Name game: Sea If It Fits

Making a statement: Owners often go to extremes in deciding what to call their boats.

October 10, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

After signing all the papers - including the check - to take ownership of a boat perhaps the most important decision is what to name it.

The practice dates back centuries, before the invention of marine insurance, to the Egyptians, who no doubt needed a way to tell one floating pile of papyrus from another.

Over the ensuing years, some boat names have become part of everyday landlubber talk.

No one wants to be in the unenviable position of "arranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

America went to war against the Spanish in 1898 with the battle cry, "Remember the Maine," for the battleship that blew up in Havana harbor.

And everyone remembers the words to Gilligan's Island theme, especially the "three-hour tour" aboard the S.S. Minnow.

Boat names are funny, romantic, sentimental or a tribute. But more and more often, boat owners are using the transom to make a statement, signal a lifestyle change or thumb their nose at convention.

"The names reflect the times," says Scott Croft, spokesman for the Virginia-based Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS). "Right after 9/11, we were very patriotic with Victory and Liberty. Now, we've sort of separated ourselves from that and returned to more traditional names."

The Web site has compiled a list, along with owners' comments, that may give rookie owners some ideas.

Close to home, a family that keeps its 32-foot Bayliner in the Elk River at the top of the Chesapeake Bay settled on R BAY BEE, combining geography and priority.

Ballroom dance instructors from Connecticut named their Regal 2660, Waltz on Water.

A Coast Guard Reservist from Allentown, Pa., who cruises around local lakes in his 19-foot bowrider decided to go with a name that explained his type of boating and gave a tip of the cap to his service with Puddle Pirate.

Sailing the famous, but sometimes tricky, Hauraki Gulf prompted a New Zealander to put basic instructions on his boat - upside down - naming his 29-foot Carpenter, Don't Panic.

But there are names that don't need any explanation: Barely A Wake, Fah Get A Boat It, Beached Buoys and Harvey Dockbanger.

Others require a slight pause for thought before the inevitable smile. How about a catamaran named Here Kitty Kitty or a boat-and-dinghy combo of Caviar and Roeboat ?

"I tell people to make sure it's something they care about, because they're going to live with it for a long time," says Croft, who bought his 21-foot sailboat during the Fourth of July holiday a decade ago and christened her Constitution.

BoatUS has conducted an annual survey of names for 13 years. As the most popular name in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2000, Serenity leads the fleet. In most other years, it was a top-five pick.

Obsession and Osprey made the cut each year until the turn of the century, when they disappeared without a trace. In a commentary on the times, Therapy appeared each year until 1998, before being deep-sixed by new boat owners.

For 11 years, Boating Magazine, which serves the powerboat crowd, has run a contest to find the best boat names. The winners last year were: Sotally Tober, Floating Doc, Liquid Medication, Miss Mymoney and Wet-Ever.

Some boaters believe it's bad luck to rename a boat. But that's bilge, says Croft.

"I tell people, `Be happy with the name you pick, but you don't have to live with someone else's name,' " he says. "I've heard of elaborate ceremonies people do to rid a boat of old spirits, but I've never heard that they've done any good."

As a public service, the California-based magazine Latitude 38 compiled a seven-question test for boat owners who think they've struck name-game gold. Of course, one only has to look around any marina to see that there are a lot of C and D students out there:

The explanation test. How often do you want to explain what the name means? Bizarre Greek gods, in-jokes and Latin phrases (Carpe Diem doesn't count) usually fail this test.

The non-cute test. How sappy is the name? Puns, childhood nicknames and in-jokes usually fail.

The brevity test. Imagine repeating your boat name three times, especially if calling "Mayday." Are you hoarse yet?

The hubris test. If you're racing, try not to pick names like Magic Bullet unless, of course, you have that one-in-a-million boat that actually wins every time.

The "Been There, Done That" test. There already are a lot of boats named Obsession and Odyssey .

The omen test. Naming your boat the Money Pit one day may mean you need a new engine the next.

The radio test. Slithery, for example sounds pretty funny on channel 16.

Regardless of the name, old-time salts almost always call a boat "she," although no one knows why, exactly.

In this month's issue, the powerboat magazine Boating speculates that vessels take a female pronoun "because the captain is married to it, because the captain loves his boat more than his wife or because boats are beautiful and expensive like women."

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