Finding a Great Boat Name, and Boat Names You Definitely Don’t Want
June 28th, 2022 by team
by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)
A good boat name speaks to you, and it fits the boat. Coming up with something original, fitting, and maybe even clever can be harder than you think. Your boat and how you use it are a personality, and it needs to fit the boat. And since you’re going to be broadcasting it over the radio and maybe putting it on shirts and cocktail napkins, it needs to meet a few criteria for use and acceptability.
Remember, your boat name expresses you and your crew, and how you present it to the world. There are few rules, but the authorities do have some. So be creative, but remember the world sees you and your boat through the name.
Boat Names You Definitely Don’t Want
Before we get into how to get to great names, let’s deal with what you absolutely, 100% should NOT do.
1) Don’t get cute with official nautical terms that sound like “Mayday,” “Securité,” or anything else which may cause confusion in an emergency. The Coast Guard prohibits registry of these names for a reason. The same applies to things that sound like emergencies. Your boat may be really fast, but “On Fire” is a terrible name and will get rejected.
2) Do not use profanity, obscenity, or what may be perceived as bigotry or harmful language. Manners aside, most countries don’t allow broadcasting obscenity over the airwaves, and you may need to use the radio with your boat name.
3) Long names – the USCG limit is about 33 characters, or roughly three words. You don’t want to be phonetically reading the first line of your favorite poem over the radio while you’re calling in a Mayday…
There are also questions of taste, and many boat names use a variety of scatological puns or sexual innuendo. Those are not strictly banned or blocked, but there’s not much effort put into policing names beyond the two rules above, either.
But that’s a question of taste, not law. You may find it uncomfortable explaining your boat name to young children of guests who ask you about it, but it may not bother you at all if people make assumptions about you and your boat because you pick a tasteless name. But taste is in the eye of the beholder.
Other Name Considerations
While naming your boat for her character and your desires is the goal, there are a few pragmatic considerations to a good name. It needs to fit, but you’re also going to be putting it on a lot of paperwork, calling it over the radio frequently, making reservations over the phone. And the ability to clearly identify your boat is a critical part of any life saving effort in a dire emergency.
So a few tips:
- Avoid cute spellings. If you name your boat “Phish On” to honor your favorite band and hobby at once, sure, that’s clever. But the person who takes your reservation at the marina won’t know that and you will end up spelling your boat name out every single time. Never mind if you have to call it in to the coast guard.
- Make it easy to pronounce. Others will see it on your hull and may need to call you.
- Homonyms (words that sound the same but mean different things) make for great puns and can be clever names. But they can also confuse, because someone hearing the name over the radio or phone won’t know the proper spelling. Once again, you’re spelling your boat name out almost every time you use it.
- Popularity…avoid the more trendy names. The season after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was a smash hit, every third new boat was called Black Pearl. Think twice before picking a name that’s a hot current reference. If someone calls out your boat name, you don’t want twelve other boats in the harbor answering at once.
- Mind the puns, especially the off color ones. They’ve almost all been used, so what seems clever may appear banal. You will not be the first Aquaholic on the bay.
- Although it’s superstition, nautical tradition frowns on names with too much arrogance and hubris towards the sea in them. Wave Crusher or Wind Dominator don’t make for great names, if you’re looking for something traditional.
- Superstition also extends to boats which famously came to bad ends. You don’t see anyone registering their new boat as Titanic or for a reason.
Picking the Name
Unless you’ve got something in mind when you buy your boat, or something strikes you when you look at her, finding a boat name can be a lot like finding a baby name. There are lists of popular names, suitable names, common names, and terrible names on line you can peruse. They’re good places to start, except maybe the “Ten Most Popular Boat Names Last Year” lists!
Getting to the name is a personal process and depends on you and your crew. If you’re a family boat, the kids will want to get involved and may have opinions that might amuse. When we bought a Beneteau First 40.7 with a name we disliked, I was looking for a name for a fast white boat that I was planning to race. My son (aged four at the time) came up with “Snail.” We obviously didn’t go with that one… Though “Escargot!” got brief consideration. We went with Shadowfax, a fast white horse belonging to a character from one of our family’s favorite books.
Your boat’s name may be obvious to you, or the boat itself may make suggestions. Our Shadowfax was almost Vitesse, French for “speed,” since she was a French boat I was going to race. Our next boat, a blue water cruiser, came to us with a name out of mythology. But that name sounded like something your doctor treated with antibiotics. We had a harder time coming up with a new one. We ended up with Evenstar, another Tolkien based name we thought reflected her grace and beauty – but that took a few weeks of family debate, and we went through several possibilities.
Your sources of names can mean something to you, or you may find something that just strikes your fancy. It just needs to speak to you and your crew.
Our family has opted for names out of fantasy fiction because we like it. But your choices and options for where to find names are limitless. Some broad inspirations beyond lists other people have already used a lot include:
- Fiction. Characters, places, and names from fiction make great boat names. It doesn’t need to be fantasy or nautical fiction. It can be anything or anyone you like or admire or that speaks to you.
- Music & Poetry. Song lyrics and poems and titles are great resources for names. And they can be quite clever for those who get the references.
- Legend and Myth. Mythical creatures and beings make for great boat names, though take some care with using some of the major gods out of old mythology. Naming your boat Poseidon seems like tempting fate, after all. Who remembers how that adventure ended?
- History. There are many great historical boat names that have meaning and inspiration. Beagle, Intrepid, and many others have a historical significance that can tie to what the boat means to you.
- Boating actions. You can reflect what you hope to do with your boat in the name. Tuna Mania, Windchaser, or Low Speed Chase are examples.
- Composites and Acronyms. Some people will take parts of words, like the first few letters of all their children’s names or something longer that means something to them, and put them together into a made-up word. Or they’ll take a longer phrase (like that line from your favorite poem or song) and put it into a single acronym. Those names are fine and will be both unique and meaningful. But make sure you can pronounce and spell it clearly. These types of names can be the source of some of the overall worst names for other people trying to pronounce or spell them.
Naming and Renaming
For a brand new boat, you’re doing the first commissioning and the first naming. Make sure your name is visible and clearly readable from a distance. Choose bolder fonts over more elegant and flowery or fancy ones, because they’re much easier to read.
And a boat commissioning? That sounds like a great excuse for a party.
When you’re renaming boats, the same guidelines apply. Make sure you can always see and read the name from a distance. And check out our piece on renaming boats and traditions, because a boat renaming is definitely a reason for a party.