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 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.

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.

Commissioning

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).