“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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).