Actually I may have gotten it backward, but the information I can find is conflicting. For instance:
This thread contains conflicting claims.
According to The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., "the carrier Enterprise" is correct but not "the USS Enterprise." "The Enterprise" is also correct, but The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World prefers "USS Enterprise (CVN-65)" (no "the").
I'm a maritime lawyer and am in correspondence with shipowners, brokers, and insurers every day. The standard style in the world of commercial shipping is to use the definite article before the ship's name.
This one really bugs an old Navy man, like me. As everybody knows, a vessel is alive. She is female‼ and as beautiful, comforting, protective of her men, and lively in her actions and quirks as any other woman of substance.
Whenever a Navy man is asked aboard which ship he sailed, he would reply “Hornet,” or “USS Hornet,” but NEVER “the Hornet.”
Indeed, you would never refer to your wife as “the Mary.” Just “Mary”! Thus to ships of the line.
USS Yorktown is right, and the USS Yorktown is wrong, but Yorktown is wrong and the Yorktown is right.
It would be correct to say, "He was a fresh young Ensign serving aboard USS Yorktown, ..." or to say "He was a fresh young Ensign serving aboard the Yorktown, ..." but don't mix parts of both and include both "the" and "USS".
Elsewhere, I found this:
The custom of using the definite article before the names of ships is very old. When Shakespeare wrote, "Master of the Tyger", he was following a well established tradition. Melville, Conrad and most others followed suit.
If there are any rules, they are something like this---
- All large commercial ships take the definite article. "The California had finished discharging her cargo." (Richard Dana).
- Large warships usually take the definite article, but it is often omitted for brevity in reports and dispatches. The same applies to verse. "Collingwood, in the Royal Sovereign". (Robert Southey). Alternatively, "They rose near Iceland, where Compass Rose was sunk." (Nicholas Monsarrat). "Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock and Golden Gain. (Rudyard Kipling)
- Yachts and small craft generally do not take the definite article. Perhaps this is because of the more intimate relationship we can have with them. Maybe the Saucy Sal seems pretentious. "She could see no sign of Tzu Hang". (Miles Smeaton). An exception might be made for Joshua Slocum, who always referred to his immortal vessel as the Spray and rightly so!
So there doesn't seem to be a fixed, universal rule. Some say the article should be used, some say it shouldn't. So that means neither "the Enterprise
" or "Enterprise
" is definitively wrong. Customs vary between different people and different times. Commercial ships take the definite article, but some naval veterans say their ships should never be referred to by the definite article while others say they do it all the time. Basically it seems to come down to a matter of preference, or what scans better in a particular sentence.