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The Name Game: How to Give Your Boat Its Name

Personalizing a boat by giving it a name is a tradition as old as sailing itself. The ancient mariners of Greece, Phoenicia and elsewhere named their vessels, usually after one of the Gods, as a way of asking for favorable conditions and a long life at sea. Many of those ancient names were of one of the Goddesses of yore, implying that the captain would cherish and nurture his named boat in the same way he worshiped the goddesses and all other female forms. 

These days, the naming conventions are more secular, although many still gravitate to female names for their boats. 

The U.S. Coast Guard, for instance, has few documentation regulations for the naming of vessels. Boat names must not be more than 33 characters. The name of the boat must not be identical, either literally or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea (that rules out MayDay or similar names).  And the name of the boat must not contain or be phonetically identical for obscene, indecent or profane language or to racial or ethnic epithets.

That leaves a lot of room for all kinds of names. So if you’re thinking up a name for your boat, remember:

  • Keep it short.  Short, punchy names are memorable. Also easier to remember. And cheaper to produce, whether you’re painting the name on the stern transom or ordering vinyl lettering.
  • Think close to home.  Many captains name their boats after a loved one: wife, mother, grandma or some other beloved family member. 
  • Get personal.  Boats are often named after the owner’s profession or personal hobby. Thus, lawyers name their boats Sea Trial  or Miss Demeanor; doctors opt for Doctor’s Orders or Knot on Call, and entrepreneurs might call their boat Cash Out or High Interest.
  • Puns and comedic names are memorable, if sometimes a bit groan-y. Nauti-Bouy, The Codfather, Sea-Duction fit into this category.
  • Go traditional. You can still name your boat after a Greek God or Goddess. There are hundreds of choices if you include the lesser beings like the nymphs, satyrs or minor mythological creatures who lived in or near Mount Olympus.

When you have decided on a name, it’s usually a good idea to obtain a USCG Certificate of Documentation that establishes your ownership and the nationality of your vessel. To be eligible, your recreational boat must be wholly owned by a U.S. citizen and measure a minimum of five net tons. Even if your boat is under the weight requirement for Federal Documentation, we still recommend naming your boat! 

Visit the Coast Guard’s Vessel Documentation Center page to get all the forms you need to document your boat.

Rules of the road.  Both state and federal regulations require that you install the registration number of your boat (issued by your state) along the forward side of your boat. Registration letters and numbers must be at least three inches high and of contrasting color to the boat. The numbers, letters and sticker must be permanently affixed to the boat.

Federally documented vessels must include the name and hailing port of the vessel either on the stern transom or on the side of the vessel. Letters for the boat’s name must be at least four inches in height and, again, must be permanently affixed.

You can utilize the services of a local sign shop to have the boat’s name painted on your transom, or use stick-on vinyl letters which you can design and order from a do-it-yourself online source.  BoatUS, for one, has a handy letter ordering service. 

If you need help with getting your boat’s name onto your boat, Ocean House Marina recommends contacting a local sign painter or ordering vinyl lettering online. We’re here to answer any other questions you have along the way! 

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