"Since the days of the first wooden vessels, all ship masters have had one happy privilege: that of uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony."
So you're in a rush to get married, only you don't want to go through the hassle of standing in line for a marriage license, getting a blood test, and blowing thousands of dollars on an elaborate ceremony. What do you do?
Well, you simply hire out the nearest sea captain (the saltier the better), have him take you in his boat beyond the 12-mile mark and then let him
perform your wedding ceremony. After all, you're in international waters. Anything goes, right?
Well... wrong. Captains can
perform marriages, but they need a license to do so, just like anyone else would. There are no laws that "automatically" grant captains this right, although you wouldn't know that by watching television, where a sizable chunk of nuptials are performed by salty sea dogs. (Bonus points to the captain if he wears a patch over one eye and reads the vows to the couple in a pirate-y
The trope may have originated in the Age of Sail
when Europeans would have to travel by ship for months at a time to reach far flung colonies. A couple could meet, court, and marry all while still enroute to their destination. The real life marriages would be officiated not by the captain while at sea but instead by government officials during port calls.
Can result in an Accidental Marriage
. May also be done by The Captain
of a Cool Starship
Compare Wartime Wedding
, Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date
(another boat-relationship trope).
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- The African Queen had the two leads being married by the captain of a German military ship seconds before they were to be executed. (The captain may have known that he was unauthorized to perform such a ceremony, but how could he turn down the last starry-eyed request of a couple about to die?)
- Responsible for one of the finest lines in history: "I now pronounce you husband and wife - proceed with the execution."
- In this case it was also a means of buying time and distracting the warship's crew, given that their own wrecked ship, with armed torpedoes jutting out of its bow, lay directly in the warship's path.
- The Captain may have also figured it wouldn't make much difference whether he was licensed anyway, since he was planning to have both people hanged immediately after.
- Happens in the midst of a rather pitched battle (swords, pirate ships, whirlpool, storm, Fish People) at the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie - Elizabeth asks Barbossa to marry her to Will. Barbossa thinks she's mad, but recites it anyway while all three keep fighting Davy Jones' undead fishy crew.
- The situation may be the most awesome marriage scene in the history of marriage scenes.
- Barbossa's lines are particularly hilarious if you can make them out. "Dearly beloved, we be gathered here today... to nail yer gizzard to the mast ye poxy cur!" Not to mention "In sickness and in health...with health being the less likely!"
- And Will's adorkable "Great"
- "You may kiss— [attacked by a fishman] You may kiss— [is attacked by another fishman] Just kiss!"
- In a very different variant, The Wheel of Time has pushy Nynaeve insist her stoic Love Interest marry her immediately once they're reunited on a Sea Folk ship, only to discover mid-ceremony that the required vows are rather different and unusually specific in their culture.
- Lovers Desdemona and Lefty took advantage of being on a ship where no one knew them by faking a courtship and getting married in Middlesex. The secrecy was necessary: they were siblings.
- Played perfectly straight offscreen in The Bacta War. After Rogue Squadron (with occasional help) defeats the bacta cartel, and wanting to avoid weeks or months of her father dogging Corran's every step on the way to the wedding, Corran and Mirax get married—by Wedge Antilles, who is in fact not even a "real" captain, but a starfighter commander. However, as the Lusankya was surrendered to him personally, he became its de facto commander... which is apparently considered close enough according to New Republic law. note
- Played as Gallows Humor in Tim Powers' Declare. While Cassagnac, Andrew, and Elena are hiding out in a kind of barge in East Berlin just after World War II, Andrew and Elena finally say that they love each other. Cassagnac laughs and says "This is the spirit for dying. The captain of a ship can perform marriages — and so I hereby pronounce you two man and wife. Kiss the bride quick, Andrew, before you die."
- The Aubrey-Maturin series has two such weddings; at the end of The Surgeon's Mate, Stephen and Diana are married by his newly promoted young friend William Babbington, while crossing the English channel, having just escaped from France, thus restoring her British citizenship and allowing her to disembark in England. Later, in Clarissa Oakes Jack marries the title character, a runaway convict from Australia to one of his midshipmen, thus giving her some legal protection and eventually aiding in her pardon.
- A variation is presented in Empire of Ivory where the captain of a refugee-packed dragon transport is being married to the captain of one of the dragons on board. Given that they were in a bit of a rush the ship's chaplain is deemed the only one legally fit to do so.
- In the Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman series The Death Gate Cycle, the protagonist and miscellaneous refugees are escaping a catastrophe, and two characters ask the protagonist to marry them, citing this tradition. He agrees reluctantly.
- However, they decide not to go forward with this plan once confronted with the somewhat bleak vows of the captain's culture and in an unusual twist, cancel their plans altogether as a result of the tension which arises from being stuck on a boat after narrowly escaping the aforementioned catastrophe.
- In Golding's "To the Ends of the Earth" trilogy it happens once, and the captain accidentally begins to read the funeral service... (well, the groom was actually dying, but he Got Better)
- In an episode of Gilligan's Island, the Howells learn via a radio report that the minister who married them was never ordained and thus, they believed themselves to be unmarried. They tried to rectify this by having the Skipper marry them on a raft, but after bickering for awhile, they call the wedding off. They soon learn that the radio report was in error and had named the wrong minister. (The irony here is that, according to the law, even if their minister was a fake, the Howells themselves would still have remained legally married as long as they believed him to be genuine. See this Straight Dope entry for more details on the subject. But then it's ''Gilligan's Island''.)
- Lampshaded on The Love Boat, when Captain Steubing performs a mass wedding on (IIRC) the Valentine's Day cruise to Mexico. He specifically says that the Mexican government granted him special permission for the occasion.
- Almost done by Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother.
- Marcy's wedding to her second husband in Married... with Children. She made the mistake of allowing Al Bundy to make all the arrangements and soon found him cutting corners to save (and pocket) money. Among the things he did was forgo a minister and hire the captain of a garbage scow to perform the marriage via CB radio.
- Mork of Mork and Mindy is asked by a pair of teenage friends to perform their secret wedding, justified by the fact that, as Mork rationalized it, he came on a ship, he was the only person on that ship, so he must have been the captain.
- PRE-Teen - two kids who wanted an excuse to eat lots of candy (they understood marriage to be a licence to "do things that kids couldn't"). Which made them sick.
- Nash Bridges, a police captain, performs a marriage in one episode, with the excuse that the division he is captain of is currently headquartered on a boat.
- Offered on The Office (US) when the captain of a Lake Scranton booze cruise (Rob Riggle!) offers to marry Pam and Roy on the spot.
- The producers of Remington Steele royally pissed off many Shippers when they had Remington attempting to enter into a Citizenship Marriage with a random hooker, then had him and Laura wed at the end of the episode by a sea captain in a surly ceremony that wasn't anything near the consummation that many fans of the show were hoping for.
- The original Star Trek plays this very straight, with Captain Kirk marrying a soon-to-be-doomed couple and making mention of the "tradition" of captains marrying passengers to each other. (Of course, this is The Future, and he is the highest civil authority on a ship billions of miles in deep space, so it's perhaps not unnatural for him to be allowed to perform a duty like this.) Kirk's speech at the beginning of the wedding is paraphrased whenever a Federation officer officiates a wedding in later series.
- Nor Captain Picard either, when he was asked to marry O'Brien and Keiko to each other.
- Commander Sisko probably has the best claim of all of them, at least for the Bajorans, who consider him The Messiah. Sisko is also shown to marry some of his (non-Bajoran) troops. In an episode he lament the fact that he officiated a dead Red Shirt's wedding.
- Admiral Ross performed the ceremony for Sisko and Kassidy Yates, also giving the same speech as Kirk and Picard.
- Tom Paris' wedding with B'elanna Torres in Star Trek: Voyager was not shown on screen, but it is generally assumed that Captain Janeway must have conducted the ceremony.
- As was the case on the "Silver Blood" duplicate of the ship in "Course: Oblivion".
- Esteban and Francesca are married aboard the S.S. Tipton in the Suite Life on Deck episode "Mother of the Groom."
- Played with on Happy Days. Fonzie and Jenny Piccolo attend a Halloween party held aboard a ship dressed as a bride and groom. The captain of the ship is dressed as a priest, so they decide to have a pretend wedding. Hilarity ensues when the marriage is initially declared legal and binding, but is resolved later.
- In the Dutch sitcom Vrienden Voor Het Leven, Eddie and Ellen do this during their first attempt at mariage.
- Affectionately parodied in the musical The Drowsy Chaperone: The show-within-a-show ends with the best man neglecting to hire a minister for the wedding, so he enlists a passing aviatrix (reasoning that she is a "captain of a ship of the air") to marry all the happy couples en route to the honeymoon.
- Inverted in H.M.S. Pinafore. The lovers, a sailor and the captain's daughter, intend to elope and get married ashore.
- Guybrush and Elaine are married at sea during the epilogue of The Curse of Monkey Island.
- Side characters Torlo and Tatiana get married aboard ship in Infinite Space with ship captain Yuri and his sister Kira as witnesses.
- The Order of the Stick has one where the Mauve Shirt couple was promoted to nobility, on the basis of not being backstabbing scumbags like the entire rest of the nobility. They, unusually, went with the bride's name - the groom's name is being kept as a last line of defense.
- The ceremony was also conducted by Durkon, an actual priest (albeit a cleric of Thor).