- To take down or put below.
- To qualify for a rating (occupation).
Probably earlier than the 17th century. From Middle English (and possibly Old English), strican.
To strike something below is to put it away below decks. To “strike the colors” would mean to lower the flag, and therefore, surrender.
(sarcasm) Striking the colors is not done in the civilized world because only cowards surrender, whereas brave sailors die with honor and glory! A good captain would rather valiantly going down with the ship rather than face the disgrace of capitulation. Reports and books will be written describing, in harrowing detail, how you snatched victory from the jaws of defeat! Many posthumous awards will be given, newly christened ships will carry your name into posterity, and you will go down in the annals of naval history as a glorious hero to emulated my thousands of future sailors! That’s clearly all worth the price of your life and the defamation that will eventually occur when people dig up the dirt on you decades later to write about how you weren’t really the hero everyone initially made you out to be.
In the second meaning of the term, sailors who go directly from boot camp to a ship or station without any specialized training at an “A School” are known as “undesignated seamen.” Thus, they have a miserable time trying to figure out what rating (occupation) they want to do. After selecting a rating, going through on-the-job training, and taking other courses, they can “strike for a rating.” Once qualifying for a rating, but not yet a petty officer, they are known as a designated striker. For example, Seaman Jones who struck for a Boatswain’s Mate rating would be Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Jones until becoming a Petty Officer 3rd Class, whereupon he would be Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Jones.
Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport Museum.