What is a Christening? All You Need to Know for the LCS 13 Launch

The Lockheed Martin-led industry team will reach another milestone on Sept. 17 as LCS 13, the future USS Wichita, 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. The future USS Wichita’s sponsor is Mrs. Kate Lehrer, a noted author and wife of legendary journalist Jim Lehrer.

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 a 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. The future USS Wichita 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 Sioux City (LCS 11) side launch from January 2016 can be viewed here. 

What happens after the launch?

The christening and the launch give a ship her identity. After the launch, Wichita will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Fincantieri Marinette Marine before delivery to the Navy next year.

What happens when the ship is commissioned?

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

What are the other LCSs doing now?

  • The first LCS, USS Freedom, and her crew are working up for the ship’s second deployment to Southeast Asia.

  • USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) recently completed her 20+ month deployment to Southeast Asia. Fort Worth’s deployment was the longest deployment of any U.S. Navy surface combatant since World War II. Like USS Freedom, she participated in numerous naval exercises, sea patrols and a humanitarian aid efforts during her deployment.

  • USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) is currently in Mayport, Florida undergoing Full Ship Shock Trials.

  • The future USS Detroit (LCS 7) was delivered to the U.S. Navy in August 2016. She will be commissioned in Detroit on Oct. 22, 2016.

  • Little Rock (LCS 9), Sioux City (LCS 11), Billings (LCS 15), Indianapolis (LCS 17), St. Louis (LCS 19), Minneapolis-St. Paul (LCS 21), Cooperstown (LCS 23) and LCS 25 are in various stages of construction and material procurement at the team’s Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard.