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The Seven Words You Can’t Put on a Boat

Sadly, my growing family has exceeded the capacity of our Catalina 34 and we are in the market for a larger boat. As the search continues we frequently discuss the possible choices over dinner and last night we touched on what we would name our new vessel.

With so much to consider as we shop: the make, year, price, length, draft, engine, electronics, and sails, picking a name wasn’t something I’d considered yet. But I know this process is very important: It’s what gives a boat its unique personality. A custom that goes back to Biblical times, mariners named their ships in honor of gods and saints, in hopes they would be afforded their protection from the vicissitudes of sea travel.

“I’ve got an idea Daddy,” chirped my youngest daughter. “How about …” and she said a name that I can’t print here, and her sister and mother dissolved into fits of convulsive laughter. 

“Hmmm,” I replied sternly, concerned that she knew that word at ten years old, “I don’t think the US Coast Guard would allow us to put that on our boat.”

“How do you know?” she retorted, and reeled off several more examples that would surely amuse bridge tenders and dock masters wherever we sailed.

Well, actually I didn’t know. So I went to the USCG Vessel Documentation Center website and was amazed by the assortment of off-color appellations they have permitted to grace the bow and transoms of American vessels (Registrations are regulated by each State and have different rules).

Looking over the boat name list I could see they are surprisingly lax in their standards of good taste and rectitude; kind of like, go ahead, test us, shock us—we love a good laugh! Many permitted names can scarcely be uttered without a blush, and bring to mind George Carlin’s infamous, ‘Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV’.

Per USCG Documentation regulations, boat names must not be more than 33 characters. It may not be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea; may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent, or profane language, or to racial or ethnic epithets.

And that’s basically it. But I think the Coast Guard gives incredible latitude on what it considers obscene, indecent, or profane, never mind intelligent or in good taste—these are government employees, not Jesuits. I spoke with a public affairs officer at the center and she informed me they will approve all names which follow the regulations, that there is no ‘naming committee’ that vets applications for tender ears.

Years ago I saw a speedboat go by on Lake Erie named Wet Dream and I giggled, thinking this so risqué. And indeed, according to BoatUS this was one of the most popular names from 1994 to 1998. But no, good reader, the 122 current American vessels named Wet Dream are tame by comparison to the mischievous monikers that grace many of the boats on our lakes and oceans. And note that boat names are not like Social Security numbers, they may be issued an unlimited
number of times.

Not surprisingly, legions of names extol the virtues of alcohol consumption: Anita Cocktail, Shot N Beer, Boat Drinks, Steel n Liquor, Drunken Sailor, On the Rocks, Whiskey Business, and Three Sheets.

Sexual innuendo word play is also very popular amongst boaters. So Bite Me, Berth Control, Fishing Chicks, Aquadesiac, Seaduction, For Play, Fueling Around, Master Baiter, Mother Rucker and, of course, Happy Hooker are on many, many boats. You’d think that some words would be taboo, but no fewer than 46-boats have the word ‘sex’ in their names. Other owners choose to push the boundaries hard: if you sail near Seattle you may catch a glimpse of The Filthy Whore out on Lake Washington.

Oh boy, I love a good chuckle, but if we sail past some of these boats I’ll have to cover my daughters’ eyes. I think they need to hire a couple of teenage boys at the Documentation Center to tell them what the joke is.

And of course, there are boat names that combine sex and alcohol: Sin & Tonic, Naked Women & Beer, and, well, I like writing for this magazine so I better stop there.

So, as we continue to look for our new boat my daughters have assumed the task of winnowing names. “Anything is fine,” I tell them, “just don’t make me embarrass myself when I call someone on the radio.”

CHIME IN BELOW in the COMMENTS…  Have any Nauti Boat Names that caught your wandering eye?

Robert Beringer’s first ebook, Water Power! a collection of sailing short stories, is available at BarnesandNoble.com. For a free sample go to: www.smashwords.com/books/view/542578

4 comments

  1. We knew of a sailboat in St Thomas years ago called “Cat Sass”. Thought that was pretty clever and always caused a smile when heard on the radio!

  2. The whole ship series. Ape Ship, Dip Ship, Scared Shipless etc. And the famous old story of Fujimo – a successful racing sailboat in Southern California. Jane, the wife, forced the owner/husband to chose between being married and racing. Fujimo is F U Jane, I’m Moving Out in short.

    Boat owners are a special breed.

  3. If the owners were honest, most super yachts would be named “Overcompensation.”

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