Yes, there ARE ways to change a boat’s name without upsetting the various deities of the sea and air.
First time out with the new name on the boat, luff up into the wind and drift to a complete stop, then allow the boat to sail backward. This represents “backing over” the old name. Sailing backward is hard-requires a good breeze, some waves usually help, and a fair amount of skill. But the goddesses and gods that are concerned with these matters are not easy to impress! If the boat is a fin keel type with a separate rudder, you should be able to stabilize in backward mode and do it for at least a few boat lengths. For a full-keeler, the spirits will most likely be appeased with a half-boat length or so. Under no circumstance should you do this under power!
Its been a few years since I’ve edited this posting. Today I can tell you I’ve sailed “backwards over land” many times against a strong current in light wind. I think that should count!
If the boat is a powerboat, you will have bad luck with the new name until you have run aground three times. I don’t know if these can be intentional groundings – perhaps someone with more experience in this area could clarify this.
A book entitled, “Superstitions of the Sea,” and subtitled, “A Digest of Beliefs, Customs and Mystery” with a banner that adds, “With Startling New Facts on the Titanic,” talks about name changes. It says that the ancients believed a name was integral to a ship and if it was changed, the vessel would be cursed — and because most of the vessels were named after Gods, a name change would at least be insulting to that God. The book adds that the Lloyds registry show thousands of name changes, ignoring the superstition (but does not say how many of those boats subsequently sank.) Then it says: “Name changing UNLESS A SHIP’S NAME IS CHANGED WITH NEW OWNERSHIP OF A VESSEL, is still considered by some as unlucky. If the change is absolutely necessary, it is usually accomplished by a simple announcement, void of fanfare or ceremony.”
But that would also suggest that it’s okay to buy a used boat and rename it, without any bad luck to be expected.
The book says that thirteen-letter names are considered unlucky, but seven-letter names are considered to be lucky, especially if the name contains three a’s. It notes that the seven-letter named Mataafa, with four a’s, was lost near Duluth in 1905 with nine lives. Salvaged and rebuilt in 1906, she rammed and sank the steamer Sacramento in October 1908, and collided with the steamer G. Watson French in 1912… so watch the number of a’s you put in… The book was written by a nautical painter, Jim Clary.