Renaming a Boat (and other traditions)

February 12th, 2022 by team

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)

One of the interesting fun parts of boating is the vast body of lore, custom, history and tradition centered on the sea. The rituals and yes, superstitions, which surround sailing can be a lot of fun.

A high point of our evenings at Block Island was the nightly ceremony, usually during cocktails, where we fired out little saluting cannon and took down our colors and stowed them for the night. It was a fun echo of the nightly “stand by for colors” our yacht club did every night when the ensign came down, and it added color of its own to our time on the water. The little traditions just add something.

But the superstitions? Don’t sail with bananas on board? Don’t leave port on a Friday? And is it terrible luck to rename a boat?

My experience so far says…no to most of them, and we’ve flouted more than a few. Though we learned a good rationale for not setting sail on a Friday. That one bit us when we had mechanical problems leaving French Polynesia for New Zealand and had to undo our clearances on a Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend. We ended up stuck in Tahiti for the holiday until we could get someone to re-clear us out on Tuesday.

No matter what you believe about the superstitions and traditions, there are a few legends and stories with some actual basis to them, and some are just fun, even if they’re silly.

Bananas and Bad Luck

Tradition holds that bananas are bad luck on a boat, and an even older tradition is that women are bad luck. Looking back to the age of sail when you had all male crews, the source of some of that seems pretty clear, if ridiculous. But so many superstitions are.

We sailed out of the Galapagos for Nuka Hiva with an improbably large bunch of bananas we bought from a local organic farmer. We thought we’d be inundated with a hundred bananas at once, but they ripened gradually from bottom to top and we had bananas almost to the end of the trip. I’ve read explanations ranging from the tendency of dangerous spiders to hide in bananas to bananas carrying spores or releasing gasses which cause other fruit to ripen more quickly. But they worked out well for us.

And there is no way that was related to our autopilot breaking 300 miles into the 3,000 mile trip…

Other things which may be bad luck include whistling, passing the salt without putting it down, stepping onto the boat with your left foot, leaving port on a Friday (or on a long list of proscribed holy days), seeing an albatross, being followed by sharks, talking about pigs, or saying the words “good bye” or “drown.”

So be careful out there!

Boat Renaming

According to sea lore, once a boat is named properly, the sea gods will know itgive it the blessing and protection of Poseidon, Neptune, Aeolus, or whichever sea and wind deities you choose to appease.

But if you just call her something new? Then the sea doesn’t recognize the boat anymore and who knows what can happen to her?

Tradition dictates that if you want to rename your boat, you need to get good with the sea gods. You need “deregister” her and make a new offering with the new name.

It sounds like a lot of work, but in truth…it’s a great excuse for a party and a chance to show off your new boat!

If you plan to rename your boat…

  • Remove ALL instances of the old name from the boat. That includes names written on gear. You can cover or cross those out and apply the new name if it will look passable. There’s actually a logical, if morbid, reason to do this – if your boat goes down and you abandon ship, you want the right name on your flotsam for the rescue teams.
  • Change your paperwork with the coast guard if it is federally documented. Your state may or may not care about the name.
  • Vinyl graphics come off easily with a hair dryer. Painted names may need mineral spirits, but make sure you won’t harm the gel coat by testing in an out of the way spot. Don’t scrape if you can avoid it, and never with anything harder than a plastic scraper.
  • Consider a good compounding before you put the new letters on to get rid of the old name shadow. Older boats may have oxidation on the gel coat, sun fading, or dirt lines around the vinyl graphics and paint that will look terrible under the new name.

For a fun ceremony, check out John Vigor’s Nondenominational Boat Denaming Ceremony. It’s a good place to start with your own wording at your renaming party, so have fun with it.

3 Responses to “Renaming a Boat (and other traditions)”

February 19, 2022 at 5:57 pm, Tom said:

Regarding renaming a boat…I’m not a superstitious person, but when we bought our 30’ Trojan in the early 2000’s I just slapped a new name on her. We had nothing but trouble with that boat…her name should’ve been “It’s Always Something”. We upgraded to a 34’ Silverton in 2009. This time we did the full renaming ceremony,. We just sold her this past summer, and in all that time (and a lot of cruising miles) only once did we have a problem. Is there something to the naming ceremony? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that when we eventually buy our next boat we will absolutely follow the renaming protocol. It’s just not worth the risk!


May 09, 2022 at 2:52 pm, B.J. Porter said:

I’ve renamed two of the four boats I’ve owned, we did a renaming party both times. Can’t tell you if it worked or not, though one boat did take a secondary lightning strike.

But they were excellent parties, and it’s a novel excuse to have one.


May 14, 2022 at 11:46 am, Chris C said:

We did not want to keep her name when we bought our Tanzer 22. After thorough research and following the admonition to completely remove all traces of her former name. We went through the proper renaming ceremony to appease Neptune and the four Gods of Wind. Repleat with the requisite libations. She’s brought us great joy and relaxation… and good luck.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *