U. S. Navy Shipbuilding Milestones

Page last updated: 6 March, 2022

Ship Naming

On March 3, 1819 an act of Congress placed the responsibility for assigning names to Navy ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy.

This act stated that "all of the ships, of the Navy of the United States, now building, or hereafter to be built, shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President of the United States, according to the following rules, to wit:

  • those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union;
  • those of the second class after the rivers; and
  • those of the third class after the principal cities and towns;
  • taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name."

This cited provision remains in the United States Code today.

Pre-Commissioning Crew

The sailors who will eventually crew a 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.

Keel Laying

This is the formal recognition of the start of a ship's construction. In earlier times it was the "laying down" of the main timber making up the backbone of the vessel.

The Keel Laying ceremony symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning's of a ship.

Stepping the Mast

The placement of the mast into the hull in ancient times signified the moment when a "shell" truly became a ship. Coins, in a small ceremony, are typically placed under or near the mast for good luck.


This is the point when the ship enters the water for the first time. Traditionally, it coincided with the ship's Christening. Today many launchings take place separately from the Christening.


This is the official launching ceremony recognizing the "floating" of a ship by name and marked with the traditional breaking of a bottle of champagne across the bow.

Today the Christening is often conducted after the launching. The ship's sponsors, (most often women), break a bottle of champagne against the ship's bow and ceremonially give the ship its name. (The first recorded Christening of a U.S. Navy ship is USS Constitution, on Oct. 21, 1797 in Boston, where the ship's sponsor, broke a bottle of wine across the bow as "Old Ironsides" slid into the water.

Sea Trials

Sea trials are a series of tests to demonstrate that all installed shipboard equipment operates in accordance with specifications. Sea Trials are performed prior to a ship's delivery. Final Contract Trials are conducted after delivery.


Official turnover of custody from the shipyard to the Navy involves the Prospective Commanding Officer actually signing for. and accepting the ship, on behalf of the Navy. This normally coincides with Move Aboard when the Pre-Com crew moves aboard and starts living and working aboard while the final work is completed. by the shipyard.


The Commissioning ceremony marks the acceptance of the ship by the U. S. Navy. At the moment of breaking (unfurling) the Commissioning pennant, the crew is directed to "come alive", and the crew ceremonially runs aboard the ship. After which the ship is officially referred to as a United States Ship (USS) !

Sail Away

The ship's final departure from the construction yard signifies the end of the construction period and the beginning of its life as it was designed to undertake.