Naming a Boat

A bit of history

Thousands of years ago boats were named to honour a god, in order to safeguard them from peril. Their fear and superstition convinced them that the gods would protect them if they pleased them in this way. Similarly early Christians would name boats after saints.

The tradition of naming boats after women could have started as the belief in ancient gods faded and the practice of using names of goddesses changed gradually into using everyday female names instead. Another idea is that in some languages, boats or ships were "feminine" objects, grammatically, hence the practice of referring to them as "she", while a female name might also imply the provider of comfort and calm in a potentially dangerous situation.

It was probably the ancient Greeks and Romans who first used wine to christen a boat before it was launched, as an offering to the gods. This was just one part of an elaborate ritual which also incorporated parties, speeches, toasts and prayers. Animal and even human sacrifices were included in some cultures. There were also superstitions about the procedures, for instance, it was thought that the best time to name a ship was at high tide, when the sun was out, or when there was a full moon. Champagne has now taken the place of wine and it has become a tradition that a woman performs the naming ceremony, becoming the sponsor or godmother.

The process of re-naming a boat has traditionally been thought to bring bad luck. To avoid this, the boat had to be de-named by removing all references to the old name, such as log book and papers. Any items such as lifebuoys, dinghy, oars etc could be reused only if the name was completely and permanently removed. It was also considered appropriate to wait a whole day before giving the boat its new name. There are stories describing how these procedures have been taken to what seem like ridiculously superstitious limits. I have read that sometimes the de-naming became a party with friends and witnesses and the aim was to purge all traces of the old name from the ledger, kept by Poseidon, the ruler of the seas. A metal tag was prepared with the old name written on it in water-soluble ink. Poseidon’s name was invoked and he was requested to expunge from his memory and records all traces of the old name. The metal tag was then dropped into the sea followed by half a bottle of champagne (sparkling wine would not do) pouring from East to West. The remainder of the champagne was then consumed. The re-naming would be completed in a similar manner invoking other gods and winds and involving more quantities of champagne. No item bearing the new name of the boat could be allowed on board until the purging and renaming ceremonies had been completed.

Naming a boat today

There are no laws in most countries that restrict you from choosing a boat name that is already in use and it can be as long or short as you like. Many boat owners spend a fortune on buying a boat and then name it without considering the implications. Most people like to choose a name which has a special significance to them, which is fine but it should not be so long or obscure that it is not memorable and most importantly they should consider what their boat name will sound like repeated several times over the VHF radio. When calling for help, a short, easy-to-remember name could really help in an emergency, while some names could actually antagonise the rescue authorities (see later). Complicated spellings can also cause confusion, especially when you are using the phonetic alphabet to call the Coastguard in a crisis.

Many people name their boats after important people in their lives such as a wife or girl friend. Others choose something they think will bring them luck, or use a reference to how they obtained the boat, such as a lottery win, or the stock market. Some include a reference to their business, to help advertise their company. Many people now have cleverly made up names, involving nautically spelled words. Names such as Knotaclew, Nautibuoy and Legasea are easy to read and to remember, but maybe Annaweighwego or the German boat Fahrfrum Wurkenare just a bit too clever.

If you have a really good name for your old boat which you want to use on the replacement, that is quite alright, although some people like to use a numeral after the name.

What names not to use

  • Don’t tempt providence. Names like Bottoms Up and On the rocks may seem clever at the time, and naming your boat after something like the Titanic or Lusitania is just asking for the worst to happen.
  • If you are going to name a boat after a wife or girlfriend, make sure she is happy about it. She may not share your love of boating or wish to share her name. On the other hand, if you tell people you are taking The Other Woman out, they might get the wrong idea and you could be heading for a divorce.
  • Make sure that your chosen name is not offensive or rude. Consider whether it will be appropriate for kids to use and clients to see. You don’t want to embarrass friends when they are using the name.
  • Avoid names already in use at your local marina or harbour. This could result in a lot of confusion.
  • Imagine what your boat name would sound like when repeated many times over the VHF in a call to the Coastguard or Harbour master and remember, all the other boats within range will hear it too. Names such as Knott again, Knott Awake or Knott Now could make you sound irritable and rude, while Get Reel or About Time may seem clever but could be interpreted as sarcastic or abusive.
  • Remember that your boat name will become your name. People you meet will remember you by your boat,so would you be happy for your crew to be referred to as the Aquaholics?
  • Some boat names sound lovely until you have to use them in a particular context. Then you could become a laughing stock. Imagine the romantic sounding Passing Wind calling the coastguard while navigating the Looe channel. He asks, “What is your position?” You reply “We’re Passing Wind in the Looe”.

Registering your boat

There are no rules or regulations on the naming of pleasure boats and it is not compulsory to register the name in the UK, the USA or Canada (unless you wish to do so) or to even have a name for your boat. If you do want to register in the UK you can do so with the UK Ship Register, but in that case every boat must have a unique name, so you will need to provide a list of potential names in order of preference. It is easy to find out online about the types of registration and the cost.

On the other hand you might decide that it could be more useful to join the HM Coastguard’s voluntary safety identification scheme, CG66, run by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). This provides the Coastguard with vital information about your boat, so that in an emergency you can place a Mayday call and the information about your boat, which the Coastguard already has, will help him to respond quickly. The scheme is free to join and you can register online. Details about your boat are kept on the database record for 2 years and the information is used for search and rescue and safety purposes only.

In conclusion

If you are "Reel Determined" and "Crave a Wave" to find your "Sea-Cret Hide Aweigh" and have some "Reel Fun", even if your boat is "Knot Paid 1V", "No Prop-lem". "Y Knot?"

Author – Dee White

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