Used Boat Buying: Choosing a Name

Author/surveyor Paul Grimes continues our used boat series by discussing good (and not so good) names for boats.

14th October 2010.
By Paul Grimes

Now that we owned a boat, we had to name it, and no boat project is more agonizing. Every other project has a series of steps, and more effort usually equals more progress, but naming a boat is a killer. You’re liable to spend hours, researching Greek mythology, listing favorite songs from younger years, consulting an online Thesaurus, and writing down possibilities, only to find yourself nowhere – with the boat being launched in 48 hours. Fortunately, there’s the bathroom, from where all good ideas come. Whether in the shower or on the throne, something pops to mind, and bingo – it’s time to call the sign maker.

Avoid names that will always be mispronounced, like this one (the author's choice for a Hobie 33).

I love boat names – in much the same way that the deadpan comedian, Steven Wright, loves sea shells. In his half-conscious mumble, he explains, “I have a large sea shell collection . . . scattered over the beaches of the earth . . . maybe you’ve seen it.” As a sailor, my favorite names of all time are “Freedom” and “Courageous,” which should never be used again. But then there are such classics as, “Stimulus Package,” “Small Flying Patio Furniture,” “Never Again VII,” “Dog House,” “Blind Squirrel,” “Wet Spot,” “Floater,” and of course, “Whatever.”

Before getting into our name for the J/35, here’s one man’s humble opinion on what to avoid in boat names.

Jokes that Wear Off
Some of the names listed above could fit squarely into this category. Think of how a name would sound when calling a harbormaster, a launch, or the Coast Guard. At some point, you might want to be taken seriously.

Names that Include Custom Paint Jobs
I remember a boat called “Exit Wound,” painted gray with red splotches, and a huge freehand name on it. Kudos for bravery and initiative, but that “giant suckin’ sound” heard around the boat park was the resale value of the boat going south. Another one like that was a boat painted with the grey, black and red color scheme of the Prada America’s Cup syndicate, and named “Nada.” Both were creative, but at some point you might want to sell the boat.

Names from Children’s Books
Kids are cute, but they can lead us toward boat names that don’t work. We may have crossed that line a few years ago with a boat called “Big Hungry Bear,” but I hope not. However, “Runaway Bunny” and “Poohsticks” don’t work for me.

Apparently she said yes?

Names that will be Mispronounced
Our Hobie 33 was called “Kaizen” (a lean manufacturing term for “continuous improvement”). I understood it to be pronounced KI-zen, but everyone else called it KA-zen. After a while, you stop trying to correct people and vow never to use a name like that again.

So What’s Left?
In our case, we tried to think of names along themes that had some relation to our family or the boat, and had a list that included things like:
“Gorilla,” “Bear Necessity” – big animal theme, like “Big Hungry Bear.”
“Second Effort,” “Second Mouse” (gets the cheese!) – second try at a J/35.
“Brick House” – J/35’s are not lightly built.
“Buzz Lightyear,” “Some Assembly Required,” “Clouseau,” – just goofy.
“Fuzzy Logic” – needed to buy a boat.
“Breakaway,” “Free Agent,” “Diversion” – our family effort to get away on our own.

How Common is a Boat Name?
While not all names are on documented vessels, larger boats are often documented, and you can get an idea of how common a boat name is in the US by doing a documented vessel search at http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/CoastGuard/VesselByName.html. When I searched, there were 86 documented boats named “Breakaway,” 7 named “Fuzzy Logic,” and 19 named “Bear Necessity,” but none named “Buzz Lightyear” (imagine that . . .).

Children's books may lead us down the road to "too cute" when used as boat names.

Trial Balloons
As we were running out of time before launching the boat, we narrowed our possible names down to “Fuzzy Logic,” and “Breakaway.” I was leaning toward “Fuzzy Logic” (but then I was the one who came up with “Kaizen” last time). I decided to run it by friends and extended family members, and the survey came back heavily in favor of “Breakaway.” It wasn’t too original, but everyone thought it fit well on a dark blue J/35 – which has nothing fuzzy about it. So we are now the 87th documented boat named “Breakaway.”

And After all That . . .
I still like “Fuzzy Logic,” and have a hard time calling the boat “Breakaway.” There is very little logic in boats, and you only live once, so name the boat whatever you want – and go enjoy it.

Next Up: Keel Repair and Hull Fairing

Editor’s Note: This article is part 5 of an ongoing series about buying a used sailboat.

Read part 1, To Buy a Boat or Not to Buy a Boat

Read part 2, Used Boat Ads

Read part 3, How to Talk with the Broker

Read part 4, Looking at the Boat

Read part 5, Reaching an Agreement

Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. Read his detailed reviews of the J/35 and Hobie 33.


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