Married at Sea
I now pronounce you Mauve Shirt and Wife.

"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."
Captain James T. Kirknote , Star Trek

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 accent.)

(Speaking of pirates, there was actually a wedding aboard a pirate radio ship off Britain in the 1960s - one of the DJs married another DJ's sister - which was of course broadcast live.)

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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    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Jack Sparrow suggests that Elizabeth marry him at sea... and that he also officiate the ceremony.
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Will asks Elizabeth to marry him in the midst of the epic climatic battle at sea in the middle of a maelstrom (their planned wedding at the beginning of the second film having been interrupted with a few arrests among the wedding party). Elizabeth at first protests ("I don't think now is the best time!") before agreeing and asking Barbossa to marry them right there mid-battle ("I'M A LITTLE BUSY AT THE MOMENT!"). Barbossa thinks she's mad, but recites it anyway while all three keep fighting Davy Jones' undead fishy crew.
    Barbossa: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today... TO NAIL YER GIZZARDS TO THE MAST, YE POXY CUR!

  • 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.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • At the end of Jedi Trial Anakin Skywalker, in his capacity as a general in the Grand Army of the Republic, marries two of the book's secondary characters.
    • Played perfectly straight offscreen in X-Wing: 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.
    • but note that the wedding of Clarissa Oakes is actually carried out by an ordained clergyman, on a ship in British service, and so is unquestionably legal (apart from there being no reading of the banns), and the couple leave the ship soon after. The Maturin/Diana wedding is carried out as a quasi-legal expedient in time of war, and it is clear that they subsequently marry in Church, Maturin being a Catholic.
  • 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)
  • Two characters get married in space by a transport ship captain in one of the The Lost Fleet books. However, since we have no idea which regulations apply to The Alliance Space Navy hundreds of years in the future, this may be justified.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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, since they had believed him to be genuine at the time. 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 & 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.
    • Done for real when Jim and Pam run away from their big wedding, to have their own private ceremony first... on the nearest sightseeing-boat.
  • 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 a Messianic Archetype. 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 marriage.
  • In Lois and Clark, after Lex Luthor's failed wedding to Lois, the will reading reveals he was already married. The wedding turned out to be one of these, and the heroes spent some time tracking down the captain to find out who the wife was.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In "The Captive Castaways," a 1934 sequence in the Mickey Mouse comic strip, Mickey and Minnie are prisoners on Peg Leg Pete's smuggling ship. Mickey gains Pete's trust by pretending to want to join Pete's criminal operation. Since Pete wants to marry the decidedly unwilling Minnie, Mickey persuades Pete to make him captain of the ship temporarily so that he can perform the wedding. Rather than performing the ceremony, Mickey explains that, as captain, his word is law aboard the ship, and orders Pete to be put in irons.

     Puppet Shows 

  • 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).
      • They asked him to marry them rather than Hinjo (a Paladin and their ruler so also qualified for weddings) since they thought Hinjo might not like the fact that the bride was six weeks pregnant

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Giovanni Vigliotto, a famous fraudster, had married over a hundred women to swindle them out of their money. He managed to pull this trope off four times... with four passengers of the same liner on the same cruise.