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Old 12-15-2003
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Naming and Renaming Your Boat


Every sailor is likely to be identified by way of the name they choose for their boat, so choose wisely.

Why is it that naming your new boat can be more difficult than naming your first born child? For some reason we all seem to spend hours and hours in agony trying to find that elusive perfect name. If you're lucky, it's not your first boat and you like the last name enough to use it again. This means you just stick a roman numeral II behind it and you're done. If you're not so lucky, then let the name game begin.

When you think about it, whether you're a racer, a cruiser, or just a sail-around-the-lake type, whatever name you place on that boat is going to stick with you. Race results often include just your boat's name. You and the whole crew become known as Rabble, Highlife, Hot Tub, etc. When out cruising, you are the name of your boat to other cruisers. It's not, 'Let's invite Sue and Larry over for happy hour,' it's 'Let's have Serengeti over.' With this in mind, it's important to choose a name that you're comfortable with.

With our first cruising boat, we had been living aboard several months before finally deciding on a name that stuck. We played with the idea of combining our mother's names, figuring that would be the ultimate insurance to keep us safe on the high seas. After all, your mom always took care of you, right? The problem was that the combination of names we thought sounded best, The Edna Pearl, also sounded too much like a shrimp boat. So we quickly scrapped that idea.

Sue was born in East Africa, so that lead us to searching for an appropriate Swahili name. We flipped tirelessly through the English/Swahili dictionary many nights until the wee hours. Although we came up with some definite "one of a kind" names, we knew we shouldn't choose one too difficult to understand, so we finally settled on Safari. This is originally a Swahili word meaning to travel by land or by sea. Its use today in the English language was made popular by Ernest Hemingway.


Boat names often reveal the life priorities of their owners, which is how it should be.
If you've followed our articles over the last couple of years, you'll see that when we switched boats last year, we also changed names to Serengeti (sticking with our East African theme). Our very original name, Safari, turned out to be more common on the water than we imagined, so we opted for a change.

Naming a boat is a very personal thing. Sometimes it's a direct reflection of what is important to you in life. Other times, your boat's name reflects a dream of yours or possibly a desire to escape from reality. In studying boat names over the past few years, it would seem that there are many areas from which to draw ideas to help us name our boat. Most names tend to fall into several categories of general themes.

Men often christen their boat with their wife's name. This can be a quick and easy solution for some, and, I imagine in a lot of cases, one that scores major points at home. Sue, however, would never let me do that. Each time she heard someone calling Susan Karen on the radio, she would think she was a kid again, in trouble with her dad.

The words wind and sea are used in seemingly endless combinations with other descriptions to produce various clever or just very pretty descriptive names—Sea Dancer, Sea Flat, Seaduction, Windsong, Wind Melody, Second Wind, and Morning Wind (what was this last guy thinking?). The celestial system frequently turns up as the basis for many graceful names—Aries, Aurora, Solstice, Wandering Star—and a million variations include the word sun—Follow the Sun, Sun Bum, SunwardThen we move onto mythology—Avalon, Zeus, Ariadne, Pegasus, Merlin and the like.

Names depicting a sailor's favorite wildlife, or variations of such, adorn the transoms of a considerable number of boats. Osprey, Golden Eagle, Stormy Petrel, Vagabond Tiger, Grey Wolf are some, and we've even seen a Spotted Moose. Liquors and wines are also used often to immortalize boats—Chardonnay, Tequila Mamma, Brandy, and Rum Runner.

Catamaran owners seem to have a great pre-disposition to naming their boats with plays on the fact that they are in "cats". We've seen Attack Cat, One Cool Cat (the dinghy was One Cool Kitty), Mistoffeles and Rum Tum Tiger (the last two taken from the Broadway musical Cats).


It's always apparent when the boat name and the vessel's owner are in synch.
 Sue and I really enjoy coming across boats with names we've never heard before. Some are just kind of fun, like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Herman Melville, or Just Ducky. Others puzzle us for weeks as we wonder what they can possibly mean. For instance, we came across a boat named Asia Haymaker, and after thinking about it for a long time, we finally concluded that it must be the opposite of "A Slow Boat to China." Other names speak very originally and simply of what sailing is all about, and our favorite in this category would have to be Amplified Laughter, with a close runner up being Old Salt.

Many cruisers name their dinghies by coming up with a clever "take-off" of their big boat moniker. A vessel named Nauti Girl calls its tender A L'il Nauti. Another boat, Island Hops called its dinghy Hopalong. You get the picture. In our case, we went along with our African theme. If you see me in an anchorage, flying by in our new sailing dinghy named Nataka Biri, invite me aboard. Loosely translated, it means, "I'd like a beer, please" in Swahili (remember, names often reflect what's important to you in life). Then there's the sailor who simply had too hard a time naming the first boat to bother naming a dinghy. This guy places "T/T" in front of his big-boat name on the dinghy and is done with it. "T/T" indicates that the dinghy is a "tender to" another vessel. Using this nomenclature is quick and easy, and it ensures that if your dinghy gets loose, people know to which boat it should be returned.

You've probably heard at some point in your life that it's considered unlucky to change the name on a boat. For those of you who are not superstitious, there is still an unlucky part about changing the name on a boat. That's getting the old name off. If you're especially unlucky, it was painted on and not just applied in vinyl letters.

"You'd have to be really superstitious to keep the name Snookie Poo, or Dirty Dave's Dugout."
Ancient mariners believed with all their might that to set off to sea in a ship whose name had been changed was sure-fired doom. Today, though, you'd have to be really superstitious to keep the name Snookie Poo, or Dirty Dave's Dugout, on the boat you just bought for you and your family. So, if you're just a little bit worried about the consequences of re-naming a boat, here's a few accepted counter-methods sure to overcome any evil supernatural forces with designs on your boat:

Leave the old name off as long as possible so that the boat "forgets" her name.
Retain the original name on the ship's bell, or on a plaque permanently attached below on your boat.
Replace a keel bolt and place a coin under your mast.
Sail backward across the equator, and throw the old name overboard.
Have a virgin sprinkle new wine on the bow.
Perform an elaborate ceremony presided over by a holy person of your own denomination in which the new name is blessed, the best quality Champagne and other liquor are liberally poured on the boat, into your friends, and most importantly, straight into the water for Neptune himself.

If you think all of the above is just sheer hogwash, you may be more interested in the adage that it's only bad luck to change the name on your boat if you expect luck, more than skill and sweat, to keep you safe and your boat in good condition.

When naming your boat, keep in mind a few important factors. Is it recognizable on the radio? You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you need help and are spending all your time spelling out your complicated name to the Coast Guard. Will the name you chose fit on the boat and be legible? Is it so long that it will cost a fortune to have it painted on or get vinyl graphics printed out for it? Is it a name you would be proud to wear embroidered on a hat or shirt made for the crew?


If your boat's name isn't carved into a plate like the boat above, and it isn't painted on, using easy-to-apply vinyl graphics is a good option.

If your boat is state registered, you will need to display the state registration numbers on the bow of your boat. For those vessels Coast Guard documented, there may be no need for any numbers on the outside of the boat (documentation numbers must be attached permanently inside the boat); but, there is a strict requirement for the size and location of your boat name and hailing port. The name and hailing port must each be a minimum of four inches in height, be displayed together, and be clearly visible. If you put the name on the transom, this is easily done; but if you want to put the name along each side of your boat, and not on the transom, you must also display the hailing port with the name.

However, you only need to worry about how to correctly apply the name to your boat once you've come up with that perfect name. Whether you find inspiration in one of the general themes from above, turn to one of your favorite songs or books, or fall back on some of the time-tested, romantic names of great sailing ships from the past, be confident that there is a name out there worthy of your boat. For whatever reason, the naming of a boat seems to take us all forever. Oh well, Sail la Vie!

The Renaming Game

A lot sailors buy boats and then rename them, which brings on the quandary of getting the old name off. If it's rendered in paint, some experimenting will be needed to determine what works best. Some sailors find success with paint strippers, others with spray oven cleaner. With both materials, you will want to wear gloves and have a flat bladed razor scraper ready. Carefully scrape off the dissolved paint with the razor blade held at a very flat angle to the boat surface. After removing the name, wetsand the area lightly using 400 grit wet sandpaper, then buff with 3M superduty rubbing compound.

For names rendered in vinyl, you'll have to get the old name off first before you can apply your new one. Usually the name can be pulled off by just slowly peeling the vinyl away. You might need to employ the help of a hairdryer, and a flat-bladed razor scraper held at a low angle to the boat surface. This also works well with old decals and stripes you might want to remove.

One trick we've learned is to wax the area around the sticker before using the razor blade to help the blade glide easily and not nick the surface. If there is remaining adhesive on the surface, products like Goo Gone work well. We've found that turpentine works equally well and is a lot cheaper.

If you lack a good source for obtaining your boat's name in vinyl, try SailNet's Custom Vinyl Lettering Shop where you can choose from 18 different type faces and over 40 colors, as well as an additional 18 metallic colors.  



 

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