Peter Pan: You know the rules, Hook: A good captain always goes down with his ship.
Captain Hook: [Beat] I DON'T WANT TO BE A GOOD CAPTAIN!!!A maritime tradition that if a ship is sinking, the Captain should remain aboard it, or at least be the last one to escape. This can also extend to other crewmen, usually so they can oversee and direct passengers onto the lifeboats first. The latter often goes hand in hand with "Women and children first" (leading to jokes where adult men dress in drag or like children). A common twist in comedic works is for the captain to appoint someone else captain and let them go down with the ship. Sometimes the new captain then uses the "promotion" to reassign the old captain as captain, often going back and forth repeatedly until they both go under. Originally came about because of maritime salvage laws - if the ship was abandoned by all the crew but didn't sink, anyone who got on board could claim the ship and contents as salvage. So a senior officer had to remain until it was clear that the ship really was going to sink (or at least be the last to leave) to prevent embarrassing losses of cargo and/or repairable ships. In many cases, the captain goes down with the ship because he would face major disgrace if he didn't—especially if the ship is only sinking because of his screw-up. Because, of course, Space Is an Ocean this also applies to starship captains. Even though there's no (literal) "down" for them to go... No relation to Die for Our Ship, or Shipping in general.
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Anime & Manga
- Clyde Harlaown in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, who remained in the Hestia when the Book of Darkness started taking control of the ship's systems so that he can ensure that all of his surviving crew members escape. Once he was sure that everyone else had evacuated, he asked for the ship accompanying them to open fire on the Hestia, as the Book of Darkness had already taken over the Hestia's weapon systems by that time and was going to fire first if they don't.
- Averted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Christina tricks Feldt into joining Sumeragi and Ian Vashti in a support craft moments before the Ptolemaios is destroyed. Few minutes afterwards, she and Lichty end up Together in Death. (Sorta)
- Played straight in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny by Natarle, who goes down with the Dominion when she locks Muruta Azrael in with her on the bridge while the rest of the crew evacuates on her orders, and Captain Todaka, who goes down with ORB's flagship carrier when he (deliberately) leads it to ruin and is killed by Shinn in the Impulse.
- Played straight on all sides in the Space Battleship Yamato series.
- This was the fate of Captain Gloval in the final episode of the first season of Robotech. His Japanese equivalent in the original Macross survived.
- Averted in an early episode of Pokémon—when the St. Anne sails into rough waters, the Captain immediately jumps into a lifeboat, sparking a panicked evacuation of everyone else.
- The French-Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues has an album containing two subversions to this:
- First, when a boat Chesterfield and Blutch are sailors on gets sunk, they are outraced by the captain swiming to the safety of a lifeboat.
- When a later ship gets sunk, the captain stayed on board till the end, and the sailors all salute their captain's bravery... Only for the following shot showing the captain sitting at the bottom of the sea, sighing: "I couldn't tell them I can't swim!"
- This trope was occasionally used in Jonah (a comic strip in The Beano about a man who managed to sink everyship he went on).
- Played for Laughs in one of the Commando War Stories. A coxswain in WW2 is warned that if he puts a scratch on the landing boat he's steering for shore, the Navy will take it out of his pay. The coxswain quips that now he knows why the captain always goes down with his ship. "I'd hate to fork out for a battleship!"
- In Ben-Hur, the galley captain tells titular captive Judah Ben-Hur that he won't escape as long as the Roman legion who controls the ship is able to but in case they lose control to outside forces, Ben-Hur, not his Roman captors, will sink with the rest of the slaves, chained to their assigned oars.
- Used as part of the ruse in The Hunt for Red October: Ramius fakes a reactor meltdown to get the men off his ship, telling them that he will scuttle the ship before the Americans can get it. Ironically, this is the complete opposite of his actual intentions.
- Played with in Spaceballs. When Dark Helmet, Colonel Sandurz and President Skroob are standing in front of the last escape pod, President Skroob says: "Well boys, it's a very lovely ship. I think you should go down with it." This doesn't pan out, as the bear from the onboard zoo steals the pod.
- Titanic (1997) is full of this. Apart from the captain himself there's the band who remain on deck (which actually happened in Real Life) and anyone who took the orders of "women and children first out" to heart.
- A Night to Remember showed this as well. Captain Smith himself is last seen walking onto the bridge (presumably deciding to go down with the ship). Both films also showed the band which played as the ship sank, and a few passengers who intentionally stay aboard for one reason or another. There's even a sub-plot about a young married couple who initially want to stay behind just so they can remain together, but are talked out of it by Thomas Andrews, the architect who ironically went down with the ship himself.
- Pirates of the Caribbean
Palifico: The captain goes down with his ship.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The Kraken destroys the Black Pearl with Captain Jack Sparrow handcuffed aboard.
- Used in Kind Hearts and Coronets: "...all hands were saved, save one. Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne, obstinate to the last, insisted on going down with his ship."
- In another Ealing comedy, The Ladykillers, Mrs. Wilberforce relates that this is how her late husband died.
- In The Perfect Storm, this happens with Captain Billy Tyne, when the Andrea Gail is capsized by a giant wave the crew had tried to drive over. Most of the crew are trapped in the lower deck, and have no choice but to go down with the ship. Tyne and Bobby are able to escape, but only Bobby gets out but drowns sometime later, while Tyne remains behind and goes down. Of course, seeing as there were no survivors among the crew of the real-life Andrea Gail this is all conjecture,
- A tragic version of this happens in a flashback scene in Pandorum, describing the greatest disaster in space (before Earth itself is destroyed) due to the titular syndrome. A spaceship captain goes insane and ejects all 5000 sleeping pods into space. Presumably, they all suffocated before he died, the last person aboard.
- Star Trek films:
- In Star Trek, newly-promoted Captain George Kirk goes down with his ship—he sets the ship on a collision course with the attacking Romulan ship (to prevent it from attacking any of the escape pods), but the ship's autopilot is damaged. So he manually pilots the vessel and uses his last words to tell his wife he loves her.
- Star Trek Into Darkness:
- Invoked Trope by Harrison; he keeps his promise to return a captive Kirk, but only because he plans to destroy Enterprise as well, saying mockingly, "No ship should go down without her captain."
- Acting Captain Spock intends to do this as the Enterprise is crashing, in order to buy time for everyone else to escape, but Sulu and the rest of the bridge crew won't abandon him.
- Symbolically in Das Boot. Right as the U-boat returns to base, the British launch an air raid. Lt. Werner finds the Captain watching the boat sink at the dock. After it slips beneath the waves, the Captain collapses.
- In Return To Never Land, when a giant octopus is about to sink Captain Hook's ship, he begs Peter Pan to save him from drowning, to which Peter Pan mockingly answers: "You know the old saying, Hook ! A good captain always goes down with his ship !". Captain Hook's reply ? "I DON'T WANNA BE A GOOD CAPTAIN !".
Live Action TV
- The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "World War 1" has a ship captain announcing "women and children first!", then we see that the captain and crew are all dressed as women and children... and other costumes, which forces the captain to change the announcement to "women, children, Red Indians, spacemen, and a sort of idealized version of complete Renaissance Men first!"
- Battlestar Galactica invokes this trope a few times in S3. I'm not sure whether this falls squarely under this trope since no immediate crisis is involved — Adama simply kicks (almost) everybody off the ship when it's not in active duty, but refuses to leave with them. The other IS this trope, though. Lee Adama, Commander of the Pegasus, is the last to leave the ship (and says the customary good-bye) before it takes off on a collision course with the Cylon Baseships. Also in S4 Adama is the last to leave the Galactica, except for Sam who is now more part of the ship than part of the crew.
- In the Pilot Movie of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a Flash Back shows us Lt. Commander Sisko and crew abandoning ship during the battle of Wolf 359; Sisko is the last to board an escape shuttle (the captain had been killed; Sisko as first officer was now in command). He had to be dragged aboard, not because he felt he should go down with the ship but because his wife was killed and he was in despair.
- Happens to Sisko again with the U.S.S. Defiant as it's being blasted to scrap. He's the last one on the bridge after calling for the crew to abandon ship, and probably the last one off before the Dominion finish the job.
- Subverted in The Original Series episode "The Doomsday Machine". Commodore Decker evacuates all of the crew of the U.S.S. Constellation, remaining aboard because the captain is the "last man to leave the ship". The planet killer knocks out the Constellation's transporters, then begins devouring the planet her crew had taken refuge on.
Decker: They called me, they begged me for help! Four hundred of them! I couldn't...I just couldn't...
- Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager episode Year of Hell, Part 2.
- Star Trek: Enterprise. This happens even in the amoral Mirror Universe. Captain Forrest stays on board I.S.S Enterprise to give his crew time to escape, in particular his lover Hoshi Sato.
- In Firefly when Serenity is crippled Mal sends the rest of the crew off in the shuttles and stays on board. He claims this is because someone might hear their distress signal, but Inara at least assumes that he's doing this. In the end the crew, who had little better chances of survival in the shuttles in any case, come back to join him.
- Babylon 5:
- Discussed in the episode Babylon Squared. The last remaining crew members of Babylon 4 are being evacuated before the it gets drawn back into a Negative Space Wedgie. As it is unclear if Babylon 4 will survive the transition, Commander Sinclair compares it to a great old ship sinking. Garibaldi reminds his commander that he is emphatically not The Captain there and he is not going down with the ship. (This foreshadows the fact that his future self is also on Babylon 4, and was in fact part of the team that will have caused the Negative Space Wedgie in the first place.) Sinclair and Garibaldi are the last ones off the station.
- Shortly before that, in the same episode, the man who is in command there had just taken off to get to the shuttles himself, but only after seeing the rest of his crew off and imploring Sinclair and Garibaldi to get going rather than staying behind to try and save Zathras, who had appeared shortly before all of their problems began.
- Stargate Verse:
- In Stargate SG-1, Col. Lionel Pendergast, captain of Earth's first starship Prometheus, stayed at the helm as the ship was blowing up around him in "Ethon" to beam his surviving crew to safety.
- In Stargate SG-1, a looming asteroid that has naquadah in it, meaning it was not naturally there as there is none of that element naturally in the Sol system is bearing down on Earth. General Hammond sends the entire SGC staff through the Stargate to the Alpha Site, but when queried if he was coming too, he says he "hasn't been relieved of this command".
- In Stargate Atlantis, in "The Last Man", an alternate reality Carter rams a Wraith Hiveship with the Phoenix, a much smaller 304 Battlecruiser. The Phoenix not only destroys the Hiveship, but two more are destroyed when they get caught in the blast of the first. It is unknown whether Carter meant to go down with the ship, or whether she intended to beam down to the planet below but couldn't because the transporters were knocked out.
- It may be relevant, however, that yet another alternate reality Carter blew herself and the Jaffa who'd just captured her "straight to hell" with a grenade.
- This almost happens to Captain Jack Harkness at the end of the two-part episode of Doctor Who that introduced him. He uses his ship to capture a German bomb about to kill the Doctor and Rose. Unfortunately, the bomb has already started the explosion sequence, and the only thing keeping it from exploding is a stasis field. However, the bomb is exploding slowly. Already in space, Jack orders the ship to jettison the bomb, only to receive the reply that this will cause the bomb to explode while inside the ship. Realizing it's over, he asks the ship to mix him a martini ("Ooh, too much vermouth! See if I ever come here again!) and prepares to die in just the same way he does everything else — with buckets of style. Then the Doctor shows up in the TARDIS to ruin the moment by saving the Lovable Rogue.
- This happens with the captain of the space cruiser liner Titanic in "Voyage of the Damned". However, in this case, the captain is the one who causes its collision with meteors, having been paid to do so to care for his family. He stays on the bridge and dies during the impact. However, the Doctor manages to save the ship (but not the girl).
- In "The Night of the Doctor", Cass has stayed behind to operate the teleport and get her crew off. The Doctor shows up to save her, but when she realises he is a Timelord she elects to stay on her ship until it crashes rather than go with him. The Doctor also elects to go down with the ship rather than abandon her.
- In The Muppet Show, Statler mentions that he was on the Titanic, to which Waldorf remarks that he still has the dress he(Statler) wore to get off.
- JAG: The Russian destroyer captain in "Cowboys & Cossacks" invokes this.
- In the series finale of Last Resort, Captain Marcus Chaplin stays on the bridge of his crippled submarine to make sure that no further surprises occur before the F-18's destroy the Colorado.
- An early episode of Gilligan's Island had the crew gathered in an extra-strong hut to weather a storm. When it begins to look like it might collapse around them, Skipper orders Gilligan to lead the others to safety while he goes down with the hut.
- The poem "Soldier an' Sailor Too" written by Rudyard Kipling.
To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies — 'Er Majesty's Jollies — soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too
- Joseph Conrad's uber-depressing short story The End of the Tether was about a Captain who went down with his ship, but that was entirely for the life insurance.
- In Golding's To The Ends Of The Earth trilogy (a great satire, deconstructing many sea tropes) we get this for poor newly-made Commander Summers when the old ship catches fire and sinks. In the book he apparently has no time to flee, in the TV mini-series he could but he doesn't.
- A variation happens in Mikhail Akhmanov's Fighters of Danveyt, when the novel's protagonist finds himself in a no-win situation with a much more powerful enemy ship. He orders the ship's semi-sentient computer to eject the two other crewmembers (who are sealed in personal pods) and sets a collison course for the enemy's Antimatter gun. The ship decides to alter the plan slightly by ejecting the captain as well a few seconds before the collision. The collision results in the loss of containment for the Antimatter and the destruction of both ships. The protagonist wakes up a week later having barely survived the blast.
- Averted by Admiral Trigit in Wraith Squadron. His fleeing his damaged but still combat-capable Star Destroyer prompts the beginnings of Gara Petothel's Heel–Face Turn. She blows the whistle on him to Wraith Squadron, and Myn Donos shoots him down.
- Invoked in Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners with Nicky Nichol's dad, who went down with his ship when it was torpedoed.
- Dale Browns Sky Masters, the Chinese Admiral fails to invade Mindanao, and his ship gets struck by the Americans satellite. With his ship sinking he decides to sink with the ship and shoot himself, because even if he lives, he'll get court martialed, scapegoated for everything and executed by his superiors.
- Played very straight by Captain Jack Aubrey of the Aubrey-Maturin saga. In the book "Desolation Island", the HMS Leopard springs a very large leak and is in danger of sinking. Captain Aubrey lets the men bring out the boats and gives his First Lieutenant dispatches for the authorities, while he himself prepares to go down with the ship. The situation eventually improves, thankfully.
- John M. Ford added this trope to the Klingon mindset in The Final Reflection. The captain of a Klingon warship is free to send his crew to safety before the ship goes kablooey, but is expected to remain behind himself. (The saying "Kahless' Hand" refers to the first Klingon emperor, who tied his hand to his command chair so no one could say he'd ducked out.)
- Captain Magnanimous and his crew in Alex And The Ironic Gentleman. They get better.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Temple, a Sub Story set during World War I is essentially one big story about this. Once it becomes clear the odds of surviving are next to non-existent without surrendering, the Captain decides that not only he, but the entire crew should go down with the submarine. He is, however, the only one who lives long enough to see the submarine hit the bottom, and the story ends with him donning a suit and wandering toward a sunken temple where he will presumably die of suffocation.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's Emperors of Illusions, Admiral Lemak's destroyer is hijacked while in hyperspace, and the hijacker forces the bridge crew to prepare to exit hyperspace without first decelerating. This would result in the ship entering real space at relativistic speed, and Time Dilation would ensure that, in the time it takes the ship to slow down, a century may pass in the outside universe. The Admiral gives in and releases the prisoners, as the hijacker demands. However, attempts to retake the bridge result in the deceleration being held off long enough to ensure the unfortunate outcome. In the minute before dropping out of hyperspace, Lemak announces to the crew what is happening and urges anyone who has aTan to kill themselves immediately (they will be resurrected on the nearest colony). Despite himself having aTan, Lemak chooses to stay with the ship and those members of the crew who don't have it, although he cries as the ship is passing into the unknown future.
- All Hands! has this, with Captain Harcourt ramming his dying ship into his opponent. He gets bonus points for being at the helm.
- Steeleye Span song - "Let Her Go Down".
While the Captain steered our wounded shipTo the bottom of an angry seaAnd with his dying breath we all heard him sayJust the fortunes of a sailor
- Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
- Though in this case it was more due to the ship being sunk in a matter of seconds with no time for anybody to even think of abandoning ship.
- Steam Powered Giraffe's Captain Albert Alexander:
Just before he went down he called out to his crew"It's obvious that my time has comeI'll let this ending ensueI've led an exciting nautical life it would seemand there's no better end than a death by the sea"
- The Far Side: In one strip, a lone man remains on a sinking ship while the rest of the crew (including a man who is obviously the Captain) rows away. He wonders to himself if "The cook always goes down with the ship" really is a maritime tradition, or the others just lied to him.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "An American Tragedy", Mr. Conklin, Mr. Boynton and Miss Brooks are stranded on a rowboat in the middle of Crystal Lake. Mr. Conklin proclaims himself captain, however it turns out the rowboat is leaking and starts to sink. Neither Mr. Conklin nor Miss Brooks can swim . . . .
Mr. Conklin (panicking): Well keep your head, Boynton! Don't get panicky! Don't get panicky, boy! You need all your strength, every ounce of it to tow '''me''' ashoreMiss Brooks: Tow you ashore? What about me, sir? I can't swim either, and you know the tradition of the sea, the captain goes down with his ship!Mr. Conklin: Not in this ship!
- Fortunately, they had unknowingly drifted near the shore and the water under the boat was only three feet deep
- Mass Effect 2: Shepard is told Joker is ignoring orders to abandon ship; in his case it's less about dying honorably and more about trying to save the Normandy. After Shepard manages to get him into an escape pod, an explosion blasts them away from it. Shepard sends the pod off anyway, saving Joker but sacrificing themself. Shepard didn't want to go down with the ship, they're just altruistic. Besides, Shepard's death didn't stick.
- Subverted by the Battlecruiser Captain in StarCraft II. One of his (joke) quotes is "We're going down. Stay with the ship. I'm out!". Not taking heavy damage or close to death. Just as soon as they're hit.
- Recurring antagonist Admiral Amagi is assumed to go down with his ship the last time the player meets him in Warship Gunner 2.
- Occurs in FreeSpace when the Galatea is destroyed by the Lucifer. The Galatea launches escape pods, which you are charged with defending, but the the mission debriefing states that the Captain stayed behind and went down with his ship.
- Tron 2.0 played it straight with I-No, the old Tower Guardian who chose to de-rez with the server. However, it's discussed, then averted with Alan and Jet when it comes to them crashing the F-Con server.
- A cross between this and Taking You with Me in Starlancer with the captain of your first carrier evacuating the crew and then proceeding to ram the ship into the Coalition flagship, killing the guy who orchestrated the sneak attack at Fort Kennedy at the beginning of the war. The Coalition admiral realizes too late what his old acquaintance is planning to prevent the collision.
- Assassin's Creed III: Templar Nicholas Biddle asks to go down with the Randolph after you disable it. Connor accepts, but blows up the magazine to ensure that it actually sinks.
- In Fallout 3, if you purge Vault 101's water chip during "Trouble on the Homefront" and lie to the Overseer that the rebels did it, he stays behind in the vault to die.
- In Metal Wolf Chaos, General Forester goes down with the command ship in Miami when the President sinks it. It's probably a gesture of atonement for going along with the Vice-President's coup.
- In The Horror at MS Aurora, this is what Daniel chooses to do if Kirk kept him alive to this point.
- In the X-Universe series, Earth's AGI Task Force fighter pilots will never eject from their ship - likely to prevent the superior technology of the ships from falling in the hands of the Argon Federation or other races. Every other faction fighter has a chance to bail out when they decide that they have no hope of surviving. Because ATF fighters never bail out, they are impossible to acquire in X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict, though X3: Albion Prelude allows players to buy them from shipyards.
- In Infinite Space, Captain Vilchjo Valso refuses to abandon his ship when the player character encounters him as part of a Lugovalian fleet in the second half of the game. A number of other characters die when their ships go down, but he's the only one to go deliberately.
- In War Of Omens, Pietra Siani chooses this over being taken prisoner by Listrata.
- In Naval Ops: Warship Gunner 2, recurring antagonist Admiral Amagi goes down with his ship the last time you fight him. If you fight Captain Tsukuba, he does the same.
- Vexxarr gives an interesting reason for this practice, after the newly appointed captain realizes how badly the crew of his new command sucks.
Captain Bot: So, this hell... Nice place?Vexxarr: Unless your crew gets there first.Captain Bot: And thus the captain goes down with the ship.Vexxarr: Sometimes it's a race.
- Awful Hospital: The native lifeforms of Inert Vessels seem instinctively predisposed not to care about dying out from when their world becomes uninhabitable. With the notable exception of Maya Celia.
- Bugs Bunny short "Mutiny on the Bunny". Yosemite Sam is the captain of a sailing ship. Bugs tricks him into thinking the ship is sinking and Sam jumps into a lifeboat. Bugs reminds him that "The captain goes down with his ship", so Sam resigns and makes Bugs the captain.
I'm captain an' I say YOU'RE captain!
- In another short, Bugs is able to use Sam's adherence to the "women and children first" tradition, by tossing an anchor dressed in a bonnet and diaper over the side, which Sam attempts to catch, with predictable results.
- An episode of Futurama parodies Titanic, using both the "adult men dressing as women and children" (specifically The Professor expressing his relief at not needing to be dressed as a child when they find that there's enough life pods) and Zap Branigan making Kif the new captain and promptly running for the life pods. (interestingly, this leads to Kif meeting Amy for the first time and thus their romance over the series).
- A variant in the pilot episode of Galaxy Rangers. Eliza orders the escape pod with her children to blast off, stranding her on the captured ship. While her kids make it to safety and the Ambadassador family friends manage to rescue her husband, this left her to face a Fate Worse Than Death.
- During the Hey Arnold! episode, "The Flood", Principal Wartz states that he would remain and go down with his school. It is unknown if this was sarcasm for forgetting about him, or he really meant it.
- In the GI Joe A Real American Hero episode, "Sink the Montana!," General Hawk confronts the captain of the fatally stricken battleship and finds that he wants to go down with the ship. After being unable to persuade him to leave, Hawk overpowers and drags him off the ship before it sinks.
- Gummi Bears episode Gummi's Across the Sea has Duke Igthorn trying his hand at naval warfare. The ship he has is wrecked by an ancient Gummi sub built in the likeness of a sea serpent, of course. When Dukie prepares to abandon ship, Toadwart reminds him of this trope. True to form, Igthorn immediately names Toadie the captain, and the diminutive ogre briefly enjoys his new status before remembering about the rampaging sub and joins the Duke.
- An episode of The Flintstones has the Flintstones and the Rubbles go out on a sea vacation after Barney won a houseboat on a game show expy of The Price Is Right. After the ship begins sinking, Wilma and Betty are given the life raft while Fred and Barney, who spent the episode bickering about who should be the captain, begin trying to pass the duty off to the other to avoid going down with it. They spent so much time fighting over it, they both end up going down without realizing it.
- An aviation crossover comes to us care of the immortal Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who put his crippled aircraft down on the Hudson River, deployed the rafts, got all the passengers out, walked through the cabin twice to make sure nobody was left behind, boarded the last boat, and refused to leave the Port Authority Ferry Terminal until all of his passengers and crew were accounted for.
- HMS Birkenhead which was carrying over 600 people, men, women, and children. When the ship ran into a dangerous reef, the Captain ordered that women and children would go in the lifeboats first and, realizing that adding any extra weight to the boats would swamp and sink them, it was then ordered that all the men were to stand at attention as the ship sank. They all did so and while some managed to survive, all of the seniors officers were killed. This is known as the "Birkenhead Drill".
- The legacy the Birkenhead left to the world was that prior to its sinking, there was no tradition of "women and children first". It was the bravery of the men on the ''Birkenhead'' that was solely responsible for it starting. This makes the Birkenhead the Trope Maker.
- Dick Gregory mentioned once: "When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me 85 dollars. That is why in the Navy the Captain goes down with the ship."
- There's an element of Truth in Television to this; having their command sunk under them is often a career killer for naval officers, even if they weren't directly to blame.
- Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, the admiral aboard the IJN Hiryu, who chose to go down with his ship. He refused rescue and chained himself to an anchor to ensure his death. The IJN lost one of its most brilliant flag officers.
- This was especially common in Japan because they had learned their naval traditions from Britain, but through subtle translation difficulties, they believed the British tradition was that the Captain ought to insist on staying aboard and drowning if his ship is sunk. This was readily accepted because it fit the Samurai mentality and the bushido code so well. They even had a particular phrase you'll see used to describe it often: "share the ship's fate".
- Famously, Captain Edward J. Smith of the RMS Titanic went down with his ship. There are dozens of differing accounts as to how he died however, with some survivors claiming he shot himself just before the final plunge while others say he saved a child by swimming over to a lifeboat and lifting him in but dying from exposure before he could be saved. The most agreed-upon version, shown in Jim Cameron's film, is that he remained on the bridge for the final plunge.
- Thomas Andrews, the designer of Titanic, also went down with the ship—after frantic efforts to help others get off—holding himself responsible for the shortage of lifeboats and the fact that the ship was not as "unsinkable" as advertised. It is said he was last seen in the First Class Smoking Room, his life jacket cast aside, staring into space.
- J. Bruce Ismay, the owner and managing director of the White Star Line, averted this. He boarded the last lifeboat to be launched; the collapsables stored on top of the officers' quarters were then washed off the boat deck. This netted Ismay a lot of controversy, with a popular myth being that he had dressed as a woman to escape. Although he did assist in loading several of the lifeboats, it was still perceived as a cowardly act and he soon resigned from the company his father had built.
- Most of the ship's department heads also went down with the ship. Chief Engineer Bell and his entire staff remained below decks to ensure the ship had power until the last moment. Senior Wireless Operator Jack Phillips also perished despite leaving shortly before the final plunge; he had continued to send wireless messages up until the end. Also the chief purser, chief steward, and even the owner of the ship's on-board restaurant.
- Admiral George Tryon, who went down with HMS Victoria in one of the worst naval accidents of the 19th Century. Due to a dreadful miscalculation on his part - his last recorded words were an admission of how he'd screwed everything up and "It's all my fault."
- Averted by Captain Yiannis Avranas of the Oceanos, who was one of the first off the ship. He later stated that "abandon ship is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay," but many people on board said there was no alarm raised and they had no idea that the ship was sinking. To make matters worse, his crew didn't close the lower deck portholes, which made the sinking even faster. The rescue operation was carried out by two entertainers. People were furious with the captain and crew for abandoning them. Luckily, all people on board were rescued. The year following the sinking, Captain Avranas and his senior crew were found guilty of negligence by Greek maritime authorities.
- Infamously averted again by Craptain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia, who not only left his ship before the evacuation was completed, but refused orders from a commander of the local Coast Guard to get back on board to supervise the search for survivors. Commander De Falco's frustrated exhortation "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" ("Get back on board, dick!") to Schettino is adorning T-shirts not just in Italy, but around the world.
- He finally did get back on board two years later.
- The captain of IJN Yamato was said to have asked two junior officers to tie him to the ship's compass as the battleship was sinking. He then ordered the two to evacuate over their desires to die with him.
- Notably not a prominent tradition in the US Navy. A captain who abandons ship prematurely is labeled a coward, and one that abandons ship before taking every reasonable effort to see to the safety of his crew is likely to be labeled a Dirty Coward. But, once the crew is safely evacuated, the captain should at least make an effort to abandon ship himself. If the captain goes down with his ship, both need to be replaced. Ships are more expensive to replace, but a good Captain takes considerably longer to make.
- Subverted in the case of the Admiral Graf Spee. The captain, Hans Langsdorff, should have gone down with that ship when he ordered it scuttled on December 18, 1939, but his officers convinced him not to. So he killed himself the next day, either as a symbolic act of dying with his ship, or at least partly because he couldn't face returning to Germany in disgrace and quite possibly facing a firing squad for losing her.
- Three out of Cracked's Five Least Courageous Things Ever Done In A Crisis are captains (and crews) abandoning the passengers when things go wrong.
- Averted and subverted in the case of HMS Guardian in 1789. The Guardian was a British ship of the line, hastily converted into a transport ship to try and resupply the newly founded colony at Botany Bay in Australia. During this - her maiden voyage - she collided with an iceberg and began to sink. Most of those on board escaped in the ship's boats, while the captain, Lieutenant Edward Riou, remained on board with a skeleton crew of sailors, civilian passengers, midshipmen and convicts - all of whom expected to die. Remarkably, they decided they weren't about to go down without a fight and frantically began a series of quick repairs and gruelling, non-stop shifts at the pumps. Riou - in an incredible feat of seamanship - managed to guide the crippled Guardian back to Cape Town; according to some accounts by the time she arrived she was little more than a gigantic raft. In a tragic subversion, only the occupants of one of the lifeboats - 15 people who took the ship's launch - survived; they were lucky enough to be found by a French merchant ship. The rest - over two hundred and forty people - were never seen again.
- Again a subversion with the RMS Lusitania: Captain Turner wanted to go down with Ol' Lucy... It's just that the wall of water swallowing the bridge had other ideas. It washed him overboard, and he survived by clinging to a chair.
- Turner had managed to fold the ship's nautical chart to his pocket, and he had plotted the coordinates only minutes before torpedo hit. His testimony in the court and the ship's charts were an important part on resolving the disaster.
- When the South Korean ship MV Sewol sank in 16 April 2014, the captain abandoned it with passengers still aboard, and was among the first to be rescued. He was heavily criticized for this, since South Korean law explicitly requires captains to remain on the ship during a disaster. (Out of the 476 people on MV Sewol, 294 died with 10 still missing.) Not to mention that at the time of the accident that would see the ferry sink, he was attending to "business" in his cabin. The fact that he was later spotted in a lifeboat without his pants gives a pretty good impression of what that "business" was. In November 2014, the captain was sentenced to 36 years in prison — effectively a life sentence given the man's age.
- Pretty much expected for the captain of a submarine, from Günther Prien of U-47 to John Wesley Harvey of USS Thresher. When you're in a metal tube hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, where the tiniest crack can cause an instant implosion or leave you stranded on the sea bed, escape is not going to be an option.
- Often inverted by submarine captains on surface run and surface attack, as the captain is assumed to be at the conning tower, leading the attack. If the submarine is sunk in such conditions, usually only those on the conning tower platform are the only ones to survive. Examples include Otto Kretschmer of U-99 and Richard Heatherton O'Kane of USS Tang - both being their nations' leading submarine aces respectively.
- Captain John P. Cromwell, an officer in the US Navy Submarine fleet, chose to go down with his sub (the USS Sculpin) when it was sunk by a Japanese destroyer in the Pacific. He had personal knowledge of the US code-breaking efforts, as well as the upcoming invasion of Tarawa, so he chose to die rather then risk giving up top-secret information under torture.