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SHIP BUILDING MILESTONES

“So the ship’s been christened, so now it goes out to sea, right?  Or, is that the commissioning?
Have they put the ship into the water yet?  And, when do they break the champagne bottle?”

Around 1900 there were four ways of keeping vessels:
  • Ready for sea - which means all provisioned, armed, and properly manned.
  • In reserve, which means partially provisioned, partially coaled and partially manned; vessels in this condition never put to sea.
  • In ordinary, which means the same as in reserve, but with only four or five men on board, to keep off trespassers.  This way of keeping vessels is most disastrous, because the machinery all goes to ruin, the stores spoil and the whole ship gets dirty and neglected.  Vessels are only placed in ordinary when there are no men to man them.
  • Out of commission, that is when all men belonging to the Navy are removed, and a ship-keeper, (who is a civilian) is placed aboard.  All fuel, stores, guns, ammunition, etc, is removed, and the flag is pulled down.  It takes a long time to put a ship out of commission, and sometimes several months to put it back into commission.  Each vessel has its engines taken apart and greased, so that they will keep well.
Just as there are many milestones in the life of a Navy ship, there are currently a number of significant milestones and evolutions involved in bringing that ship to life.

Authorized: Funding approved by Act of Congress for new construction or conversion.

Under Construction: Contract has been awarded to a builder for new construction or conversion.

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 central or main timber making up the backbone of a vessel.  Today, fabrication of the ship may begin months before and some of the ship’s bottom may actually be joined.  However, the keel laying symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.

Ship Naming: On 3 March 1819 an act of Congress formally placed the responsibility for assigning names to the Navy's ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a prerogative which he still exercises.  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 rule, 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." The last-cited provision remains in the United States Code today.  How will the Navy name its ships in the future? It seems safe to say that the evolutionary process of the past will continue; as the Fleet itself changes, so will the names given to its ships.  It seems equally safe, however, to say that future decisions in this area will continue to demonstrate regard for the rich history and valued traditions of the United States Navy.

Stepping the Mast: The placement of the mast into the hull in ancient times signified the moment when a “shell” truly became a ship.  To commemorate that moment, the Romans placed coins under mast for good luck or to help deceased Sailors into the afterworld.  Today, coins, often reflecting the ship’s hull numbers, are typically placed under or near the mast for good luck in a small ceremony.

Launching: This is the point when the ship enters the water for the first time.  Traditionally, it coincides with the ship’s christening with the ship sliding down the ways into the water with a splash.  Today, many launchings, such as the one for San Antonio (LPD 17) take place separately from the christening.  For example, San Antonio was moved from the ways into a dry-dock; which when lowered enabled the ship to “float” for the first time.

Christening: 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.  The blessing of ships dates as far back as the third millennium BC, when the ancient Babylonians, according to a narrative, sacrificed an oxen to the gods upon completion of a ship.  Throughout history, different cultures developed and shaped the religious ceremony surrounding a ship launching.  Today the christening is often conducted after the launching.  The ship’s sponsors who are most often women break the bottom of champagne and ceremonially give the ship its name.  The first recorded christening of a United States Navy ship is USS Constitution, on Oct. 21, 1797 in Boston, where the ship’s sponsor, Capt. James Sever, broke a bottle of wine across the bow as “Old Ironsides” slid into the water.

Pre-Commissioning Crew: The Sailors who will eventually crew the ship.  They 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-Commissioning Unit (PCU) at the construction site.  The prospective crew will phase transfer to the construction site starting with the nucleus crew about 12 months before delivery through to the arrival of the balance crew shortly before delivery.

Dock Trials: Test those equipments/systems repaired or altered during the availability.  The CO may modify them based on the scope of work accomplished in the availability.  Scheduling should be accomplished by mutual agreement between the ship, industrial activity and Supervising Authority.

Fast Cruise: The overall objective of Fast Cruise is to train the crew and determine the crew's ability to take the ship to sea safely.  In addition to the normal underway routine, the CO shall have all equipments operated to check for proper operation and to determine the state of crew training.  Fast Cruise shall, as far as is practical, simulate at sea operating conditions.  It is to be conducted by Ship's Force and is to be unhampered by repair work or by movement of industrial activity personnel through the ship.  Neither the Supervising Authority, the industrial activity nor the TYCOM shall schedule any trials, tests or other work to be performed on the ship during this period.

Sea Trials: An intense underway period to demonstrate the satisfactory operation of all installed shipboard equipment and performance of the ship as a whole in accordance with the plans and specifications.  New construction ships undergo Builder’s Trials and Acceptance Trials prior to ship’s delivery and Final Contract Trials several months after delivery and sail away.

Contractor Fitting Out Date (CFO): The major parts of CFO include such activities as Inspecting, Staging, Inventory Accuracy, Loading of Authorized Material, and Identification of Requirements.  Specialized programs operating throughout the CFO timeframe include such operations as High Value Review, Navy Total Assessment Visibility, Outfitting Requisition Control and Accounting System, and Sponsor Owned Material programs.

Delivery: The official turnover of custody of a ship from the shipyard to the U.S.  Navy.  This private ceremony involves the Prospective Commanding Officer who actually signs for the ship.  This event normally coincides with Move Aboard when the Pre-commissioning crew moves aboard and starts living, eating, standing watch, training and working aboard the ship while final work continues in the shipyard.

Post Shakedown Availability (PSA): is an industrial activity availability assigned to correct deficiencies found during the shakedown cruise or to accomplish other authorized improvements.  PSAs are scheduled to commence after delivery [typically 6 to 12 months after delivery] and to be completed prior to the Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy (SCN) obligation work limiting date.  This date occurs at the end of the 11th month after the month in which the Fitting Out Period completed for surface units or at the end of the 11th month after the month in which delivery occurs for submarines.  Depending on the PSA contract, the industrial activity will normally guarantee work accomplished during an availability for a period of 90 days from the completion of the availability.  This does not include responsibility for malfunctioning machinery and equipment due to normal wear, improper adjustment, or tuning by Ship's Force and failure of limited life components.  Ship's Force is required to report guarantee items to the industrial activity prior to the guarantee period expiration date.

Sail Away: The ship’s final departure from the construction yard for its homeport or commissioning site.  It signifies the end of the new construction period and the beginning of its life preparing to perform the mission it was designed to undertake.

Active: A ship or service craft that has been formally accepted by the Navy that is either in-service or in commission.

Commissioning: The commissioning ceremony marks the acceptance of a ship as a unit of the operating forces of the United States Navy.  At the moment of breaking the commissioning pennant, the ship will “come alive” and the crew will ceremonially run aboard ship.  At the moment when the commissioning pennant is broken at the masthead, a ship becomes a Navy command in her own right, and takes her place alongside the other active ships of the Fleet.  Thereafter the ship is officially referred to as a United States Ship (USS).  A commission is the fixed period of time in which a warship, with its full complement of officers and men, is allocated to particular duties anywhere in the world.  After a ship is commissioned she continues in that state until she returns to her home, or other port, to pay off, at which time her company is dispersed.  At the end of a commission a ship may recommission immediately with a new complement, may remain temporarily out of commission during a major dockyard refit.

Selected Restricted Availability (SRA): Navy ships go through regular periods of maintenance, repairs and upgrades, known as Selected Restricted Availability.  Typically ships in SRA are unavailable unless extreme conditions warrant.  Work includes tank preservation, propulsion and ship system repairs and limited enhancements to various hull, mechanical and electrical systems.

Extended Dry-dock Selected Restricted Availability (EDSRA): Work during the EDSRA included routine dry dock work, tank blasting and coating, hull preservation, propulsion and ship system repairs and limited enhancements to various hull, mechanical and electrical systems.

Regular Overhaul (ROH): Depot maintenance includes the labor, material, and overhead incurred in performing major overhauls or maintenance on a ship and associated equipment at centralized repair depots, contractor repair facilities, or on site by depot field teams.  Some depot maintenance actions occur at intervals ranging from several months to several years.

Decommissioning: Decommissioning a ship refers to terminating a ship a command.  After a ship is commissioned she continues in that state until she returns to her home, or other port, to pay off, at which time her company is dispersed.  At the end of a commission a ship may recommission immediately with a new complement, may remain temporarily out of commission during a major dockyard refit, or if at the end of her active life may be laid up in reserve, or pending sale, or breaking up.

Stand Down: Start of the inactivation cycle.  These hulls are not counted in either the active or inactive fleet counts.

Inactive: A ship or service craft that has been taken out of commission or out of service for retention as a mobilization asset or for pending disposal.

Leased: A ship or service craft that has been inactivated and leased to a foreign government for a specified period of time with title retained by the US Navy.

Loaned: A ship or service craft owned by the US Navy and loaned to contractors or scientific institutions.

Stricken: A ship or service craft formally removed from the Naval Vessel Register by SECNAV on recommendation of CNO.  A legal preliminary to disposal.  The term "stricken" frequently appears in Navy records in reference to the disposition of a ship or aircraft.  Some individuals have inferred abandonment from the use of this term.  Although a ship may "strike its colors in battle" to signify its surrender, the term "stricken," as in the Navy records refers to removing the aircraft or ship from active duty status.  A 1945 Navy memorandum lists six conditions under which "stricken" can be written into the record of an aircraft: lost or missing, damaged beyond economical repair, salvaged for essential equipment or parts, disposed of outside the United States pursuant to the policies of the Integrated Aeronautic Program, disposed of outside the United States as directed by the Commanding Naval Officer, or transferred from Navy custody (Gates 1945).  More recently "stricken" is defined in OPNAV INSTRUCTION 5442.8 of April 18 1995 as "The official action that removes an aircraft from the inventory and commensurate reporting responsibilities.” (Chief of Naval Operations 1995:7).  A vessel that is listed as "stricken" can, at a later date, be put back into active service.

Disposed: Navy assets must first be stricken from the Naval Vessel Register before they can be disposed.  Once stricken their disposition can be by several methods: Scrapping, Transfer to MARAD, Foreign transfer, Experimental/target, Donation, Historic memorial, Transfer to other government/non-government agencies or Navy sale.

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