Becoming a Ship Sponsor:
A Cherished Navy Tradition

A Sponsor is named by the Secretary of the Navy. It is a great honor to be named the Sponsor of a United States Navy Ship or a ship that sails with the Navy supporting the fleet. The role of a Sponsor is an important one. She will participate in all or some of the milestones in the life of her ship and her experiences will be memorable.

Information on the Ceremonial Milestones has been gathered in part from the Secretary of the Navy’s Instruction, from the Program Executive Office, Ships, and from Sponsors.

Relationship with the Ship and Crew

Far beyond participation in ceremonial milestones, Sponsorship represents a lifelong relationship with the ship and her crew. While this bond begins with the ship’s christening and the initial (plank owner) crew, it will ideally extend throughout the ship’s service life and even beyond. Sponsors are encouraged to make every effort to foster this special relationship and to maintain contact with the initial and successive captains and the amazing men and women who comprise her crew. This can be as simple as exchanging e-mails or holiday greetings to participating in sailaways and homecoming events.

Ceremonial Milestones

Pre-Commissioning Crew

The sailors who will eventually crew the ship are selected and ordered to the ship starting about 12-18 months prior to delivery. They establish a pre-comm detachment at the ship's prospective homeport and a pre-comm unit (PCU) at the construction site. The prospective crew will phase transfer to the construction site starting with the nucleus crew about 12 months before delivery through to the arrival of the balance crew shortly before delivery.

Fabrication Ceremony

A fabrication ceremony is an event that marks the beginning of the construction process for a specific structure or object. It is often held to commemorate the cutting of the first piece of material, such as steel, that will be used in the construction. These ceremonies are typically attended by key stakeholders, including representatives from the organization responsible for the project, workers involved in the construction, and sometimes even dignitaries or other special guests.

Keel Laying Ceremony

During this ceremony, the Sponsor etches her initials into the keel plate to verify that the ship’s keel has been “truly and fairly” laid.

Note: Not all Sponsors will be involved in the keel laying of their ships. Sponsor participation depends on the scope of the ceremony and the local customs and traditions of the building yard.

Mast stepping Ceremony

A U.S. Navy Mast Stepping Ceremony is a time-honored tradition that marks a significant milestone in the construction or refurbishment of a naval vessel. This solemn and ceremonial event celebrates the placement of the ship's mast, which is a critical component of any seafaring vessel, symbolizing both the ship's structural integrity and its readiness for service. The ceremony is a fusion of naval customs, heritage, and a demonstration of teamwork among the shipbuilders, crew members, and naval officers.

The ceremony typically takes place in a shipyard or at a naval base, and it is attended by a mix of military personnel, shipbuilders, dignitaries, and invited guests. The exact details of the ceremony may vary depending on the ship's size, type, and the specific traditions of the Navy.

The placement of the mast into the hull in ancient times signified the moment when a "shell" truly became a ship. To commemorate that moment, the Romans placed coins under the mast for good luck or to help deceased sailors into the afterworld. Today, coins, often reflecting the ship's hull numbers, are typically placed under or near the mast for good luck in a small ceremony.


The Sponsor is very much an active participant in this ceremony. She bestows the name while smashing the bottle against the bow of the ship. The ceremony and supporting events are hosted by the shipbuilder.

The Program Executive Office ensures that the ceremony fully supports Navy customs and traditions. It is a wonderful event in which the Sponsor and ship’s namesake are recognized. Continue reading to learn more about Society of ship sponsors.


This is the point when the ship enters the water for the first time. Traditionally, it coincides with the ship's Christening with the ship sliding down the ways into the water with a splash. Today, many launchings, such as the one for San Antonio (LPD 17) take place separately from the Christening. For example, San Antonio was moved from the ways into a dry-dock, which when lowered enabled the ship to "float" for the first time.

Sea Trials

Sea trials are an intense series of tests to demonstrate the satisfactory operation of all installed shipboard equipment. Sea Trials ensure that the performance of the ship as a whole is in accordance with its plans and specifications. New construction ships undergo Builder's Trials and Acceptance Trials prior to a ship's delivery. Final Contract Trials are conducted after delivery. 


The commissioning ceremony is one of the most important. The ship is accepted by the United States Navy and becomes part of the active Navy Fleet. When the Sponsor says, “Man Our Ship and Bring Her to Life” and the crew board the ship, all present rejoice and break out in thunderous applause. It is a very patriotic and proud moment for all.

The commissioning ceremony is hosted by the Prospective Commanding Officer. The Program Executive Office shares in the planning and execution of this event. The social events are hosted by the commissioning committee through local fundraising.

Although it is optional, it is customary for the Sponsor to present a gift to the ship at one of the commissioning events. If the ship is a support ship for the Navy, the Sponsor usually presents a gift at one of the christening events.


The decommissioning ceremony marks the end of the ship’s active service life. The Decommissioning Commanding Officer will ensure that the Sponsor, maids, (matrons of honor) are notified of the ceremony and any possible participation.