Mast-Stepping Ceremony: Commemorating Ancient Naval Traditions

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (March 15, 2019) – In keeping with ancient naval tradition, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) conducted a mast-stepping ceremony March 15, this version of tradition marking a significant milestone in George Washington’s refueling complex overhaul (RCOH).

About 100 Sailors, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) employees, and Supervisor of Shipbuilding (SUPSHIP) Sailors and employees attended the ceremony on the flight deck, located directly below the newly installed

According to a blog post titled Mast Stepping: A Mariner’s Tradition, mast-stepping is an ancient Greek and Roman practice of putting coins at the base of a mast of a ship under construction and has continued throughout history. It is believed that due to the dangers of early sea travel, the coins were placed under the mast so the crew would be able to cross into the afterlife if the ship were sunk. The Romans believed it was necessary for a person to take coins with them to pay Charon, who in Greek mythology is the ferryman of Hades, the god of the dead and the king of the Underworld, in order to cross the river Styx, a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, to the afterlife.

Another theory for the origination of mast-stepping ceremonies is that the insertion of coins in ships may have functioned as a form of sacrifice, thanking the gods for a successful construction, or a request for divine protection in the future.

“Mast-stepping is a way to link the past with the future,” said Capt. Glenn Jamison, commanding officer of George Washington. “It is a way to honor the heritage of this ship and our namesake. George Washington once said that ‘without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.’ Now, with this new mast signifying the progress our team has made this far into RCOH, USS George Washington is ready to carry on the mantle of representing the Navy as only Gen. George Washington could have imagined it.”

Photographs, a crew roster, several coins, a piece of the old mast and other items significant to the history of the ship and its crew were placed in a time capsule attached to a metal plate, made by George Washington’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department, and will later be welded under the ship’s new main mast.

George Washington arrived at Newport News Shipbuilding in August 2017 to begin its RCOH process.

“I am proud to be here today to represent the more than 3,500 shipbuilders who are working to restore USS George Washington for another 25 years of service,” said Chris Miner, Newport News Shipbuilidng’s vice president of in-service aircraft carrier programs. “The mast-stepping is a proud moment for the shipbuilders and the Sailors. It is a celebration of years of innovation, perseverance, and dedicated teamwork by many people, here at the shipyard and in the Navy. We recognize that our success is critical to the readiness of the Navy fleet. Today’s ceremony celebrates an important milestone for the team and the ship.”

This mast-stepping ceremony marks a significant milestone of the RCOH process for George Washington. George Washington is on track for delivery in 2021, and once completed, will rejoin the fleet for another 25 years of service.

“When George Washington leaves our shipyard, she will carry with her our mementos and our hearts,” said Miner. “USS George Washington is a great national asset that, thanks to all of your hard work, will continue to serve our country as a symbol of America’s strength, pride, and diplomacy anywhere she is needed, and no matter where she is needed we all, every one of us, will be with her in spirit, always.”

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DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub ( The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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