. Those ships included the USS Bunker Hill and the USS Jackson.
The Coast Guard was well represented with the USCGC Alert, USCGC Orcas, USCGC Bluebell and the USCGC Ironwood. The Canadian Navy even threw in with the HMCS Brandon and HMCS Edmonton.
Fleet Week Port Everglades
On the Atlantic Coast of Florida, Fleet Week Port Everglades kicks off in 2018 on April 30th – May 6th.
Like many, the full schedule has yet to be published, but previous years indicate the Port Everglades Fleet Week is a South Florida favorite.
Annual April/May Fleet Week Schedule 2018
Typically a host of ships will sail into port to enjoy the warm Florida climate and its hot nights of celebration and revelry.
The week kicks off with a welcoming ceremony at Esplanade Park where Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen greet the public. Receptions will be held at various pubs and yacht clubs where each party is often only attended by certain ranks.
Throw in a fishing tournament, family fun day and a Navy Band concert and you have a weekend to remember.
Highlights: Fleet Week 2017
In 2017, Port Everglades was host to the USS New York, which was forged partially from steel retrieved from the World Trade Center towers.
While all the ships were popular attractions to visit, the USS New York stood out due to its role in recent history. Celebrity chef luncheons took place on board the ships where local culinary experts along with US Navy staff put on a treat for all who took part.
The weekend ended with a performance by the US Navy Band Southeast at Esplanade Park as fleet week 2017 ended with a bang.
The Blue Angels Schedule 2018
From sea to shining sea, Fleet Week is an event adored by both the civilian and military population alike.
A common misconception and frequent disappointment is that the famed Blue Angels perform at every fleet week. While that is not the case, the Blue Angels do maintain a robust schedule that can be found below.
March 10: NAF El Centro Airshow – NAF El Centro, CA
March 17-18: OPEN
March 24-25: Wings Over South Texas Airshow – NAS Kingsville, TX
April 7-8: Heart of Texas Airshow – Waco, TX
April 14-15: Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow – Tuscaloosa, AL
April 21-22: Vero Beach Airshow – Vero Beach, FL
April 28-29: Wings Over Myrtle Beach – Myrtle Beach, SC
May 5-6: MCAS Cherry Point Airshow, MCAS Cherry Point, NC
May 12-13: MacDill AFB Air Fest – MacDill AFB, FL
May 23: U.S. Naval Academy Airshow – Annapolis, MD
May 25: U.S. Naval Academy Graduation – Annapolis, MD
May 26-27: Bethpage Jones Beach Airshow – Wantagh, NY
June 2-3: NAS Patuxent River 75th – Patuxent River, MD
June 9-10: Rhode Island National Guard Airshow – North Kingstown, RI
June 16-17: Chippewa Valley Airshow – Eau Claire, WI
June 23-24: Vectren Dayton Airshow – Dayton, OH
June 30-July 1: National Cherry Festival Airshow -Traverse City, MI
July 14-15: Pensacola Beach Air Show – Pensacola Beach, FL
July 21-22: Biloxi Gulf Coast Airshow – Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
July 28-29: Fargo Airshow – Fargo, ND
August 4-5: Boeing Seafair Airshow – Seattle, WA
August 11-12: Abbotsford International Airshow – Abbotsford, BC
August 18-19: Terre Haute Airshow – Terre Haute, IN
August 25-26: Sound of Speed Airshow – St Joseph, MO
September 1-3: Cleveland National Airshow – Cleveland, OH
September 15-16: Owensboro Airshow – Owensboro, KY
September 22-23: NAS Oceana Airshow – NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA
September 29-30: MCAS Miramar – San Diego, CA
October 6-7: San Francisco Fleet Week – San Francisco, CA
October 13-14: Aviation Round Up – Minden-Tahoe, NV
October 20-21: Wings Over Houston Airshow – Houston, TX
October 27-28: NAS Jacksonville Airshow – NAS Jacksonville, FL
November 2-3: Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow – NAS Pensacola, FL
A Sea Celebration of the Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force
Since the founding of this nation, America’s sea services have fought in every climate and place to ensure freedom in this land will reign.
While countless generations have served, service in the United States military is still limited to a small percentage of Americans. This is in part what makes Fleet Week such a spectacular event.
If, but for a weekend, the civilian and military divide is bridged in one patriotic fanfest.
As Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen storm ashore the civilian population gets to experience the smallest taste of life in the fleet.
4 Tips to Navigate Fleet Week Like a Pro
For those who have never attended Fleet Week or spent much time among the sea services, here are just a few tips to make the celebration go smoothly.
- Marines are not soldiers, they are Marines. Some (if not all) don’t like to be called soldiers so it’s probably best to just call them Marines.
- You can often tell the difference between the officer ranks and enlisted men by the position and nature of their insignia. Officers typically wear rank on their collars and will be of some sort of silver or gold brass. Enlisted will wear their rank on their upper sleeves.
- Yes, the Marines are a department of the Navy, but this is again a fact they don’t like to mention.
- Meanwhile, the Coast Guard which serves a vital role in defending this nation will often be the butt of jokes from the larger Navy.
However, they are all part of one team and worthy of celebration. Find your next Fleet Week event and participate and enjoy the celebrations.