What's the Deal with "Laying Keel?" The Meaning Behind the Cruise Ship Tradition

Category: River or Ocean Cruises

What's the Deal with

It’s one of the most significant dates in a cruise ship’s history. A ‘keel-laying ceremony,’ often accompanied by a ‘coin ceremony,’ are ancient maritime traditions that are still practiced today by cruise lines.

Keel-laying is essentially the date of birth of a new ship cradled in its shipyard. Imagine the keel as the ‘spine’ of the ship, the part of the structure that runs the entire length of the ship along the bottom, connecting stem to stern.

Keel-laying is when all the vision, design, engineering and steel-cutting actually begins to take shape as a new vessel. No longer the laying of a single wooden keel, now “keel laying” is the moment the first constructed module is placed in the dock where the ship will take form.

It’s marked by a ceremony at the shipyard, where the ship builders and the cruise line representatives come together. The declaration that the keel is “well and truly laid” brings good luck to the construction and future lifetime of the vessel.

Often the keel laying is accompanied by a “coin ceremony,” where commemorative coins are embedded in the keel or welded onto the hull. Today, coin ceremonies are an additional harbinger of good luck for a newborn ship. But their origins are said to date back to Venetian and even older, Roman traditions.

As the first moments when a new cruise ship begins to take form, and good luck is bestowed upon her, the keel laying and coin ceremonies are among a ship’s biggest – and earliest – milestones. Others, like floating out, christening, and inaugural port calls may follow – but the keel and coin ceremonies are first.

One of the things I love about cruising is that – unlike any other style of travel – cruising maintains some of these storied traditions, even as it forges ahead with ultra-modern innovations.

When you’re sailing on a cruise ship, you feel part of a continuum of human endeavor as old as nearly every early civilization that relied on the seas and waterways to explore their world.

July, 2022, was a big month for cruising. Three cruise lines held keel-laying and coin ceremonies for their newbuilds, and it gives cruise lovers a chance to say ‘hello’ years before we’ll see these ships in action!

Utopia of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s Utopia of the Seas had her keel-laying at her shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France.At the ceremony, the working teams constructing Utopia watched as newly minted coins were placed on the ship’s first, 948-ton steel block. The coins represent Royal Caribbean and shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

Mega-ship Utopia of the Seas is set to launch in spring, 2024. It will be the sixth ship in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class (pictured, top), and the first to be powered by LNG, or liquefied natural gas. That’s just one of the environmentally-conscious features of the upcoming ship, which will also include shore power connection to waste heat recovery systems.

Seven Seas Grandeur

Luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises celebrated the keel laying milestone of its newest ship, Seven Seas Grandeur, at its shipyard in Italy.

Cruise line execs were joined by Fincantieri shipyard team members to place a steel section of the 55,0000 ton, vessel into its construction dock. Then they placed three custom-minted coins onto the keel of the ship, each one representing one of the sister ships in Regent’s newest class of ships. The coins for Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Splendor are replicas of those that were placed on their own keels, while the new coin for Seven Seas Grandeur includes the cruise line’s 30th anniversary logo.

The coins will forever remain embedded within the ship’s structure, bringing luck for all who sail aboard the new ship once she launches in 2023. A mid-sized ship, Grandeur will be home to just over 700 guests in all-suite, all-inclusive luxury.

Carnival Jubilee

Carnival Cruise Line took a little Texas to Germany for the keel-laying of its newest ship. Carnival Jubilee will sail from homeport Galveston once it launches in 2023, so the cruise line had a little fun with its ceremony, bringing cowboy hat-shaped hardhats to shipyard Meyer Werft in Germany.

Executives from the cruise line and shipyard placed coins under a 375-ton keel block, to remain under the ship as its built up from the keel.One of the ship’s lucky coins is an official ship coin, which commemorates part of Carnival history while celebrating its future by showing Carnival Jubilee alongside the original MS Jubilee from 1986. The coins will be placed in a special compartment near the ship’s mast as permanent fixtures of the ship.

The newest ship in Carnival’s Excel class, mega-ship Jubilee will be the third ship in the fleet powered by LNG, and will have other Excel-class features like BOLT, the “Ultimate Sea Coaster.”

By: Lynn Elmhirst Producer and Host, World's Greatest Cruises

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All images courtesy of their respective cruise lines.

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