Since shipyards began building ships, four ceremonies have been established as intrinsic to a ship or other seagoing vessel's existence. Uniquely, the four ceremonies in the "life" of a ship are parallel to the human biological rites of conception, birth, puberty and death. These four ceremonies are the keel laying, the christening, the commissioning and the decommissioning. The tradition of a keel-laying ceremony is the ceremonial beginning of construction on a vessel.
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The keel of a ship is a large beam that is placed into position within a shipbuilding "cradle" used during the construction of a vessel. Keel-laying ceremonies take place when certain seagoing vessels are constructed; these might be any type of sea vessel, from a sailboat to a yacht to a warship to a submarines. The keel-laying ceremony is conducted in the part of the shipyard in which the vessel is being constructed, during which the fist steps are taken in the construction of the ship. The keel-laying ceremony is still a part of boat construction today, even though the majority of ships in the new millennium are created using a modular construction that does not include a traditional keel.
During a keel-laying ceremony the sponsors of the vessel along with friends and family attend a ceremony with an invited special guest who authenticates the laying of the keel. Other guests of the ceremony include the shipbuilders and their families, the crew that will operate the ship and their families, and any other related parties. After an address by the special guest, the keel that is set in the construction cradle is authenticated -- the special guest signs the keel in chalk. Later, workmen inscribe the signature into the keel using welding equipment. Where a traditional keel is not present, another part of the ship substitutes. Another technique is the attaching of a plaque to a part of the ship.
The keel-laying ceremony traditionally invited good luck in the construction process of the ship and continued good luck throughout the life of the vessel, Sea Your History reports. In some parts of the world members of the shipbuilding crew place coins in the area of the keel as an offering for good fortune for the vessel. The ceremony is completed by a ceremonial official announcing "The keel has been truly and fairly laid."
The keel-laying ceremony is regarded as the second most important ceremony in the life of a ship. The commissioning of a vessel is regarded as the most important in a ship's life, according to the U.S.S. New Mexico website. The program for the keel-laying ceremony is recorded by the U.S. Navy in its social usage and protocol handbook, according to the Website for Young Marines. The elements of the ceremony include the saying of prayers by a chaplain, and the timing of the authentication and movement of the keel into position during the ceremony.
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