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Milestones In Ship Construction

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July 10, 2009

Construction of the Cruise Ship Freedom Of The Seas
Photo by nasebaer

Chief Journalist David Nagle of US Naval Sea Systems Command brings us Milestones in Ship Construction:

“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. The following are some of the major milestones associated with a new construction ship.

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 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 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.

Pre-Commissioning Crew
: The Sailors who will eventually crew the ship. They 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.

Sea Trials: An intense underway period to demonstrate the satisfactory operation of all installed shipboard equipment and performance of the ship as a whole in accordance with the 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.

: 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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