The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is an aircraft carrier and the second ship to bear the 16th United States President’s name.

She laid keel in Newport News, VA on November 3rd, 1984, was christened four years later, and commissioned in Norfolk, VA on November 11, 1989.

Now what does that all mean?

There are four major ceremonies during a Navy ship’s life. These ceremonies are:

  • Keel-Laying
  • Christening (or Launching)
  • Commissioning
  • Decommissioning

After the ship has been constructed, the first ceremony to be held is the keel-laying ceremony. (The keel is the main structural member and backbone of a ship). The shipyard officials send out invitations and are the hosts for this ceremony. It symbolizes the birth of the ship.

The second major milestone in a ship’s life is the christening or launching. This is when the ship is “dedicated, named, and committed to the sea.” Please note the ship has not received the “USS” title yet.

The most important ceremony, the commissioning ceremony, is where the United States Navy formally accepts the ship as its own. It is here when the ship is given the prefix title of USS (United States Ship). The ship’s command is given and a change of ownership occurs. There are two major steps involved in the commissioning ceremony. First the builder turns the ship over to a senior Navy official who then commissions the ship. Secondly, that official turns the ship over to the prospective commanding officer. The commanding officer accepts, assumes command, and is now the host for the rest of the ceremony.

“The essence of the ceremony is her acceptance by the Navy, entitling her thereafter to fly the commission pennant and to be designated a U.S. ship.” (Opnav, 9-3)

And finally, when a ship is decommissioned she is given a decommissioning ceremony. A more somber ceremony where invitations are not normally presented. The colors are lowered and the ship is transferred to a so-called “mothball fleet.” They are held in reserve for national emergencies, but most are scrapped or sold.

As you can see there are many formalities put into play for these ceremonies. Even the way invitations are written follow a certain etiquette.

Watch the USS Abraham Lincoln continue its journey in this Hometown Heroes episode!

Main Source:

United States. (2001). OPNAV instruction 1710.7a: Social Usage and Protocol Handbook. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O.. Internet resource.