Obverse:A cross, in the centre of which is a circle. Within the circle is the Royal Cypher surmounted by a crown.

Reverse: Plain, but since 1940 the year of award has been recorded on the reverse side of the lower arm.

Size: 40mm across the arms of the cross.

Ribbon: 35mm wide, the ribbon has three equal stripes of dark blue, white and dark blue.

Suspension: The ribbon passes through a ring, which in turn passes through an eyelet attached to the uppermost arm of the cross.

Instituted in 1901 as The Conspicuous Service Cross, it was changed and given its present name in 1914. The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to officers, up to the rank of Commander, and Warrant Officers of the Navy who have displayed courage or devotion to duty in active service. Only eight awards of the Conspicuous Service Cross were made before the change of name.

Provision is made for officers of equivalent rank in the Marines, Army, Air Force and Merchant Navy to be eligible when serving afloat. Approximately 1,700 Crosses were awarded during the First World War and 4,500 during the Second World War.

Members of the Royal New Zealand Navy were awarded ninety three Crosses, nine first bars and one second bar during the Second World War, five Crosses, one first bar (for which the Cross had been awarded for service with the Royal Navy during the Second World War) and one second bar (for which the Cross and first bar had been awarded for service with the Royal Navy during the Second World War) during the Korean War, and one Cross during the Borneo confrontation.

Bars for subsequent acts were authorised in 1916 and one third bar was awarded in 1945.