Celebrations At Sea

From christening a ship to crossing the equator.

If you’ve ever set off on an ocean voyage, you’ll know that ships come with their own lingo, their own traditions, and most importantly, their own celebrations. Getting to participate in nautical fun is one of the best parts of traveling by water. Here are some of the celebrations you can look forward to at sea, plus a few that actually take place on the shore.

Dr. Lucille O’Neal and her son Shaq help christen the Carnival Radiance.

Christening a ship: 

Breaking a bottle of champagne would normally be wasteful, but not when it’s done to celebrate the naming of a new ship! Christening requires a few other things: friends, a mesh bag to catch the broken glass, and another bottle of something to drink!

Traditionally, there’s also a branch of green leaves, which symbolizes a safe return to land. And ships are not supposed to be named on a Thursday. Thursday is thought to come from “Thor’s Day,” which references the god of storms in Scandinavian culture—not something to associate with a new ship!  

On larger ships, a sail away party often includes dancing!

Sail Away Party:

Pleasure vessels from cruises to personal crafts often host deck parties at the start of the trip to say goodbye to the land and sip a little champagne before sailing off towards the sunset. 

Different ships can have different departure party traditions, but music, dancing, and a couple toots from larger ships’ foghorns are often part of the fun!

A ships officer usually fills in as king Neptune during the ceremony.

Line Crossing Ceremony:

Are you a pollywog or a shellback? Line crossing ceremonies are a longstanding maritime tradition that celebrate first crossings of the equator. Those that haven’t yet (pollywogs) are dressed up and put through all-around good-natured joking. Once they’ve crossed, they become “shellbacks” initiated into the “kingdom of Neptune”—often by a seasoned officer onboard.

Line crossing ceremonies boost morale and can happen on long voyages between the Americas, or shorter ones like from Singapore to Bali

Did you know cannon salutes originated at sea?

Cannon Salutes:

You may have heard the term “21-gun salute,” but did you know this tradition originated at sea? Way back in the 16th Century, ships approaching a foreign port would fire all their cannons to show they were approaching unarmed.

From this seafaring tradition came the practice of honoring dignitaries and leaders around the world with 21 (blank) shots. These days, this celebration is reserved for heads of state and is less common for lower ranks.  

There are other celebrations that happen on land, but must be near the ocean—and sometimes end up there!

After taking the plunge, you’ll want to run right back out!

Polar Bear Plunge:

One of the most famous land-to-sea celebrations involves jumping into freezing cold winter water. People often “take the plunge” in January in colder coastal areas around the world.  

In Canada, these plunges celebrate the new year, and in the US, the tradition takes places from Seattle to Portland, Maine, often to raise money for charities.

North America isn’t alone though; on the other side of the world in New Zealand, “polar plunges” take place in June when their water is the chilliest.  

Be sure to show up with a tail!

Mermaid Parade:

In New York City, the historic Coney Island has a most fitting annual tradition: the mermaid parade. Ever since 1983, residents from across the city (and even beyond) have flocked to the Coney Island boardwalk dressed up in handmade mermaid costumes, pushing floats and playing music.

The entire day is all about having fun, celebrating mythology, and artistic self-expression. It couldn’t happen anywhere but at the shore because it ends with the parade founder leading everyone to the beach to mark the opening of the summer swimming season!