Traditions in Shipbuilding – Launching the Ship


The launch of a ship is celebrated with great pomp and splendour. It is one of the most important milestones in the lifecycle of a ship and the launch itself is carried out ceremoniously while upholding traditions and amongst a crowd of owners, manufacturers and well wishers.

Image Courtesy: maritime Connector

No matter what country it may be, Eastern or Western, savage or civilised, the launch of a ship is always the occasion of a picturesque and impressive ceremony. Even among the maritime nations which have adopted identical shipbuilding machinery and scientific procedure for bringing the ship to the launching stage, the details of the ceremony vary according to the spirit and temperament of the people. In the 15th century, the King’s representative would name the ship, drink a goblet of wine, sprinkle wine on the deck at the four cardinal points and then throw the goblet overboard. In Charles II’s time, in the 17th century, the goblet was presented to the master shipwright and not thrown away.

Traditionally, the ship naming and launching ceremony had a meaning where it had brought good fortune and safety to the new ship, its crew, and passengers. The tradition of ship naming ceremony dates back to thousands of years. There are evidences of Babylonian celebrating ship launching in the 3rd millennium BC, and Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians calling on their gods to protect ships before starting voyages.

The Greeks wore olive branch wreaths around their heads, drank wine to honour the gods, and poured water on the new boat to bless it. The Babylonians sacrificed an ox, the Turks sacrificed a sheep, and the Vikings and Tahitians offered up human blood.

Image Courtesy: Maritime Connector

During the medieval age, wine was offered as a substitute for the earlier blood sacrifice to mark the opening ceremony of the ships. The traditions continue to be similar even today with the only exception of women christening ships nowadays. Earlier, the ceremony was mainly performed by religious men or officials.

Ship launching imposes stresses on the ship not met during normal operation, in addition to the size and weight of the vessel, and it represents a considerable engineering challenge as well as a public spectacle. The process also involves many traditions intended to invite good luck, such as christening by breaking a sacrificial bottle of champagne over the bow as the ship is named aloud and launched.

Image Courtesy: Ship Simulator Forum

There are different ways in which a ship is launched. These are 4 methods:

  1. Air Bags – Launching ships using air bags is an innovative and safe technique to launch ships in water. These airbags are usually cylindrical in shape with hemispherical heads at both ends. They are made of reinforced rubber layers and have high load capacity. This method can easily be used in all types and sizes of vessels.
  2. Floating-out type – Though this is technically not considered a launch, when ships are built in dry docks, the docks are filled with water and the ship is floated out. This is the most popular way and is a preferred choice for many in the industry.
  3. Sideways – Some slipways are built so that the vessel is side-on to the water and is launched sideways. This is done where the limitations of the water channel would not allow lengthwise launching, but occupies a much greater length of shore.
  4. Mechanised – This is normally done for a smaller vessels and involves a mechanical feature.

After a ship is launched, it begins its myriad voyages, generating revenue for its owners, managers, operators and crew. A single vessel plays a vital role in the lives of numerous people across the globe.

Sea News Feature, January 4