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Shipbuilding 101


Milestones

“So the ship’s been christened, so now it goes out to sea, right? Or, is that the commissioning? Have they put the ship into the water yet? And, when do they break the champagne bottle?”

Just as there are many milestones in the life of a Navy ship, there are a number of significant milestones and evolutions involved in bringing that ship to life.

Ship Naming
On 3 March 1819 an act of Congress formally placed the responsibility for assigning names to the Navy's ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a prerogative which he still exercises. This act stated that "all of the ships, of the Navy of the United States, now building, or hereafter to be built, shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President of the United States, according to the following rule, to wit: those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name." The last-cited provision remains in the United States Code today.

How will the Navy name its ships in the future? It seems safe to say that the evolutionary process of the past will continue; as the Fleet itself changes, so will the names given to its ships. It seems equally safe, however, to say that future decisions in this area will continue to demonstrate regard for the rich history and valued traditions of the United States Navy. More information on Ship Naming.

Pre-Commissioning Crew
The Sailors who will eventually crew the ship are selected and ordered to the ship starting about 12-18 months prior to delivery. They establish a pre-comm detachment at the ship's prospective homeport and a pre-comm unit (PCU) at the construction site. The prospective crew will phase transfer to the construction site starting with the nucleus crew about 12 months before delivery through to the arrival of the balance crew shortly before delivery. 

Keel Laying
This is the formal recognition of the start of a ship's construction. In earlier times it was the "laying down" of the central or main timber making up the backbone of a vessel. Today, fabrication of the ship may begin months before and some of the ship's bottom may actually be joined. However, the keel laying ceremony (also referred to as the keel authentication ceremony) symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.

Stepping the Mast
The placement of the mast into the hull in ancient times signified the moment when a "shell" truly became a ship. To commemorate that moment, the Romans placed coins under mast for good luck or to help deceased Sailors into the afterworld. Today, coins, often reflecting the ship's hull numbers, are typically placed under or near the mast for good luck in a small ceremony.

Launching
This is the point when the ship enters the water for the first time. Traditionally, it coincides with the ship's christening with the ship sliding down the ways into the water with a splash. Today, many launchings, such as the one for San Antonio (LPD 17) take place separately from the christening. For example, San Antonio was moved from the ways into a drydock, which when lowered enabled the ship to "float" for the first time.

Christening
The official launching ceremony recognizing the "floating" of a ship by name and marked with the traditional breaking of a bottle of champagne across the bow.

The blessing of ships dates as far back as the third millennium BC, when the ancient Babylonians, according to a narrative, sacrificed an oxen to the gods upon completion of a ship. Throughout history, different cultures developed and shaped the religious ceremony surrounding a ship launching.

Today the christening is often conducted after the launching. The ship's sponsors who are most often women break the bottom of champagne and ceremonially give the ship its name. The first recorded christening of a United States Navy ship is USS Constitution, on Oct. 21, 1797 in Boston, where the ship's sponsor, Capt. James Sever, broke a bottle of wine across the bow as "Old Ironsides" slid into the water.

Sea Trials
Sea trials are an intense series of tests to demonstrate the satisfactory operation of all installed shipboard equipment.  Sea Trials ensure that the performance of the ship as a whole is in accordance with its plans and specifications. New construction ships undergo Builder's Trials and Acceptance Trials prior to ship's delivery and Final Contract Trials several months after delivery and sail away. 

Delivery
The official turnover of custody of a ship from the shipyard to the U.S. Navy. This private ceremony involves the Prospective Commanding Officer who actually signs for the ship. This event normally coincides with Move Aboard when the Pre-commissioning crew moves aboard and starts living, eating, standing watch, training and working aboard the ship while final work continues in the shipyard. 

Sail Away
The ship's final departure from the construction yard for its homeport or commissioning site. It signifies the end of the new construction period and the beginning of its life preparing to perform the mission it was designed to undertake.

Commissioning
The commissioning ceremony marks the acceptance of a ship as a unit of the operating forces of the United States Navy. At the moment of breaking the commissioning pennant, the ship will "come alive" and the crew will ceremonially run aboard ship. Thereafter the ship is officially referred to as a United States Ship (USS).

 




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