What if your boat doesn’t have an epic name?

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Dan McInnis | May 11, 2018

Seafarers and boaters are a superstitious lot, especially in maritime regions like PEI.

But sometimes, you know, you just have to change a name. Perhaps the vessel or craft you acquired has an existing name that has bad connotations for you or your family. Perhaps you plain hate it. Or maybe you’re not superstitious!

So, supposing you plan a boat name change, what’s a good way to go about it? If you’re short of ideas, how can you find some? And, if you really are a traditionalist or superstitious, is there a good way — a ritual if you like — that will satisfy tradition or appease the gods?!

If you’re wondering where the idea came from that renaming a boat was a shortcut to bad luck, there are many stories and explanations lost in the mists of time.

But one widely-held view is that during the age of ocean piracy, changing a vessel’s name was one of the crooked seafarer’s favourite tricks to avoid detection. Pirates also employed the name-change trick when they seized another ship, making it difficult to spot and track.

To try to prevent this tactic, the British Admiralty supposedly invented the rumor that a name change would lead to ill-fortune on the high seas.

True or not, the idea persists strongly to this day, although there is no verifiable statistic that proves it.

Selecting A Name For Your Boat

This approach is fine, though it’s bad etiquette to use raunchy, suggestive or insulting names. You may think it’s funny but most others won’t.

And if you have a partner (whether they sail with you or not), it’s important to run any ideas you have past them.

But, supposing you’re really stumped?

No worries. There are plenty of sources online or in the dictionary. You could do something as simple as looking up references to maritime terms, words associated with Prince Edward Island, or even the names of mythological nautical characters (though someone almost certainly got there before you!).

And if all else fails, you can always try a boat name generator. Yes, they do exist and you’ll find one here: http://tinyurl.com/name-boat

Boat Renaming Traditions 

If you’re a traditionalist, superstitious or just a sucker for a good ceremony, there are many approaches you might care to follow. 

In most cases, these start with “denaming” — formally relinquishing the old name. In maritime mythology, all boat names are recorded on the “Ledger of the Deep”.

According to this view, the process of denaming a boat involves deleting all records to it from personal items including log books and other records (as well as on the vessel itself, the name plate, life rings etc — see below). 

The you need a tag bearing the name in water-soluble ink, which you drop from the bow of the boat, followed by pouring half a bottle of good champagne into the water.

All of this takes place during the recital of an invocation (which you can find here: http://tinyurl.com/dename-invocation)

And it has to be done before any item using the new name is taken on board.

A similar ceremony is required for the renaming, in which you address the four “gods of the wind” — Boreas, Zephyrus, Eurus and Notus — accompanied by another invocation that you’ll find through the same link given above.

Unfortunately, this part involves pouring even more of that expensive champagne into the water. But, hey, if it’s all about getting the wind and all the other elements in your favour…

There are several alternative rituals you can follow, some of them focused on addressing the gods of the sea.

Here’s one that addresses the lord of the seas, Neptune, both for denaming and (a jokey) renaming: http://tinyurl.com/Neptune-rename

And if you are of a religious (Christian) persuasion, this might be worth checking out:


If these don’t work for you, just do an online search on the term “boat renaming” and you’ll find plenty more.

Interestingly, different ceremonies involve different time lapses between naming and renaming, so the one you choose might depend on whether or not you’re in a hurry!

Finally, I came across this YouTube video of a renaming ceremony (down in Florida as it happens). 

Interesting to watch if you have 10 minutes! 

Practical Boat Name Change Issues

One you’ve decided on a new name, there are practical issues to be tacked.

First, there could be licensing and registration matters to be dealt with. For PEI, these aspects are handled by Service Canada. You’ll find extensive information online, starting from: http://tinyurl.com/svce-can-vessels

Then, there’s the matter of physically removing the old name and inscribing the new one. Not as straightforward as you might think.

The process obviously depends on how the name was originally placed on the vessel but, if you decide to do it yourself, you might like to check out these instructions from a company specializing in the process: http://tinyurl.com/boat-graphics.

Last Word 

So, you see, changing the name of your boat is a serious business but, as a friend recently pointed out, it may also be a good excuse for a champagne party!

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