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What’s legally required to christen a ship?

Dear Cecil:

Cecil, O Font of Inestimable Wisdom, please tell me about the christening of ships. If a world famous celebrity (say, Cecil Adams) is about to christen a ship the USS Straight Dope, but at the last moment, a dangerous psycho runs up and grabs the Dom Perignon, hits the ship, and christens it the USS Dear Abby, does that mean the vessel is really named after the world's lamest advice column? Can it be rechristened, or was it ever truly christened in the first place? I need to know soon, Cecil — my prankster cousin pulled this stunt with my new 90-foot yacht, now called the Heavy Brick.

Zeke K., Evanston, Illinois

Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

Zeke, you should know that what you say in this world is of no great importance. It’s what you write down on the official government form. I’m talking now about the federal government — most states don’t care what you dub your tub as long as you pay the registration fee. In such cases the name of the boat depends entirely on the whim of the mope wielding the paint brush and stencil kit.

The naming process is more formal for boats registered with the Coast Guard, as is required for certain commercial vessels. Among other things you have to fill out Form CG-1258, Application for Documentation or for Surrender, Replacement, or Redocumentation, in which you state among other things the proposed name of the boat. You send this in with the appropriate fee and the Coast Guard sends you back another form assigning you an official number and telling you to affix it to the boat, along with the name and hailing port. That done, you send in yet another form and the government sends you back Form CG-1270, Certificate of Documentation, which officially declares the name of the boat to be whatever you wrote down on Form CG-1258.

If you want to celebrate the occasion with a champagne christening, druid ritual, or Black Mass, hey, go nuts. However, this is strictly optional, and any irregularities occurring at these proceeding are of no consequence — the only thing that’s going to change the name of your boat is submitting more forms. In short, you can tell your prankster cousin where he can stick his Heavy Brick.

Cecil Adams

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