Traditions of Shipbuilding – Naming & Renaming

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Image Courtesy: Ship Management International

This week we have seen how ceremoniously the keel of the ship is laid and also, the traditions that are followed when a vessel is launched.

However, after the keel laying ceremony and the launch of the ship, another very important event takes place – the naming or christening of the vessel. It usually entails breaking a bottle of champagne on the bow of the vessel and speaking the words:

“I name this ship ___ and may she bring fair winds and good fortune to all who sail on her.” Or, “I name this ship ____, may God bless her and all who sail in her.” 

This normally carried out by a woman and is thought to bring good luck to the vessel. During the naming (or christening) ceremony, the vessel is named and her name is ceremoniously revealed from under garlands and banners; sometimes, the naming ceremony takes place just before the delivery of the vessel to her new owners.

Today, by IMO regulations, it is required that the name of the vessel is clearly printed on both the portside and starboard bow and the superstructure, while the name along with her IMO number and her homeport are clearly printed on the stern with lettering at least four inches in height.

According to the US Coast Guard, “A name for the vessel composed of letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman numerals and may not exceed 33 characters. The name may not be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea; may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent, or profane language, or to racial or ethnic epithets.”

It is said that once a ship is named, the name enters the “Ledger of the Deep” that was believed to be maintained by Neptune (or Poseidon) himself. Thus, the naming of a ship is a very important aspect in the traditions of shipbuilding.

Sometimes, a ship or boat is sold to a new owner and needs to be “renamed”. Traditionally, renaming a ship was considered to bring bad luck, because, as stated earlier, the “Ledger of the Deep” is maintained by Neptune (or Poseidon) himself and renaming a ship or boat means you’re trying to slip something past the gods and you will be punished for your deviousness. However, there are times when this is essential. But before a ship is renamed, it must first be properly “denamed”. This is done with a lot of care and involves a proper ceremony. This involves preparing the vessel by removing all physical traces of the boat’s old name, taking the old log book ashore, along with any other papers that bear the old name, checking for offending books and charts with the name inscribed, sanding away the old name from the lifeboats, transom, top-side, and oars and if the old name is carved or etched, removing it digging it out, filling it with sand and then painting over it. After this is done, the following words may be spoken:

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name (here insert the old name of your vessel) which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea. (At this point, the prepared metal tag is dropped from the bow of the boat into the sea.)

In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (Pour at least half of the bottle of Champagne into the sea from East to West. The remainder may be passed among guests.)

It is usual for the renaming ceremony to be conducted immediately following the purging ceremony, although it may be done at any time after the purging ceremony. For this portion of the proceedings, more Champagne is needed as a few more gods must be appeased. For the renaming ceremony, the following words must be spoken:

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as (Here insert the new name you have chosen), guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.

In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation and in honour of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (At this point, one bottle of Champagne, less one glass for the master and one glass for the mate are poured into the sea from West to East.)

With this, the series of traditions in shipbuilding from keel laying to launching, naming and renaming is complete.

Sea News Feature, January 5