Ship commissioning

Ship commissioning is the act or ceremony of placing a ship in active service, and may be regarded as a particular application of the general concepts and practices of project commissioning. The term is most commonly applied to the placing of a warship in active duty with its country's military forces. The ceremonies involved are often rooted in centuries old naval tradition.

Ship naming and launching endow a ship hull with her identity, but many milestones remain before she is completed and considered ready to be designated a commissioned ship. The engineering plant, weapon and electronic systems, galley, and multitudinous other equipment required to transform the new hull into an operating and habitable warship are installed and tested. The prospective commanding officer, ship's officers, the petty officers, and seamen who will form the crew report for training and intensive familiarization with their new ship.

Prior to commissioning, the new ship undergoes sea trials to identify any deficiencies needing correction. The preparation and readiness time between christening-launching and commissioning may be as much as three years for a nuclear powered aircraft carrier to as brief as twenty days for a World War II landing ship. USS Monitor, of American Civil War fame, was commissioned less than three weeks after launch.

Commissioning a ship

Sea trials

Regardless of the type of ship in question, a vessel's journey towards commissioning in its nation's navy begins with a process known as sea trials. Sea trials usually take place some years after a vessel was laid down, and mark the interim step between the completion of a ship's construction and its official acceptance for service with its nation's navy.

Charles De Gaulle (R91) underway 2009
In 1999 the French carrier Charles De Gaulle began her sea trial phase, which identified the need for the flight deck to be extended for the safe operation of the E2C Hawkeye.

Sea trials begin when the ship in question is floated out of its dry dock (or more rarely, moved by a vehicle to the sea from its construction hangar, as was the case with the submarine USS Virginia), at which time the initial crew for a ship (usually a skeleton crew composed of yard workers and naval personnel; in the modern era of increasingly complex ships the crew will include technical representatives of the ship builder and major system subcontractors) will assume command of the vessel in question. The ship is then sailed in littoral waters for the purpose of testing the design, equipment, and other ship specific systems to ensure that they work properly and can handle the equipment that they will be using in the coming years. Tests done during this phase can include launching missiles from missile magazines, firing the ship's gun (if it has one), conducting basic flight tests with rotary and fixed-wing aircraft that will be assigned to the ship in the future, and various tests of the electronic and propulsion equipment. Often during this phase of testing problems arise relating to the state of the equipment on the ship in question, which can result in the ship returning to the builder's shipyard to address the concerns in question.

In addition to problems with a ship's arms, armament, and equipment, the sea trial phase a ship undergoes prior to commissioning can also identify issues with the ship's design that may need to be addressed before it can be accepted into service with its nation's navy. During her sea trials in 1999 French Naval officials determined that the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was too short to safely operate the E2C Hawkeye, resulting in her return to the builder's shipyard for enlargement.

After a ship has successfully cleared its sea trial period, it will officially be accepted into service with its nation's navy. At this point, the ship in question will undergo a process of degaussing and/or deperming, which will vastly reduce the ship in question's magnetic signature.


US Navy 030712-N-3128T-098 Hundreds of spectators and media witness the commissioning of the Navy's newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)
Hundreds attend the commissioning ceremony for the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Nancy Reagan, wife of the ship's namesake, gave the ship's crew its traditional first order as an active unit of the Navy: "Man the ship and bring her to life."

Once a ship's sea trials are successfully completed plans for the actual commissioning ceremony will take shape. Depending on the naval traditions of the nation in question, the commissioning ceremony may be an elaborately planned event with guests, the ship's future crew, and other persons of interest in attendance, or the nation in question may forgo a ceremony and instead administratively place the ship in commission.

At a minimum, on the day on which the ship in question is to be commissioned the crew will report for duty aboard the ship and the commanding officer will read through the orders given for the ship and its personnel. If the ship's ceremony is a public affair the Captain may make a speech to the audience, along with other VIPs as the ceremony dictates. Religious ceremonies, such as blessing the ship or the singing of traditional hymns or songs, may also occur.

Once a ship has been commissioned its final step toward becoming an active unit of the navy it now serves is to report to its home port and officially load or accept any remaining equipment (such as munitions).

Ship decommissioning

To decommission a ship is to terminate its career in service in the armed forces of a nation. Unlike wartime ship losses, in which a vessel lost to enemy action is said to be struck, decommissioning confers that the ship has reached the end of its usable life and is being retired from a given country's navy. Depending on the naval traditions of the country in question, a ceremony commemorating the decommissioning of the ship in question may take place, or the vessel may be removed administratively with little to no fanfare. The term "paid off" is alternatively used in British Commonwealth contexts, originating in the age-of-sail practice of ending an officer's commission and paying crew wages once the ship completed its voyage.[1]

SH-3A Sea King hovers over the damaged USS Liberty (AGTR-5) on 8 June 1967 (USN 1123118)
USS Liberty was attacked by the Israel Defense Forces in 1967, which left her damaged beyond economical repair

Ship decommissioning usually occurs some years after the ship was commissioned and is intended to serve as a means by which a vessel that has become too old or too obsolete can be retired with honor from the operating country's armed force. Decommissioning of the vessel may also occur due to treaty agreements (such as the Washington Naval Treaty) or for safety reasons (such as a ship's nuclear reactor and associated parts reaching the end of their service life), depending on the type of ship being decommissioned. In a limited number of cases a ship may be decommissioned if the vessel in question is judged to be damaged beyond economical repair, as was the case with USS Liberty, USS Halibut, and more recently with Costa Concordia.[note 1] In very rare or extraordinary cases, a navy or its associated country may recommission or leave a ship that is old or obsolete in commission with the regular force rather than decommissioning the vessel in question due to the historical significance or public sentiment for the ship in question, as has been the case with the ships USS Constitution and HMS Victory. Vessels preserved in this manner typically do not relinquish their names to other, more modern ships that may be in the design, planning, or construction phase of the parent nation's navy.

Decommissioning of USS Grasp
Crew members and guest salute as the colors are paraded at the decommissioning ceremony of the salvage and rescue ship Grasp

Prior to its formal decommissioning, the ship in question will begin the process of decommissioning by going through a preliminary step called inactivation or deactivation. During this phase, a ship will report to a naval facility owned by the country in question so as to permit the ship's crew to offload, remove, and dismantle the ship's weapons, ammunition, electronics, and other material that is judged to be of further use to the nation in question. The removed material from a ship usually ends up either rotating to another ship in the class with similar weapons and/or capabilities, or in storage pending a decision on equipment's fate. During this time a ship's crew may be thinned out via transfers and reassignments as the ongoing removal of equipment renders certain personnel (such as missile technicians or gun crews) unable to perform their duties on the ship in question. Certain aspects of a ship's deactivation – such as the removal or deactivation of a ship's nuclear weapons capabilities – may be governed by international treaties observed by the country in question, which can result in the presence of foreign officials authorized to inspect the weapon or weapon system in question to ensure compliance with a given treaty. Other aspects of a ship's decommissioning, such as the reprocessing of nuclear fuel from a ship utilizing a nuclear reactor or the removal of hazardous materials from a ship, are handled by the government in question according to the nation's domestic policies on such matters. When a ship finishes its inactivation, it is then formally decommissioned, after which the ship is usually towed to a storage facility.

In addition to the economic advantages of retiring a ship that has grown maintenance intensive or obsolete, the decommissioning frees up the name used by the ship, allowing vessels currently in the planning or building stages to inherit the name of the warship in question. Often, but not always, ships that are decommissioned end up spending the next few years in a reserve fleet before their ultimate fate is decided.

Commissioning and decommissioning practices by nation

United States Navy

Commissioning in the early United States Navy under sail was attended by no ceremony. An officer designated to command a new ship received orders similar to those issued to Captain Thomas Truxtun in 1798:[2]

Sir, I have it in command from the president of the United States, to direct you to repair with all due speed on board the ship Constellation lying at Baltimore. It is required that no Time be lost in carrying the Ship into deep water, taking on board her Cannon, Ammunition, Water, Provisions & Stores of every kind — completing what work is yet to be done shipping her Complement of Seamen and Marines, and preparing her in every respect for Sea ... It is the President's express Orders, that you employ the most vigorous Exertions, to accomplish these several Objects and to put your Ship as speedily as possible in a situation to sail at the shortest notice.[2]

In Truxtun's time, the prospective commanding officer had responsibility for overseeing construction details, outfitting the ship, and recruiting his crew. When a captain determined that his new ship was ready to take to sea, he mustered the crew on deck, read his orders, broke the national ensign and distinctive commissioning pennant, and caused the watch to be set and the first entry to be made in the log. Thus, the ship was placed in commission.

Commissionings were not public affairs, and unlike christening-and-launching ceremonies, were not recorded by newspapers. The first specific reference to commissioning located in naval records is a letter of November 6, 1863, from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to all navy yards and stations. The Secretary directed: "Hereafter the commandants of navy yards and stations will inform the Department, by special report of the date when each vessel preparing for sea service at their respective commands, is placed in commission."[3]

Subsequently, various editions of Navy regulations mentioned the act of putting a ship in commission, but details of a commissioning ceremony were not prescribed. Through custom and usage, however, a fairly standard practice emerged, the essentials of which are outlined in current Navy regulations. Craft assigned to Naval Districts and shore bases for local use, such as harbor tugs and floating drydocks, are not usually placed in commission but are instead given an "in service" status. They do fly the national ensign, but not a commissioning pennant.

In modern times, officers and crew members of a new warship are assembled on the quarterdeck or other suitable area. Formal transfer of the ship to the prospective commanding officer is done by the Chief of Naval Operations or his representative. The national anthem is played, the transferring officer reads the commissioning directive, the ensign is hoisted, and the commissioning pennant broken. The prospective commanding officer reads his orders, assumes command, and the first watch is set. Following, the sponsor is traditionally invited to give the first order to the ship's company: "Man our ship and bring her to life!",[4] whereupon the ship's assigned crew would run on board and man the rails of the ship.

In recent years, commissionings have come to be more public occasions. Most commonly assisted by a Commissioning Support Team (CST), the Prospective Commanding Officer and ship's crew, shipbuilder executives, and senior Navy representatives come together for a formal ceremony placing the ship in active service (in commission) to her country. Guests, including the ship's sponsor, are frequently invited to attend, and a prominent individual delivers a commissioning address. On May 3, 1975, more than twenty thousand people witnessed the commissioning of USS Nimitz at Norfolk, Virginia.[5] The carrier's sponsor, daughter of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, was introduced, and U.S. President Gerald R. Ford was the principal speaker.

Regardless of the type of ship, the brief but impressive commissioning ceremony completes the cycle from christening and launching to bring the ship into full status as a warship of her nation.

See also


  1. ^ Because the nature of cruise ship operators and other civilian ship operating entities is to not replicate the commissioning/decommissioning process that the armed forces use for their ships Costa Concordia was never placed in commission through any designated state function, nor can the ship be decommissioned in a manner consistent with those ships in service with the armed forces of a nation. The cruise ship is included here only as an example of a ship that has been damaged beyond economic repair, and as a result will be removed from service and ultimately scrapped.[6]



  1. ^ "DHH Volume 2, Part 1: Extant Commissioned Ships". Official Lineages. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 7 July 2006. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b Reilly, John C. (23 June 2014). "Christening, Launching, and Commissioning of U.S. Navy Ships". Naval History and Heritage Command. p. 5.
  3. ^ Thompson, M.S., ed. (1887). General Orders and Circulars Issued by the Navy Department: From 1863 to 1887. Washington: Government Printing Office. pp. 11, 12.
  4. ^ "Navy Commissions Aircraft Carrier Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) – Release No: 473-03" (Press release). U.S. Department of Defense. July 1, 2003. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  5. ^ Kelly, Jason (June 20, 2013). "USS Nimitz Commanding Officer Shares Ship's Legacy". US Navy. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  6. ^ "Costa Concordia: What happened". BBC New Europe. Retrieved 2014-06-20.


External links

Chaplain of the United States Coast Guard

The Chaplain of the United States Coast Guard (CHCG) is the senior chaplain of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and is attached to USCG headquarters in Washington, D.C. as a United States Navy Chaplain Corps officer who reports directly to the Commandant of the Coast Guard. The current Chaplain of the Coast Guard is Captain Thomas Walcott, USN.

Coast Guard Aviation Station Ten Pound Island

Coast Guard Aviation Station Ten Pound Island was a United States Coast Guard air station located in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was replaced by Coast Guard Air Station Salem in 1935. Today, the site is home to Coast Guard Station Gloucester.

Coast Guard Bears

The United States Coast Guard Academy's intercollegiate sports teams are called the Bears and they compete in NCAA Division III as members of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference. Through the 2016 season, the Bears played football in the New England Football Conference, but after that season moved their football program into the NEWMAC, which started sponsoring the sport in 2017.

They field 26 varsity teams.

Creed of the United States Coast Guardsman

The Creed of the United States Coast Guardsman was written in 1938 by Vice Admiral Harry G. Hamlet, who served as Commandant of the Coast Guard from 1932 to 1936. According to former Commandant Robert Papp, the Creed described the duties and responsibilities that binds the group of Coast Guardsmen together as "shipmates".

Maritime Law Enforcement Academy

The Maritime Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA) is a United States Coast Guard school located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Charleston, South Carolina. It was created from the relocation and merger of the former Law Enforcement School at Yorktown, Virginia, and the former Boarding Team Member School at Petaluma, California.

Medical Education and Training Campus

The Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) is a United States Department of Defense (DoD) integrated campus under a single university-style administration, with nearly 50 programs of study available to U.S. military enlisted students and a small number of foreign military students. METC is located at Joint Base San Antonio on Fort Sam Houston, Texas with a field training site located at Camp Bullis. Its goal is to "train the world's finest Medics, Corpsmen, and Technicians".METC's vision is "Train for the Mission...Education for a Lifetime of Service."


Payoff may refer to:

Bribery, an act of implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient

Payoff, Inc. a Costa Mesa, CA-based financial services company

A payoff dominant equilibrium in game theory

Payoff matrix or payoff function in a normal-form game in game theory

Payoff set in set theory

Payoff (film), a 1991 TV film starring Keith Carradine

Gomez & Tavarès (AKA Payoff) a 2003 film

A word for slogan, used in some countries

Pay off, to move away, fall off, or be pushed round by the wind

Paying off, in British Commonwealth contexts, a practice originating in the age-of-sail of ending officers' commissions and of paying crew wages once a ship had completed its voyage; see Ship commissioning#Ship decommissioning

Paying off pennant, flown in some navies when a ship is decommissioned; see Pennant (commissioning)

Project commissioning

Project commissioning is the process of assuring that all systems and components of a building or industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements of the owner or final client. A commissioning process may be applied not only to new projects but also to existing units and systems subject to expansion, renovation or revamping. In practice, the commissioning process is the integrated application of a set of engineering techniques and procedures to check, inspect and test every operational component of the project: from individual functions (such as instruments and equipment) up to complex amalgamations (such as modules, subsystems and systems).

Commissioning activities in the broader sense are applicable to all phases of the project from the basic and detailed design, procurement, construction and assembly until the final handover of the unit to the owner, sometimes including an assisted operation phase.

Semper Paratus (march)

"Semper Paratus" (Latin for "Always Ready") is a 1928 song and the official march of the United States Coast Guard, having been composed in 1927 by U.S. Coast Guard Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck.

Sister ship

A sister ship is a ship of the same class or of virtually identical design to another ship. Such vessels share a nearly identical hull and superstructure layout, similar size, and roughly comparable features and equipment. They often share a common naming theme, either being named after the same type of thing (places, constellations, monarchs) or with some kind of alliteration. Often, sisters become more differentiated during their service as their equipment (in the case of naval vessels, their armament) are separately altered.

For instance, the U.S. warships USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri, and USS Wisconsin are all sister ships, each being an Iowa-class battleship.

The most famous sister ships were the White Star Line's RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic. As with some other liners, the sisters worked as running mates. Other sister ships include the Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas and Adventure of the Seas.

Half-sister refers to a ship of the same class but with some significant differences. One example of half-sisters are the First World War-era British Courageous-class battlecruisers where the first two ships had four 15-inch (381 mm) guns, but the last ship, HMS Furious, had two 18-inch (457 mm) guns instead. Another example is the American Essex-class aircraft carriers of the Second World War that came in "long-hull" and "short-hull" versions.

Notable airships include the American sister ships USS Akron and USS Macon, and the German Hindenburg class airship's Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin II.

The generally accepted commercial distinctions of a sister ship are the following:

Type: Identical main type (bullk, tank, RoRo, etc.)

Dry weight (DWT): ± 10% on the DWT (If the ship is 100,000 DWT, 90,000 to 110,000 DWT)

Builder: Identical shipbuilding company name (not the ship yard location or the country of build)The critical overriding criteria are the same hull design. For example, the popular TESS-57 standard design built by Tsunishi Shipbuilding are built in Japan, China, and the Philippines. All the ships of this design are classed as sister ships.

The International Maritime Organization defined sister ship in IMO resolution MSC/Circ.1158 in 2006. Criteria included these:

A sister ship is a ship built by the same yard from the same plans.

The acceptable deviation of lightship displacement should be between 1 and 2% of the lightship displacement of the lead ship, depending on the length of the ship.

USS Chiron (AGP-18)

USS Chiron was a Portunus-class Motor Torpedo Boat Tender which saw brief service with the United States Navy during World War II. Laid down as Landing Ship, Tank LST-1133 by Chicago Bridge and Iron Company on 16 December 1944, she was launched on 10 March 1945 and placed into reduced commission on 23 March 1945. On 17 April 1945, she was decommissioned for her conversion into a Motor Torpedo Tender. With the conversion taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, it was complete by 18 September 1945, and she was recommissioned into active service as USS Chiron (AGP-18) with LCDR. Paul L. Mangold, USNR, in command. The ship had a brief naval career, spending only 5 months and 27 days in naval service. She was decommissioned on 20 February 1946, and on 28 March 1946 she was struck from the Naval Register.

USS Dewey (DDG-105)

USS Dewey (DDG-105) is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer in the United States Navy. Dewey is the third Navy ship named after Admiral of the Navy George Dewey, hero of the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War. She was authorized on 13 September 2002 and was built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. The keel was laid down on 4 October 2006 at the company's shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. On 26 January 2008, Dewey was christened in a ceremony in Pascagoula, by Deborah Mullen, the wife of Admiral Mike Mullen. Dewey was commissioned in Seal Beach, California on 6 March 2010, as the 55th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. This is the first ship commissioning for the City of Seal Beach.The ship is part of Destroyer Squadron 1 of Carrier Strike Group One of which the flagship is aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).

United States Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard

The United States Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard is a unit of the United States Coast Guard responsible for the performance of public duties. Stationed in Alexandria, Virginia, the unit was activated in 1962.

United States Coast Guard Cutter

United States Coast Guard Cutter is the term used by the U.S. Coast Guard for its commissioned vessels. They are 65 feet (19.8 m) or greater in length and have a permanently assigned crew with accommodations aboard. They carry the ship prefix USCGC.

United States Coast Guard Pipe Band

The United States Coast Guard Pipe Band is a pipe band and private military unit composed of current and former United States Coast Guard personnel. Though a privately maintained entity, it is formally recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard and provides support to official Coast Guard ceremonies including changes-of-command, funerals, and ship commissioning. The unit was established in 2001 and formally recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Coast Guard-affiliated organization the following year.

United States Coast Guard officer rank insignia

United States Coast Guard officer rank insignia describes an officer's pay-grade. Rank is displayed on collar devices, shoulder boards, and on the sleeves of dress uniforms.

All Coast Guard officers are line officers, unlike the Navy, which has a staff corps to identify certain career fields.

United States military bands

United States military bands include musical ensembles maintained by the United States Army, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Air Force, and United States Coast Guard. More broadly, they can also include musical ensembles of other federal and state uniformed services, including the Public Health Service and NOAA Corps, the state defense forces, and the senior military colleges.

During the colonial period, most British army units posted in the area that would become the United States had bands attached. The first recorded instance of a local American military band was in 1653 in the New Hampshire militia. The oldest extant United States military band is the United States Marine Corps Band, formed in 1798 and known by the moniker "The President's Own". The U.S. armed forces field eleven ensembles and more than 100 smaller, active-duty and reserve bands.

Bands provide martial music during official events including state arrivals, military funerals, ship commissioning, and change of command and promotion ceremonies; they conduct public performances in support of military public relations and recruitment activities such as street parades and concerts; and they provide popular music groups to entertain deployed military personnel. Most bands of the U.S. armed forces reconfigure into combat units during wartime during which they have non-musical responsibilities, including guarding prisoners of war and defending command centers.

Unlike Canada, the United Kingdom, and some other nations, the United States federal armed forces do not maintain any "voluntary bands", or bands composed of unpaid civilian musicians who dress in military uniforms. All U.S. military bands are composed of regularly enlisted or commissioned military personnel. One exception to this is the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band, which is drawn from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

History and
Life cycle of a Navy ship
Service life
After decommissioning


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