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What Is a Cruise Ship Coin Ceremony?

Contributor
Carolina Pirola

Last updated
Mar 5, 2024

Read time
3 min read

You might have heard of the multiple celebrations that take place between the moment constructions starts on a cruise ship and the end of a vessel’s maiden voyage. Christening, steel cutting, launching, float out, and inaugural port visits ceremonies are all well-known and often draw crowds. However, only those who follow the cruise industry closely may be familiar with the coin ceremony.

While not as popular as the celebrity-led christening galas, a coin ceremony is an important event that marks a construction milestone to be celebrated by cruise-line executives and shipyard representatives. But what is it exactly, and what do coins have to do with cruise ships?

What Is a Cruise Ship Coin Ceremony?

Freshly minted coins being placed at a Royal Caribbean keel laying ceremony
Freshly minted coins being placed at a Royal Caribbean keel laying ceremony (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

A coin ceremony is a traditional shipbuilding event that takes place during an early stage of a ship's construction. Typically, one or more "madrinas" -- the Italian word meaning "godmothers," women who are chosen to represent the cruise line and the shipyard in the cruise industry -- are selected to place newly minted commemorative coins under a keel block, or in the mast.

The coins are then welded to the keel or mast and become part of the cruise ship. The tokens, which according to seafaring tradition must be silver, serve as a symbol of good luck. The structure they are placed inside of is sometimes blessed by a priest, similar to the blessing of a complete ship during its inauguration ceremony.

The coin or coins can either be temporarily fixed in place and retrieved when the ship sails out of dry dock, or permanently welded to the keel or mast. When they are not permanently embedded in the ship, they are often attached to the radar mast.

Is a Coin Ceremony the Same as a Keel-Laying Ceremony?

The term "coin ceremony" is sometimes used interchangeably with keel laying, but while every coin ceremony involves the laying of the keel, not every keel-laying ceremony involves coins.

For the uninitiated, a keel is a long structure along the center and bottom of a ship's hull, on which the rest of the ship is built. It's sometimes called the backbone of the ship. The laying of the keel marks the symbolic first step in the construction of a new cruise ship.

Both events are important milestones, but neither are as glitzy as christening ceremonies, and celebrities rarely take part in them.

What Is the Origin of the Cruise Ship Coin Ceremony?

Coin for coin ceremony for Explora Journeys Explora II (Photo: Jeannine Williamson)
Coin for coin ceremony for Explora Journeys Explora II (Photo: Jeannine Williamson)
There are several theories regarding the origin of coin ceremonies in shipbuilding, but no one knows for sure how it started. Some experts contend the custom dates back to ancient Roman and Venetian maritime traditions; others believe it goes as far back as Ancient Greece.

Similarly, there are many theories as to why coins are placed in ships. Some say it has to do with the Greek legend of Charon, who transported the dead to the afterlife. The coin guaranteed the deceased would be able to pay the ferryman. Others believe it was a way of ensuring the crew had money to repair the mast should bad weather damage it.

Whatever the case may be, all cruise lines still hold these special events. The press and industry representatives are invited, and the ceremony is seen as an opportunity for cruise line executives to share more about their brand and future plans.

What Is Engraved on a Commemorative Token Used in a Coin Ceremony?

What to Do If Your Cruise Ship Leaves You Behind and How to Prepare So It Doesn't Happen to You (Photo: Samot/Shutterstock.com)
What to Do If Your Cruise Ship Leaves You Behind and How to Prepare So It Doesn't Happen to You (Photo: Samot/Shutterstock.com)

Each cruise line has its own ritual, but commemorative coins used in cruise ship coin ceremonies are often engraved with words and/or images. A popular combination is the name of the vessel, the date and the name of the shipyard where it is being built. Other cruise lines engrave their logo and/or other images associated with the company.

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