Baptising of a ship Tradition / Ritual in Red Sunrise | World Anvil

Baptising of a ship

The splashing of alcohol.


Wether the ship launch is stern first down a slipway, sideways off the quay, or by flooding the dock she has been built in. Before the launch, almost all ships are baptised.. When exactly people started baptising ships is unclear, it's possible a tradition dating back thousands of years. It's most likely even older than the pracitse of putting a coin under the mast during the building of the ship.

Launch of the War Sioux, may 1918 by Unknown author, via Wikimedia Commons


Ship's are not necessarily finished when they are launched. The hull is most of the time done, and structurally sound. But accommodation, masts, interior, and machinery might all be placed after the ship has been trusted to the water.

Most often a ship is baptised before the launch, but sometimes after. Or there is a separate ceremony afterwards, called 'name giving ceremony' that is to be the big public event. Normally the ship is launched just after the moment the bottle breaks over the bow.

It is a practise that right before the breaking of the bottle, the person given the honour to do that job speaks the words: Words: I name you xxx, and I wish you; Fair winds and following seas. Although local traditions may differ over the exact words, the idea is generally the same.

Unlike the small, almost private, ceremony of placing a coin under the mast, a baptising is a much more public event. Which will involve; representatives from the office the ship is built for, crews, ship yard personnel, special guests, family and friends, the press, or even the general public.


It is considered bad luck for the ship and her future life if the bottle does not break at the first attempt. To prevent this, several measures are sometimes taken. Such measures may be; engraving the bottle so it becomes weaker, or welding or placing a sharp piece of metal on the spot where the bottle will hit the ship.

What bottle and how

In Brittain, and continental Europe, wine is the traditional choice. The bottle is swung at the ship while being suspended from a line. The line has such a length that it will hit the correct spot, and with enough speed to make sure the bottle breaks.

In Scotland, or ships with a Scottish connection, sometimes a bottle of whiskey is used.

In the USA, champagne is the beverage of choice. First it was also broken over the bow by means of swinging it with a rope. But in WWII the practise of breaking the bottle on the cutwater, by swinging it in the hand like a baseball bet.

Small boats such as yachts, might choose for opening the bottle the correct way, and filling a glass which is then poured over the bow. And then the attendants will drink a (small) glass from the same bottle. This can have multiple reasons, one of which is that a small boat might not be strong enough to withstand the smashing of a glass bottle. Some boats are even strengthened in a spot just for the baptising.

Wine or Champagne

"I think we should use wine" it's more traditional.
"But champagne makes such a nice foamy splash, alsmost an explosion."
Guys guys, I have a better idea!"
Everyone looked a moment waiting for the rest of the story. "Okay what is your idea Michael?"
"What are we?" Michael asked.
"I dunno."
"Pirates! and what do pirates drink?"
"Beer? Beer is nice."
"No silly, Rum! I say we should use rum to baptise our new ship." Michael exclaimed.

"Rum sounds like a good idea. Swing or smash?" Jan asked. A discussion followed with likes and unlikes for both options. Then Aleksey who had been laying on the beach, not participating in the argument so far spoke; "I say we shoot it at the ship."
Everybody looked at Alesky in disbelieve for a moment. And then all together agreed with it.

As the pirates didn't have propper cannon yet to fit the Sunset Dawn with, they improvised, and a rum bottle flinging potato cannon was constructed on the beach. It had been a month since they stole the Sunset Dawn from the shipyard where they had her built, they were hiding in their usual bay, just off their island, in a deep troth on the ocean floor lay the wreck on the Red Sunrise. They had sailed over her to get 'home'. So now it was the time to baptise their new Pirate ship.

Launch of genergal cargo ship Westerdok 1951, via Wikimedia Commons by Collection Historisch Archief Midden-Groningen, via Wikimedia Commons


Author's Notes

Answer to the World Anvil Summer Camp 2023 prompt: 29. A ceremony that represents a transition or transfer.

Please Login in order to comment!
Jul 19, 2023 16:23 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

Launching always looks so precarious to me! I like how you explained lots of the different customs, like the different alcohol.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Jul 19, 2023 19:43 by Bart Weergang

Thank you :)