The U.S.N.L.P. Handbook
Guide to Naval Reenacting
Section 1.1-1.14 Safety

The guidelines provided may not necessarily be inclusive of all safety practices required for any procedure or operation conducted in private or at reenactment events. Every effort has been made to provide accurate and detailed instructions for the reader, but the information presented must be treated as a guideline only.

The reader of this book assumes all risks, responsibility and liability for any and all injuries, losses and damages to persons or property arising from the use of information found in this book. Reasonable care has been used in this book’s preparation. The copyrighted authors, contributors or the United States Naval Landing Party; singly or in consort will not be responsible for any form of injury, loss or damage through the misuse of information found herein.

The authors of the Handbook for Civil War Navy Reenactors respectfully advise the readers of said publication, that they make no representation of safety for the loads, procedures or methods reported herein. The facts, as published, were used on a given day, under a set of circumstances that are subject to numerous variables, any one of which may cause an accident if changed or even duplicated. Please use caution at all times when handling black gun powder, firearms, melee arms, knives, axes or tools of any find.

Safety - General

Without a doubt safety is the most important subject that can be covered in the Handbook. We will endeavor to cover as many aspects of the issue as possible. Safety is the concern of everyone. Never hesitate to correct an unsafe situation, regardless of the ranks involved. We must all look out for each other! If there is doubt, get clarification. Ask questions. When in doubt during any field exercise, call CEASE FIRE!

The drinking of alcohol in any form is not allowed during public hours. It creates safety problems and it conveys a bad impression to the public. Anyone attempting to operate any weapon under the influence may be summarily asked to leave that event. Repeated offenses of this nature will be cause for permanent removal from the unit.

The first law of safety is always: Common Sense.

There will be zero tolerance of unsafe behavior with a firearm or edged weapon.

There will be zero tolerance of the use of non-prescribed, controlled substances.

For those with medical problems, let a shipmate/pard know of your problem. An Identification card will be provided. The USNLP requires that you fill out this card and have it laminated. Punch a small hole in it and wear it about your neck on a piece of bead chain, rawhide or string. If you wear a Medical Alert tag on your wrist or neck this is perfectly OK. If no one knows how to help you, it can be dangerous. We want you to be a living credit to our hobby.

Safety - Weapons

First Law of Firearms

The First Law of firearm safety is: Consider a firearm as being LOADED and DEADLY at all times!

Weapons Definition

Weapons shall be understood to include both firearms and melee arms. "Firearms" are defined as a weapon capable of firing a missile, especially a rifle or pistol using an explosive charge as a propellant. "Melee arms" are to include individual swords, truncheons, boarding axes and pikes, pole arms and knives.

Blank vs. Live round definition

A blank round or cartridge is defined as a round consisting of a black powder charge and absolutely nothing which could be construed as being a projectile. This could include but not necessarily be limited to staples, wads, etc.

A live round or cartridge is defined as a round consisting of a black powder charge and anything which could be construed as a projectile. This could include but not necessarily be limited to bullets, stones, etc.


To qualify to handle arms of any kind, military members of the USNLP must meet two criteria; Foremost being strict age requirements, as follows:

The second qualification is a careful review of the individual by the USNLP leadership. All considerations of age are also subject to the laws of the State or Community in which the unit is reenacting.

Weapons Do’s and Don’ts

In the following list of Do’s and Don’ts. There is no inferred order of precedence.



General Weapons Provisions

The question of naval weapons often presents a problem for Army-oriented event sponsors or hosting units, who are unfamiliar with Navy practice. For example, the usual rules concerning enlisted men carrying swords do not apply -- cutlasses were standard issue for landing parties. The same holds true for pistols, which every sailor (officer or enlisted) should carry. All weapons employed by the USNLP shall be subject to approval and inspection. The frequency of such inspections are to be determined by the Unit Commander, aided by the senior NCO.

Inspections during an event are the responsibility of the officer commanding. These inspections will insure the safety of our members and those units that we may encounter in the field. The senior NCO will make note of discrepancies, in the interest of rectifying any problems encountered. Inspections will follow period drill format, prudence and safety not withstanding and shall be carried out by the senior-most Naval and Marine representatives present at any assembly. The procedures and commands are described in the section Safety - Drill, sub-section Inspection. The following are general rules:

The handling of weapons when under the influence of alcohol or drugs is strictly forbidden.

During the Civil War a sailor might be armed with a variable kit of arms. One of the standards was a cutlass and pistol. While this is normally reserved for infantry officers and possibly sergeants it is historically correct for a sailor to carry such arms. Some venues do not allow enlisted men to carry either or both of these weapons. The commanding officer of USNLP will handle this on a case-by-case basis and you will be informed of such. Should we be allowed to carry the cutlass, there are NO circumstances under which it may be withdrawn from its scabbard in any battle scenario.

All weapons must be unloaded subsequent to stacking or storage during or after an event. The senior NCO will, at the direction of the Unit Commander, require several caps to be fired to make sure the weapon is unloaded. Any violation of this rule is cause for being summarily ejected from the event, and may result in an individual being drummed out of the unit.

When a "Cease Fire!" is called for any reason, any and all firing is to stop, immediately! All members of the USNLP are to scrupulously observe this order. Under no conditions are we to begin firing again unless so ordered by the USNLP unit commander or senior NCO. If you have or suspect you have a loaded weapon the following procedure will be used:

Keep the muzzle of your weapon elevated and inform the officer or NCO of your situation. The officer or NCO will collect the men with the loaded weapons and take them to a safe place, away from spectators. After announcing "Fire in the hole!", and only at the command of the officer or NCO, will the men discharge their weapons into the air. This will render the weapon safe for marching and later capping off.

Failure to comply with this stringent safety rule may be cause for expulsion from the battle or exercise. Repeated offense may be reason for summary ejection from the USNLP.

"Cease Fire!", like the cry "Medic!" is not given, nor should it be taken lightly.

Failure of musket to fire

If your musket fails to fire for any reason, the following instructions are to be followed. Safety being the major consideration at all times. Keep the muzzle elevated unless instructed otherwise.

If the cap fires but the gun fails to discharge or you are not sure it went off, at the next command to Load do not put more powder down the bore. Pull the hammer back to half-cock, take off the old cap and put a new one on the cone. At the next command to Fire if the gun goes off then things are OK. If it fails to discharge then there is a problem. If you are in a formation, do the following:

Safety while making blanks

The first thing you must consider is the fact that you will have to buy, store and handle a quantity of black gun powder. Black powder is an explosive and inherently dangerous. It does represent a hazard. Further you should consider these facts very carefully if you have children. If the powder is stored and handled safely, you can minimize the hazards. You should also check with your local police and/or fire authorities concerning local ordinances regarding black powder. This is not an effort to deter you from making your own blanks. It is however, an effort to acquaint you with the problems. This is especially true if you have never handled black powder before.


The use of Pyrodex and black powder substitutes is not allowed.

Develop safe handling habits. Several that come to mind are:

Let’s reiterate that handling black powder is dangerous. Always treat it with tender loving care!


Certain scenarios that the USNLP may become engaged in, may involve the use of muzzle-loading black powder cannons. Members of the USNLP will have the opportunity for some basic training regarding the use of artillery and related safety practices. No member of the USNLP is to interfere with the operation of any artillery piece or its crew's drill. Members of the USNLP with formal artillery training and practical field experience will advise the Unit Commander on issues regarding artillery and any related or support activity. All Artillery personnel must train to a specified level of performance to insure their safe operation. We must do whatever we can to insure that we do not endanger others, nor ourselves.

The USNLP on occasion, operating either as an independent unit or in consort with another unit, may operate near or with artillery. Special safety requirements are to be observed during this period. The special requirements include but are not be limited to:

1. Never discharge any firearm within 100 feet of a loaded cannon or artillery limber chest.

2. Do not, under any conditions, pass in front of a cannon any closer than 50 yards within a 120 degree arc of the cannon muzzle.

3. Unless a person is in a formal training situation, no one other than the gun's crew is permitted within 25 feet of the ammunition chest(s) and/or limber.

The USNLP will not become a party to or be involved with any artillery unit that is not properly insured and/or whose members are not properly certified to operate their gun(s).


Common sense would be the natural guide on this issue. To re-enforce your native common sense here are few more things to consider.

Safety - Drill


Fall in at a company front at Ordered Arms; "Attention Ship’s Company", "SHOULDER - Arms", "Guide Left", "TO THE REAR IN OPEN ORDER - March" (Rear rank about 4 paces), "Post" (a petty officer or the 2nd sergeant will act as guide). Remember that the command "Shoulder Arms" is spoken as 2 words with a slight pause between the words.

The officer orders "Inspection Arms." The sailor/marine seizes the piece with the left hand below and near the upper band. Carry it with both hands opposite the middle of the body, the butt between the feet, the rammer to the rear, the barrel vertical. The muzzle about 8 inches from the body. Carry the left hand reversed to the bayonet, draw and fix it on the barrel. Grasp the piece with left hand below and near the upper band. Seize the rammer with the thumb and fore-finger of the right hand. Draw the rammer and let it slide to the bottom of the bore. Replace the piece with the left hand opposite the right shoulder, and take the position of Order Arms.

It is imperative that the inspecting officer make sure that each musket’s half-cock safety is functional. Make sure there is no cap on the cone and check that full-cock position locks in place. Gently return the hammer to the normal (resting on the cone) position. There is no leeway on this.

The inspecting officer will then inspect, in succession, the piece of each sailor/marine in passing along the front rank. Each man, as the officer reaches him, will raise the piece smartly with his right hand and seize it with the left between the lower band and the guide sight, the lock to the front, the left hand at the height of the chin, the piece opposite to the left eye; the officer will take the piece with the right hand at the handle and after inspecting it will return it to the sailor/marine, who will take it back with the right hand and replace it in the position of Order Arms.

After the officer has passed, the sailor/marine will return the rammer, unfix the bayonet (in that order) and resume the position of Order Arms.

After inspection of arms, the officer orders "Open Boxes" and proceeds to inspect. Canteens will also be inspected at this time. Make sure you fill them ahead of time. Under no circumstances will a member of the ship’s company be allowed to take the field without a full canteen. When inspection is finished, the officer in charge will command; "Attention Ship’s Company", "SHOULDER - Arms", "CLOSE ORDER - March" (Rear rank moves back into position). The guide will return to his normal position. Reach around and close the cartridge box as there is no command to do it.

During a unit-only inspection the Senior NCO(s) will inspect the officers sidearms. The NCO(s) will not be exempt from firearms inspection

The inspecting officer or NCO must be cognizant of safe inspection practices, including but not limited to the following observations:

Preparing to Fire

These sections on drill were included because of the Safety aspect. They are excerpted from Casey’s Drill Manual and modified. Other manuals have similar drill positions. Please note the differences described under Oblique Fire.

Remember that the rear rank man must have his musket over the front rank man’s right shoulder. Adjust the position of the piece such that the front rank man’s ear is between the 2nd and 3rd band of the piece. A slight bending of the knees or back may be necessary. This will keep the noise of the cap and the muzzle blast from deafening the front rank man. Additionally, percussion caps will sometimes split and pieces fly off. This is dangerous and another reason for paying attention to this detail of firing.

Do not remove the cap until you re-load. This cuts off the air supply to any burning particles in the barrel.


(First motion) Raise the musket slightly with the right hand, making a half face to the right on the left heel; carry the right foot to the rear, and place it at right angles to the left. This forms the "T" stance. Grab the musket with the left hand at the lower band and detach it slightly from the shoulder.

(Second motion) Bring the musket down with both hands, the barrel upward, the left thumb extended along the stock, the butt below the right fore-arm, the small of the stock against the body, the muzzle as high as the eye, the left elbow against the side.

At the same time place the right thumb on the hammer, the fingers under and against the guard. For safety reasons, only half-cock the weapon. DO NOT BRING THE WEAPON TO FULL-COCK at this time.


During the act of bringing the musket up to Aim, cock it with your right thumb.

If for any reason, the firing sequence must be stopped at any point prior to firing, the command "RECOVER -Arms" will be used. The men will bring their firearms back to the Ready.

Firing Positions

At any time during the firing of your musket you experience a problem, Stop. Keep the muzzle raised and at least 8 inches away from your face and appendages. Re-read the section on Firearm Safety.

Direct Fire

At the command Ready - Front and Rear rank men, put feet in T stance

At the command Aim - Front rank stay in the T stance. Rear rank men; the LEFT foot stays put but move the RIGHT foot about 8 inches to the right.

Oblique Fire

Same as Direct Fire but Right or Left Oblique will precede Aim.

The foot movements of the rear rank men as described here are in variance with most drill manuals. The movements were modified in the interest of safety and stability.

At the command - RIGHT OBLIQUE - Aim

Front rank aim to the right about 45 degrees. Rear rank men, move your LEFT foot about 8 inches to the LEFT and FORWARD toward the front rank man to your LEFT.

At the command - LEFT OBLIQUE - Aim

Front rank aim to the left about 45 degrees. Rear rank men, move your RIGHT foot about 8 inches to the RIGHT and FORWARD toward the front rank man to your RIGHT.

Safety - Camp

This section is a catch-all for general camp rules. They may be modified to suit local or event situations.


Tents should be set up according to the camp regulations as a minimum. This would be 2 paces between tents, side-to-side. At least 5 paces between the two rows comprising a company street.

Fire pits are to be dug at least 4 inches deep and of dimensions to suit the intended purpose. Line the edges with the sod that was dug out, dirt side facing the fire pit. If the grass side is left exposed it can catch fire.

After careful examination of the camp, designate a wood chopping area. It should be away from public byways and heavily traveled paths. Axes and hatchets represent a considerable hazard and should be treated accordingly.

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