How To Name a Boat? Practical Advice, Good and Bad Examples

Are you wondering how to name the boat? Are there any laws or rules? Or maybe some good habits?

Well, they are! In this post, I will give you all my knowledge so that you do not make a life mistake (yes, the name stays with her for life, but more on that in a moment)!

Let’s start…



How To Name a Boat? Are There any Rules?

Every time we name something, including a boat, we pursue expressing ourselves in the first place. Among other reasons, we think about what we want other people to feel when they read the names of our yachts.

  • Do you expect them to be stunned when passing by your boat in a port, then shoot an instant photo?
  • Do you want other people to laugh at your joke, expressed in your boat name, or realize how smart you are? What is your cultural devotion or the purpose of your boat life?
  • Do you simply want them to know that you don’t give a sh** about what other people think?

But first…


Why do Boats Have Names?

Here are the four main reasons boats get their names:

Reason 1

This is the very old maritime tradition for the boats to bear their names. The maritime folk is superstitious beyond any reason, and there is always a bad chance at sea that you cannot predict whatever tools and instruments you have in your arsenal.

We shall give up boat names not earlier than we shall give up drinking onboard; the latter is one of the strongest maritime superstitions too.

Reason 2

Many of us associate a boat with a “living thing,” at least having a soul, and this is not funny. Let me explain what I mean:

  • First of all, how many car owners and car mechanics speak to cars?
  • How many serious computer geeks quote the “ghosts in the machines” catchphrase?
  • Did you know the ancient triremes had eyes drawn with paint for the boat to see better, including in the dark, to avoid possible dangers? This!

Reason 3

Done with meta-physics, now the materialistic reasons go: Boats are identified by their names in ports, in listings, in the registry, in ports, everywhere, including in the community among the peers neighboring us in the marinas.

Far often, the name of your boat identifies you better than your name. You better believe it.

Reason 4

For radio talks, we use boat names and not our names. You start a radio talk introducing your boat, and never yourself. You are addressed by the boat name; also, you address other captains by their boat names. Rule of thumb.

But after all that, there is one more crucial aspect. The law.


Does a Boat Need a Name at All? What’s the Law?

Any serious sailboat or a motorboat, we exclude dinghies and canoes alike, needs a flag registration to navigate at sea.

In the registry, boats occur under their names; thus, any boat needs a name, and she must fly a flag.

Such registration is a requirement by law for boats longer than 4.20 meters, equal to 14 feet, in the United States.

An appropriate boat at sea without a flag is accepted as a pirate boat, and the effects come.

Boat name registration is required by law for boats longer than 4.20 meters (about 14 feet).


How Long Can a Boat Name be?

The boat’s name length depends on the country where you register her and then which flag she will fly.

But, specifically for the United States, a boat name length should not be any longer than 33 characters, including spaces.

Thirty-three letters are relatively ample space for your fantasy, and we can hardly call it a “limitation.”

However, it is a good idea to make a name for your boat shorter than that, where possible. One of the reasons – is your future VHF communication.


A Batch of Fantasy Boat Names for Your Inspiration

Here’s a life hack we are sharing. While inventing how to name your boat, have a serious peek into the nautical fantasy games, online. Such games are the pirate games way too often, where an army of gamers give beautiful names to hundreds of their fantasy pirate ships.

Imagine, each fantasy captain bears a solid plan to arm a whole fleet, and take over Tortuga, Jamaica, or both. Of course, the names of their ships are creative, clever, of good quality, and may serve as a certain source of inspiration.

Have a look at a sample of fantasy ships’ names, we’ve picked, but they are thousands.

Bucephalus
Leaf on the Wind
The Dirty Oar
Siren Of The Sea
Phoenix Rising
Sakura
Darling Treasure
Andromeda
Driftwood
Peste Noir
The Hawks Claw III
Naughty Intentions
JuanTooThreeFor
The 4 Winds
Cherry Whiskey
Ragnarok
Chaos Bound
Black Falcon

The Antelope
Pintaholica
Chimichanga
Orange Tree
Rosemary
Delightfully Devious
The Peggy
Black Scorpion
Cedarwood
The Association
Golden Fleece
The Grace of God
Singularity
The Aztec
Coral Snake
The Agamemnon
Boomerang
Marie Antoinette

Beautiful, are they? And, here is a pirate game, for example, where such sail. You are not even copying someone’s real ship name, then! Well, we promised a life hack to enjoy.


Why Are Boats Named After Women?

Because it is such romantic, fantastic and thrilling. Boats are “she” in the language. History-wise, the nation who thought the ships were “he” eventually lost all their overseas possessions and sea control to the one who referred to their boats as “she” (kidding, but it’s true).

That also suggests the god of the sea could be a man. I’m kidding; of course, a stronger historical record indicates it’s the goddess of the sea who rules the oceans.

why do boats have names like calypso
Calypso (the one from Homer’s Odyssey) was a nymph who loved and detained Odysseus for seven years. It looks to me like a good name for a ship too.

Can I Name My Boat ‘USS’?

No! You cannot name your boat USS, the United States Ship. You cannot name her “The Government Ship,” you cannot name her “Russian Submarine,” nothing of the kind shall be permitted.

Also, your boat name should not mimic any distress situation that potentially requires assistance at sea. Otherwise, it may seriously confuse Channel-16 listeners. We can guess that this rule denies words like “Overboard,” “May Day,” “Sink,” and “Fire,” also allusions to rough weather or medical conditions.

This also includes any phonetic similarities which may confuse a listener through the radio noise. For example, I doubt you can hide your intention to be naughty behind a “Seize My Day” boat name, as it may be consonant with a mayday distress radio call.

Reasonable enough, is it?


Make Your Boat Name Clear for the VHF Transmission

With a relatively short and clear name, you are avoiding a certain struggle when spelling it using the Phonetic ABC or explaining how to write it in a non-English-speaking foreign port.

It shouldn’t influence your decision too much, you shouldn’t sacrifice what your heart desires, but you note it.

Here we fantasize how Captain Edward Thatch, aka Blackbeard, would spell through the VHF the name of his ship “Queen Anne’s Revenge” entering Tortuga port:

How Blackbeard Would Spell the Name of his Boat by VHF


BLACKBEARD:
“Tortuga marina, Tortuga marina, this is Sailing Vessel Queen Anne’s Revenge. Quebec, Uniform, Echo, Echo, November, Alpha, November, November, Echo, Sierra, Romeo, Echo, Victor, Echo, November, Golf, Echo. Do you read me? Over.”

TORTUGA PORT:
“Tortuga marina. Negative. Repeat the transmission. Over.”

BLACKBEARD:
“Quebec, Uniform, Echo, Echo… PSH-SH-SH… Sierra, Romeo…”

A mare!

Do you want a longer ship name? “Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai,” 16th century, Portugal. A captain of this one should send her name by SMS to the port authorities, as he will never transmit it by VHF. On the other hand, consonants are voiced and not jibberish. By the way, you may notice that her name stays within those 33 letters, a legal limit in the USA for a ship name. Yay!

Where possible, try keeping your boat name clear for the officials in ports to recognize the name of your boat at once, even if it is long enough. However, do not limit your fantasy and your wishes!

Apparently, you may love the name of your boat that you already invented better than you love the officials and let them mess with it as they wish. Is your sacred desire to carve a whole sentence on your stern? Just do it. Sailing is freedom.


Boat Naming Traditions

The most important tradition is that you are not allowed to change the boat’s name. So either you call it a superstition, but a very serious one.

Therefore, whatever name you choose for your boat, make sure it will stay, and you won’t change your mind or style too soon.

TIP

The best advice – try it before you carve it! Renaming a boat is the worst idea, as it may avalanche bad luck upon yourself and your boat. However, this is the ancient maritime tradition, and the absolute majority of boaters follow it.

boat naming traditions
Respect a tradition.

Yet another boat naming tradition or a superstition – do not name your boat after unlucky ships or characters, whatever glorious they were.


Do Not Lose a Future Buyer of Your Boat

We do not consider this practical advice when buying a new boat, but we regret it when selling her.

Sailing folk shall forgive any weird name of your boat, even admire it, as soon as boaters are weird themselves (Why do we run away to sea? To have a break from the society, among other reasons). But an ugly name or an unlucky name is a very different story!

With this advice, take the shoes of your future buyer: choosing a used boat out of many sound boats in the market, will you prefer one named, for example, after an owner, “Baron von Roorback Jr.“? Rubbish.

This!! Choose a brilliant name for your boat; it’ll warm your heart as well as the heart of your future buyer. In a boat trading listing, the name shall be your brand, and you win the competition. Aye, captain!



Humor Added to Your Devotion, Shaken, Not Stirred

Such is way common. Sailors far often express their sense of humor in their boat names. Here and there, we find the boats named “Cod Father,” “Knot At All,” or “WYSEAWYG.” The latter comes from computer technology; the WYSIWYG abbreviation unwinds to What You See (replaced with “Sea”) Is What You Get. Sounds good to me.

Once in Barcelona, Puerto Olympico, I spotted a sailboat named “Vodka.” Ye-ah, boaters give alcoholic drinks to their boats too often, “Aqua Holic” and “On The Rocks” names are already internet memes.

Jabberwocky witty names for a boat
This ‘Jabberwocky’ I spotted 15 years ago in the Caribbean.

Choose Eternal Before Temporary When Naming Your Boat

Imagine you named your boat out of your today emotion, but your philosophy may change over time.

We have all been there, naming our companies, picking internet domain names: something grows on you, then stops growing, then what?

  • Don’t be too far into a recent pop culture unless your subject has passed the test of time. For example, “Jabberwocky” is a good thing, but a yesterday hero is yet too young for the enterprise as important as naming your boat!
  • Choose eternal things naming your boat, which you know deeply from A to Z. Do not rely immediately on what you have found on the internet, but dig up more information on the subject you have seemingly liked.
  • When I see a young guy wearing a tattoo with a lover’s name, both are 18 or about, and such makes me think, “what if?” The same is about naming a boat.
how to name a boat just for now
How to name a boat, well… Just For Now!

Find Out How Your Boat Name Consonants With Other Words and Phrases

I saw a huge motorboat named “My Sons” in Cyprus, and people in the marina were rumoring the family onboard were “masons.” The consonance may be difficult to be detected at times; give it time to realize. Again, try it before you carve it!


Summon Pagan Gods, Maybe?

Seafaring counts a far longer history than any of the so-called world religions. You won’t betray Jesus or anyone alike if you name your boat after an Ancient deity. A Viking goddess maybe, like Valkyrie, or an Indonesian one, like Nyirara. Choosing the latter, you avoid wearing any green cloth while at sea, by the way, unless you want to try her wrath. “Roaring forties” is her job, elders say.

All these names are already more cultural rather than religious. Also, they demonstrate your education in some way. Do not forget to learn a subject before you pull a boat name out of random history. For example, despite her overwhelming fame, Odysseus’s famous ship “Argo” was very unlucky and goddamned — literally in her case.


Try Not to Cross the Line

When naming your ship, try avoiding the name which may potentially offend someone, including stupid people, unless you are naughty enough and a deviant name is your very purpose. Sadly, some port authorities sometimes are not the smartest people on Earth; you can experience bad treatment if a random clerk finds the name of your boat “unacceptable.”

My Boat – S/Y ‘The Hooker’

Here is an example from my own life. This is my boat, S / Y ‘The Hooker’. And no, she is not a “bad word,” ha-ha, but a traditional Irish fishing sailboat model (Húicéir) echoing 200 years ago.

Do I meet the same question in every port about her name? – Yes, I do!


Check Up on Slang, Including Other Languages

A name may become very wrong in a place of your interest that you sail to. All languages and lingoes you cannot learn at once, of course, but to google about it a little is a good idea.

Do you remember the already proverbial story about the “Mitsubishi Pajero” car model, which suddenly became “a wank” in Spanish-speaking markets? Not even seemingly but letter-to-letter the same word.

I laughed my guts out when I realized it. No surprise, they have eventually re-branded it but too late; people already know. I only wonder how their “Pajero Sport” is feeling in the Spanish markets and how such a huge company missed Spanish, the second most spoken language on Earth.

Don’t be a “Pajero” when inventing the name for your boat (kidding).


Sentimental Boat Naming

Before your lovey-doveyness leads you to a sentimental boat naming after your crush, we recommend (out of own experience, of course) to think strongly about two other very important persons:

  1. Future yourself,
  2. And a future buyer of your boat.

Nothing is eternal on Earth; not you, not your boat. Sadly, a current love can become an ex someday, but if renaming a boat brings bad luck, then what? And you still need to explain it to your next before she boycotts your boat, ha-ha.

No, we cannot help ourselves decline to kid on this regard, so a few handy tips we list up here on how to stay relatively safe when naming your boat after your current sweetheart:

  • When her name coincides with the name of your child from a previous relation, or another relative, maybe a grandma or a great-grandma, then you are safe to convince yourself later whose name you have carved on the stern.
  • Maybe, a famous person is sharing the name with your GF, even better if that person has a strong relation to seafaring, like Elizabeth or Anne, including the nicknames, of course. You may also dig up the meaning of the name for the case there is a nautical etymology in it, like in Maria or Marina.
  • Make a derivative out of her name. This may also help when you are into selling your boat. Remember we mentioned how not to lose a future buyer? He also does not want to buy a boat if the name (purely accidentally) recalls a memory of his broken relations. 
  • Add “Santa” or “St.” in front of your girlfriend’s name, which shall look traditional, supporting the maritime tradition regardless of how far you are into religion. Do you remember “Santa Maria” was Christopher Columbus’ flagship? So, in this example, once being dumped, you can reload your mind thinking you honor the historical ship and not one named after your ex anymore!

I knew a guy running a chartering business with a few boats in it. He named the vessels after all his girlfriends in order of appearance. If there is a definition of sentimental boat naming, this is it!

How many girls on the whole planet have a ship named after them? Not many. You can imagine, everyone from that guy’s circle, including the tourists who chartered, cachinnated when they heard the story for the first time.

boats have names short easy to vhf
I like this one! Short, easy to VHF, and a kind of strong.

How To Name a Boat? Summary

I know, it’s a lot. But this is not such a trivial topic as it might seem at first. It is worth considering all the aspects of how to name a boat and choosing the one consciously.

Hopefully, all of the above tips and examples will also help you avoid any potential trouble or future inconveniences.

Ahoy and good luck, Captain!

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igor desperatesailors
Igor

Hi, I’m Igor, Skipper of S/Y "The Hooker". A decade ago, I conquered my childhood dream: to be a sailing skipper, own a sailing yacht. Yes, it knocked dullness out of my urban life —
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