What is a Christening? All You Need to Know for the LCS 11 Launch

The Lockheed Martin-led industry team’s LCS program will reach another milestone on January 30 as the future USS Sioux City is scheduled to launch in Marinette, Wisconsin. The christening and launch ceremony is steeped in tradition; below is a complete guide to the ceremonies that surround the event.


What is a ship sponsor?

A ship sponsor is most often a woman, and is extended an invitation to sponsor a vessel by the Secretary of the Navy. Usually, this person has dedicated her life to public service, and serves as a central figure during the ship’s christening, launching, and commissioning. Sioux City’s sponsor is Mrs. Mary Winnefeld, wife of ADM James “Sandy” Winnefeld, USN (Ret.).

What is a christening?

The tradition of christening a ship goes back centuries, and is believed to bring good luck and safe travel to the vessel. At the christening ceremony, the sponsor is given the honor of breaking the traditional bottle of champagne against the bow just before the ship enters the water for the first time. Champagne, often viewed as the most elegant of wines, was brought into use during the late 19th century. However, during the prohibition era, ships were christened with water and in the case of one submarine, cider.

How does the launch work?

The actual physical process of launching a ship into the water can be an engineering challenge. Sioux City will be launched on her side from the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin. This method is often used when the body of water does not allow the ship to be launched lengthwise. Other methods include stern-first launching, in which the ship is released into the water lengthwise and backwards. Air-bag launching uses a series of inflatable tubes underneath the hull, or body of the ship. A video of the Little Rock (LCS 9) side launch from July 2015 can be viewed here.

What happens after the launch?

The christening and the launch give a ship her identity. After the launch, Sioux City will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Fincantieri Marinette Marine before being commissioned by the Navy in 2017.

What happens when the ship is commissioned?

After Sioux City completes her testing phase known as sea trials, she will be ready to undergo commissioning. Commissioning officially places the ship in active service, where she will be integrated into the fleet and the industry-Navy team will conduct additional program testing and crew training.

What are the other LCSs doing now?

The first LCS, the USS Freedom, completed a deployment to Southeast Asia, where she participated in global naval exercises, sea patrols and humanitarian aid efforts. The successful deployment proved the value of a small surface combatant in the Navy’s Asia-Pacific strategy. Today, she is in her homeport of San Diego, being prepared for her next overseas deployment.

USS Fort Worth is in the midst of her 20-month deployment to Southeast Asia, and like the USS Freedom, has participated in numerous naval exercises, sea patrols and a humanitarian aid effort. She exceeded her one-year deployment mark in November 2015.

USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) is now a member of the U.S. Navy fleet following her commissioning on November 21, 2015.

Detroit (LCS 7) was christened and launched in 2014, and is currently undergoing sea trials in preparation for commissioning in early 2016.

Wichita (LCS 13), Billings (LCS 15), Indianapolis (LCS 17), St. Louis (LCS 19) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (LCS 21) are in various stages of construction. The “laying of the keel” for Billings took place November 2, 2015.

In December 2015, the U.S. Navy issued the Lockheed Martin-led industry team the balance of funding for the construction of Cooperstown (LCS 23), which is expected to begin construction in 2017.