From literary classics to modern cinematic productions, the romance of sailing the high seas has permeated the popular imagination for centuries. Whether it is the dramatic dichotomy of freedom and survival at the mercy of nature that captivates our fancy or just the cool-looking maritime accouterments, throwing a Nautical theme party is always a crowd-pleaser. 

Command an audience at your next soiree by crafting a well-planned party that incorporates maritime decor using these decorating tips. As anyone who may have read our previous blogs will know, we advocate the use of subtle and tasteful, strategically-placed decorations rather than over-the-top kitsch. This strategy will send your event sailing leagues beyond the usual expectations.   

Outdoor Displays 

Nautical Party Decorated EntranceInvite the crew to “Party on the Poop” by flanking your front door with a pair of lifesavers to greet your guests. Choose “Welcome Aboard” or “Let Your Worries Sail Away” decorative life rings, then add the name of your guest of honor for an extra special dash of fun. 

Hang a Banner of Nautical Flags above the door to get your guests in a festive mood. And, for after dark events, illuminate sidewalks and outdoor party area boundaries with red, blue, and white 24” Banded Metal Yard Stake Tealight Holders to keep guests from running adrift.    

Foyer Display 

Use decorative fishing nets to evoke the sea-faring theme as your guests arrive. Hang a Genuine Heavy Gauge Fish Net from the ceiling or wall that leads into the main event area. 

Nautical Net With Starfish & String Lights
Adorn with sea creature decorations, starfish and shells. Optionally, add light & dark green crepe streamers to mimic strands of seaweed caught in the net. 

String up some Vintage Red-Lantern or Glass-Style-Plastic-Buoy Party Lights to give your net decoration some pizzazz. Another idea is to make colorful sea-creature cut outs with custom messages for the event or guest of honor. 

Swizzle Tip: If you don’t want to use screw-in wall hooks to hang the ceiling decorations, try clear adhesive wall hangers that remove easily.   


Michelle's Party Plan-It Message In A Bottle
Make a guestbook to commemorate the occasion and add a nautical twist with a ”Message in a Bottle” keepsake for the guest of honor. Position on a small table near the entrance along with pens, slips of message paper, and string or rubber bands so guests can sign as they arrive. 

Create a display with a damp-sand filled pail, and place it on its side so that the sand spills out. Place the uncorked message bottle in the sandy scatter, and add decorative shells or confetti. From Michelle's Party Plan-It.  

Nautical Styles

Combine or choose one of 3 distinctive nautical styles: 
  • Rustic includes natural and ye olde seaman items, such as weathered wood, lanterns, buoys, and fisherman accessories.
  • Refined is a breezy and casual style featuring crisp, clean lines and bold colors, include white-painted wood, sailboats, flags, and related items.
  • Traditional embraces sturdy and durable elements of ocean travel and motor-yachts, use ship navigational items, dark polished wood and brass, such as a captain's wheel, lighthouses, and anchors.
Use one style throughout your party or decorate your bar in a traditional style, party area more rustic, and food and serving with a refined look. 

Nautical Color Lanterns
Party Area

Depending upon the occasion, you can create a celebratory mood by hanging Nautical Flag Ceiling Swirls in the party area or over your dinner/serving table.  Or take a more subtle approach with a mix of Round Paper Lanterns in nautical colors (blue, red, white, yellow-gold).

White Sofa With Nautical Flag Throw PillowsSwitch out the throw pillows on your sofa for nautical colors repeated in the decorations such as navy blue, red, white, and yellow-gold; feature stripes, geometric designs, or Nautical Flag Pillows.

DIY Nautical Rope Coasters With Anchors
Decorate side tables, shelves, and mantels with nautical ships, buoys and lighthouses to continue the theme. Maintain an open space free of chairs and furniture in the party area for guests to circulate and mingle. 

Nautical-inspired rope coasters make a nice addition for guests to set drinks. Check out this link to do-it-yourself at


Enhance the atmosphere to relax your guests and encourage conversation with indirect lighting and candlelight.  Use votive candleholders in nautical colors or nautical-themed Rope-Wrapped Votive Candle Holders.

Lighthouse and Votive Candle Holders Ligiting

Create a colorful display on a shelf or mantel by alternating Votive Candle Lanterns and Lighthouse Replicas. In addition, you may use white Metal Tealight Lanterns and Nautical Lantern Tealights as lighting decorations.

Bar Area 

Setup an easily accessible rustic style bar in your party area using your Genuine Heavy Gauge Fisherman's Net with Red Lantern String Lights as a background. If using a net and string lights in the foyer, create a complementary version for the bar using Vintage Glass-Style Buoy String Lights or mount a pair of crossed oars.

Rustic Nautical Bar Decorations
Coordinate the scene with LED Classic Old 97 Lanterns and Blue & Red Lantern Salt & Pepper Shakers. Decorate the other side of the bar with a Metal Tugboat Sculpture or an arrangement of buoys in a variety of styles.

Include a perched pelican and a smattering of sea shells as accents. Position a red Votive Candle Lantern on the left (port) and a green Votive Candle Lantern on the right (starboard).

Use Multi-colored Sword Picks and Nautical Flag Picks as garnish and food skewers, and serve Cape Cods in tall glasses with Dockside and Lighthouse beverage napkins.   

Serving Table 

Build an engaging nautical display for a buffet, appetizer, gift or favor table with a raised display along the back. Start with a white tablecloth on your table and a coordinated Nautical-Striped Table Runner down the center.

Nautical Serving & Appetizer Table Decorations
Use boxes or shelving along the back (we use 2 ClosetMaid 12"H x 12"D x 31"L organizing shelves) and cover with an aqua or navy blue sheet or tablecloth to create an ocean scene. Pin the sides like a table skirt.  In addition, you may also choose to pin white fabric across the front and sides, so that only the water surface is visible.

Add lighthouses, sailboats, fishing boats, shrimpers and trawlers to emulate a bustling harbor. Hang Miniature "Welcome Aboard" Life Preservers across the front and run Vintage Glass-Style Buoy String Lights along the bottom. You may also want to add a backdrop to the scene, we are using under the sea bulletin board paper here. 

Serve food and appetizers with Sailboats Flying Spinnakers Salt & Pepper shakers, Lighthouse-Topped Spreaders, and Blue Sailboat on Striped Yellow Luncheon Napkins. Display the names of your dishes with Captain’s Wheel Placecard Holders.

Dinner/Banquet Table

Nautical Round Banquet Table DecorationsFor a nautical theme dinner or banquet, start with a decorative Solid Color Life Ring in blue, red, green or gold on a white tablecloth. Build a mini sea adventure inside the ring with a 19" Pond Sailboat in red, blue or green.

Add 2" risers and position a Lighthouse Replica on each side of the sailboat. Use blue Hawaiian Silk Leis or real blue flowers to give the appearance of water and waves.

Light the table with red & blue Lighthouse Tealight Holders inside the life ring rope. Continue the theme with a set of Lighthouse & Boat Salt & Pepper shakers.

Nautical Banquet Place SettingAt each place setting, use red & white striped napkins , alternatively make sisal rope or clothesline napkin rings with this simple DIY project at

Use mini Monkey Fist Rope Knots in the center of each plate or charger to hold flag placecards for your guests. Create ribbon flags on your computer in red & blue with each guests name, then simply print on paper, cut, apply glue and fold around a wooden toothpick. Create your own or use this template:

Nautical Ribbon Flag Name Tag Template

If you are not using placecards, just make flags without names or place a Nautical Chic Beverage Napkin, featuring a blue anchor on a red background, in the center of each place setting. For a playful touch, hang sailor hats on the back of each chair and, optionally, paint the name of each guest on the brim of the cap.

Hors D’Oeuvres Tray 

Pass 3 to 4 kinds of hors d’oeuvres on trays for guests to enjoy while sipping cocktails. Decorate Silver-Plated Serving Trays with ocean-themed centerpieces, such as:

Pelican Centerpiece Nautical Hors d'oeuvres
  • 5” Pelican
  • Painted Fishing Boat
  • Lighthouse Replicas
  • Lantern S&P
  • Lighthouse S&P
  • 5” Shrimp Boat
  • Rowboat
  • 6" Trawler
  • Lighthouse & Boat S&P

Or, clip a card bearing the appetizer name and sea-inspired slogan to a Lighthouse & Waterball Cardholder or Captain’s Wheel Weight/Photo Holder placed in the center of the tray. Insert USA and/or Nautical Flag Toothpicks in your bites for a much more impressive display than ordinary toothpicks.

Nautical Bathroom DecoratingGuest Bath 

Don’t forget about this oft-visited and overlooked room for decoration! Adding some small nautical-themed decor in the guest bathroom will show off your attention to detail and sophisticated tastes. 

Miniature Lighthouse Soaps in red and blue are adorably practical and coordinate well with red & blue Lighthouse Tealight Holders. Hang a pair of Embroidered Nautical Towels and accent with a Painted Fishing Boat, Lighthouse Replica and scattered Exotic Sea Shells.

Just for Fun 

Here is a list of common saying that have a nautical origin. Incorporate some of these slogans into your party lingo to name tables, drinks, and hors d'oeuvres just for fun:   

First Rate - Implies excellence. From the sixteenth century until steam powered ships took over, British naval ships were rated as to the number of heavy cannon they carried. A ship of 100 or more guns was a First Rate line-of-battle ship. Second rates carried 90 to 98 guns; Third Rates, 64 to 89 guns; Fourth Rates, 50 to 60 guns. Frigates carrying 20 to 48 guns were fifth and sixth rated. 
To Know the Ropes - There are miles rope in the rigging of a square rigged ship. The only way of keeping track of the function of all of these lines was to memorize (know) where they were located. It took an experienced seaman to know the ropes. 
Grog - In 1740, British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (whose nickname was Old Grogram for the coat of Grogram he wore) ordered that the sailors' daily ration of rum be diluted with water. The men called the mixture grog. A sailor who drank too much grog was groggy. 
Pooped - The poop is the stern section of a ship. To be pooped is to be struck by a high wave on the stern. 
The Devil to Pay - To pay the deck seams meant to seal them with tar. The devil seam was the most difficult to pay because it was curved and intersected with the straight deck planking.  Paying the Devil was considered to be a most difficult and unpleasant task, sometimes used as mild punishment. 
A Square Meal - The crews' mess was a warm meal served on square wooden platters.
Scuttlebutt - A butt was a large barrel. Scuttle meant to chop a hole in something. The scuttlebutt was a water barrel with a hole cut into it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. The scuttlebutt was the place where the ship's gossip was exchanged. 
Broad in the beam - Having wide hips or buttocks. The widest point of a ship. 
True colors - Early warships often carried flags from many nations on board in order to elude or deceive the enemy. The rules of civilized warfare called for all ships to hoist their true national ensigns before firing a shot. 
Fits the Bill - A Bill of Lading was signed by the ship's master acknowledging receipt of specified goods and the promise to deliver them to their destination in the same condition. Upon delivery, the goods were checked against the bill to see if all was in order. If so, they fit the bill. 

Find these and more unique nautical party decorations at Some products mentioned here are coming later this week!


Lynn Gilles

Date 11/22/2014

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