Who are cruise ship godmothers?

Who are ship godmothers and what exactly do they do? It’s an age-old tradition where influential women are named as sponsors and protectors over a vessel. The latest of these is acclaimed singer Sarah Brightman, who has been named godmother to the new Seabourn Encore.

Ms. Brightman will preside over a glittering evening ceremony and all-around festive occasion, attended by guests and crew departing on the Encore’s 10-day maiden voyage bound for Indonesia.

Sarah Brightman will be godmother to the new Seabourn Encore.

Sarah Brightman will be godmother to the new Seabourn Encore.

What sort of women are ship godmothers?

Who else is on the list of ship godmothers and what exactly does it mean?

These women come from all walks of life. Some are royalty, others are politicians, artists or celebrities, while some are plain old ordinary citizens. The one thing they all have in common is their role as godmothers to some of the finest vessels afloat and a time-honoured nautical tradition.

Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip watch as Champagne smashes over the bow of Britannia.

Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip watch as Champagne smashes over the bow of Britannia.

Earlier this year Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands was named godmother and christened Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam while in China actress and pop-star Fan Bingbing took on the role for Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.

Her Majesty Queen Máxima of The Netherlands christens ms Koningsdam.

Her Majesty Queen Máxima of The Netherlands christens ms Koningsdam.

Other ship godmothers include Queen Elizabeth II who is godmother to P&O Cruises Britannia. Princess Kate (Duchess Catherine of Cambridge) is godmother to Princess Cruises Royal Princess. While Sophia Loren is such a good fit for MSC Cruises that she is godmother to eight of their cruise ships!

Sophia Loren presides over the christening ceremony of MSC Preziosa.

Sophia Loren presides over the christening ceremony of MSC Preziosa.

What do ship godmothers do?

So what do the duties of a ships godmother involve. Well just like being godmother to a child there’s not much to do after the christening. Godmothers of ships christen the vessel and bless it and generally lend their good name to it. The christening ceremony usually involves breaking a bottle of expensive Champagne over the bow – a job reserved for the godmother. Other than that she doesn’t have to do much else.

In return for the service the ship godmother will usually be presented with a small gift on the occasion of the christening – jewellery is common – and they will often be entitled to one or more free voyages per year on their ship.

Where did the godmother tradition start?

So where did it all start? There’s no clear answer to that question. As far back as ancient Egypt ships were blessed before going to sea. The Greeks and the Romans did it too. Superstition, ritual and religion have become a part of nautical tradition in many cultures – in Japan a ceremonial axe is used to cut the ropes holding a new ship in place while in France ship christenings were accompanied by special rites that resembled marriage and baptismal ceremonies.

Carol Kennedy christens the USS John F. Kennedy as Jackie Kennedy watches on.

Carol Kennedy christens the USS John F. Kennedy as Jackie Kennedy watches on.

The tradition of ship godmothers seems to have emerged out of the British navy in the last century. The custom of only permitting Royal males or senior officers to sponsor vessels gave way and before long women became the preferred patrons. The popularity of these ‘godmothers’, as they became known, quickly spread to the USA and was adopted by most western cultures.

Whether or not these ship godmothers truly bring good luck and fortune to a vessel we’ll never know. But one thing is for sure, being a guest on the Seabourn Encore with godmother Sarah Brightman would certainly add a touch of glamour and sophistication to your cruise!

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