For centuries, seafarers have been a mythical bunch. Sailors of old and new alike have blamed their maritime hardships on Poseidon and his mighty wrath, bringing about a rich set of superstitions that are still followed today. Among the most noteworthy of these superstitions is the need to hold a boat christening ceremony for any new vessel. It’s thought that if you don’t properly christen your boat, you’re doomed to a long run of bad luck and misfortune at sea. While boat christening ceremonies vary slightly depending on where you’re from, there’s a common set of standards to follow to welcome your new vessel to the family.
What You’ll Need to Christen a Boat
- Your New Boat
- Friends or Family to Join the Ceremony
- Bottle(s) of Champagne, Wine, or Sparkling Cider
- One Branch of Green Leaves
- A Pre-Scored Ceremonial Glass Bottle
- A Fine-Mesh Containment Bag
How to Christen a Boat: Step-by-Step
1. Choose the Right Day
There are certain days on which you should NEVER hold a boat christening ceremony, as they may bring bad luck and misfortune to your time at sea. While most of the days are based on religious events, sailors and seafarers have followed these traditions for centuries – making it wise to carry on the torch, even if for no other reason.
Avoid holding a boat christening ceremony on the following days in hopes of safe passage moving forward:
- Any Friday – Fridays are considered bad luck, likely for religious reasons (Jesus was crucified on a Friday). While this may seem like a strange reason not to hold your boat christening ceremony, remember: even the US Coast Guard waits until the weekend to christen their new boats, even when they finish building them on a Friday. It’s part of a long tradition, and we would hesitate to break it.
- Any Thursday – If you’re even slightly familiar with Norse mythology, the name “Thor” should ring a bell or two. Thor is considered the God of storms and thunder, and it is believed that holding a boat christening ceremony on a Thursday provokes just that. Avoid the wrath of this Norse God and choose a day without so much daunting potential.
- The First Monday in April – This religiously marked day is when Caine slew Abel, and was condemned to a life of wandering by God.
- The Second Monday in August – This is the day that God destroyed the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.
- The 31st of December – On this day, Judas felt so much remorse seeing Jesus condemned to death that he committed suicide by hanging.
2. Gather Friends and Family At the Boat
Once you’ve chosen an appropriate day, it’s time to inform friends, family, and anyone else associated with the vessel to gather at the location you will christen your boat. Common places to hold a boat christening ceremony are marina slips, moorings, or anchorages. Be sure to make a quick maiden voyage from your destination to celebrate and solidify the christening. It’s also a good idea to rig the vessel before the ceremony to avoid any possible delays or hiccups at departure. When everyone arrives at the boat, gather them together and prepare for the toast.
3. Distribute Your Drink of Choice
Traditionally, boat captains would use red wine to christen a boat. Today, a wider range of spirits are used during boat christening ceremonies. Champagne is the most popular choice, but you can choose to use wine, ciders, and various other liquors such as rum or brandy. Either way, you’ll need something that all of your attendees are willing to drink. With the guests gathered and their glasses full, it’s time to move on to the toast.
4. Give a Toast
With everyone’s attention and glasses raised, you’ll need to give a toast and say a few words about the boat. Start by welcoming your guests, thank them for joining, and reveal the boat’s name. You’ll then have the choice of saying a few words about the vessel, saying a poem, or both. Most owners choose to talk about the merits of the boat, its history, and where they hope to sail with it.
Others simply decide to recite the traditional poem to christen a boat. The verse reads as follows:
“For thousands of years, we have gone to sea. We have crafted vessels to carry us, and we have called them by name. These ships will nurture and care for us through perilous seas, and so we affectionately call them “she.” To them, we toast and ask to celebrate (Name of Your Vessel)”.
- Toast: “To the sailors of old!? To (Name of Your Vessel)! – (Everyone drinks)
“The moods of the sea are many, from tranquil to violent. We ask that this ship be given the strength to carry on. The keels are strong, and she keeps out the pressures of the sea”.
- Toast: “To the sea! To the sailors of old! To the sea!” – (Everyone drinks)
“Today, we come to name this lady (Name of Your Vessel) and send her to sea to be cared for and to care for (Names of the Crew). We ask the sailors of old and the mood of God that is the sea to accept (Name of Your Vessel) as her name, to help her through her passages, and allow her to return with her crew safely”.
- Toast: “To the sea! To the sailors before us! To (Name of Your Vessel)! – (Everyone Drinks)
5. Lay a Branch of Green Leaves on the Deck
Once you’re finished with the toast, gather and lay a single branch with green leaves on the boat’s deck. The branch serves as a good luck omen and symbolizes safe returns from your journey. Don’t fuss too much over what type of branch it is – any branch with green leaves will do. The leaves only need to stay on the boat through the christening ceremony and the maiden voyage. After, feel free to throw it overboard.
6. Break the Bottle on the Bow of the Boat
After you’ve made your speech, it’s time for the most exciting part of the boat christening ceremony – breaking the bottle! The first thing you’ll want to do is move the party to the front of the boat. Tradition calls for the captain to break the bottle somewhere over the bow, be it a cleat, anchor roller, or anywhere else. We advise not to break the bottle directly on the bow itself, as the gel paint can chip, and the woodwork can damage.
One thing to note – most prefer to drink their expensive champagne, wine, or liquor instead of sacrificing it to the sea. In this case, you can buy a pre-scored simulation bottle to smash somewhere over the bow. West Marine sells a popular Pre-Scored Galleyware Christening Bottle that comes with its own mesh containment bag. It’s bad luck not to break the bottle on the first swing, so the pre-scored feature makes it easy to break on the first go.
As an alternative to breaking the bottle, you can pour a bit of your chosen drink over the bow. This option is far less fun, though, not to mention it doesn’t exactly follow the christening traditions. If you’ve gone this far to plan for a christening ceremony, we suggest following through with the proper ritual.
7. Take a Maiden Voyage to Completely Christen Your Boat
No christening is complete without a maiden voyage on the vessel. This can be a small inshore cruise or a simple drift out to your anchorage or mooring. Either way, it’s best to cap the boat christening ceremony with a small voyage of some sort. From here – congratulations are in order. You have successfully christened your new boat!
* If you’re new to the boat game and still looking to pull the trigger on a new vessel, we wrote an all-inclusive, comprehensive guide to buying your first boat to ensure your first purchase goes off without a hitch. From insurance costs to storage options, we make sure you know what you’re getting into well before you’re in it.
* Alternatively, if you just bought a used boat and want to change the name, it’s essential that you follow the correct steps and procedures to renaming your boat. The last thing you want is to anger Poseidon, and our guide helps you avoid his wrath.
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