Sail onward, 'till you can't see the horizon.
When ships to sail the void between the stars have been invented there will also be men who come forward to sail those ships.
— Johannes Kepler
Maybe it's the romance
, maybe it's the adventure, maybe it's the obvious parallels to the Age of Exploration, but for some reason, when people write about space, they tend to make parallels to the sea, as President Kennedy
(himself a former naval officer) did in his "Space is the new ocean" speech. Often, it goes far beyond metaphor. Science Fiction
writers frequently use nautical analogies for pretty much everything
in space, and fill in the gaps in their own knowledge about spaceflight with details specific to sea travel.
- Spacecraft are called "ships". In many series, a small craft can even be called a "boat", and space-based missiles are called "torpedoes".
- Space is two-dimensional. Viewscreens are almost always two-dimensional, when displays for battles at least should be three. Spaceships may also have navigation lights like sea ships: very useful for gauging another ship's orientation in two-d, but useless in three.
- Space has friction.
- Space militaries almost always use naval ranks, and soldiers stationed in space are usually called "marines"; e.g. the "space marines" of Aliens, Doom, Marathon, Starcraft, etc. Starship Troopers did not call its soldiers marines though it could be argued that it established the archetype for later space marine forces. Even in real life, space explorers are called "astronauts".
- Spaceships have a bridge with a big window in the front that looks out on space and is usually at the front or top of the ship. The decks of the spaceship will be parallel to the direction of flight.
- Spaceships have a very noticeable "top" and "bottom". Cockpits, conning-towers, communication dishes, weapons etc. will mostly be on the "top". The underside will be smoother, often punctuated only by a "bomb-bay" style docking hatch. This could justified for vehicles designed for atmospheric flight and landing, but makes no sense for orbit-to-deep-space-only ships.
- Space is chock full of whales.
- A spacecraft can be caught in an "ion storm" or the like, which will toss it hither and thither and ultimately run it aground on a strange exotic uncharted planet. note
- Space Clouds can hide your ship like an ocean fog.
In Space Opera
, Science Fantasy
and Steam Punk Fantasy
genres, writers are fond of filling Space with aether streams and solar winds, even magical ships with solar sails that literally
"sail" through the Void. In those cases, you may find you can even breathe in Space
, and if you're lucky you can even ignore the vacuum.
Characterization and plot may also come straight out of the archetypes created during the era of Wooden Ships and Iron Men
as well—including intrepid explorers, lost colonies
, an exotic beauty in every port
, Space Pirates
, and sightings of the majestic Space Whale
To some extent, Space Is An Ocean is a Justified Trope
: not only was space thought to be some kind of fluid until the turn of the 20th centurynote
, but seafarers long ago evolved the organizational techniques necessary to safely operate a self-sufficient vessel in a potentially hostile environment for an extended period of time, and it makes more sense to adopt nautical administrative and logistic features (and the terms for them) instead of inventing everything from scratch.
As science fiction (and the aviation industry) has matured, Space Is Air
has become a complement to Space Is An Ocean. Typically, large ships like The Battlestar
will be based on naval craft, while smaller craft like the Space Fighter
will be treated like aircraft. The two are not mutually exclusive — far from it, applying the tropes to different vehicles allows writers to recreate World War II
(particularly the Pacific theater, with its pioneering of large-scale naval aviation) Recycled IN SPACE
, which is pretty cool, as it allows using the tactics of the Old-School Dogfight
and having to close to broadside range
with capital ship guns. Land transport metaphors tend to fall flat. Elements of road vehicles are generally Played for Laughs
; if a spacecraft has a manual transmission
, it's a sure sign that Rule of Funny
is a prime consideration. There's also a small but generally serious set of aversions (some listed below) that imagine space as a railroad instead—ranging from literal portrayals of trains in space to plots that take their inspiration from real-life railroad history.
Lots of speculative fiction in all media depict spaceships designed to land on water, since an ocean provides what amounts to an infinite runway with a similarly infinite capacity for absorbing the heat of reentry. Some examples include the Bebop from Cowboy Bebop
, the Seeker from David Brin's Startide Rising, most of the Space shuttles in Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium
series, and the actual Apollo spacecraft sent to the moon (as well as the Mercury and Gemini spaceships that preceded Apollo).
One could argue, with some success, Space Is an Ocean
applies if instead one imagines space ships less as "sailing ships" and more as "submarines." Submarines and space craft share similarities:
- Both move in three dimensional space.
- Prolonged exposure to space (or water...you get it) outside the vessel can be deadly (if the sub is currently at depth).
- Visual displays of the outside environment are less than useless (both space and the briny deep are inky black).
- Although the Space Whale hasn't been proven, they'd make more sense logically if thought of as ocean whales encountering a sub in the deep.
- The torpedo analogy works better as well.
Finally, while not technically Truth in Television
this trope may well become so out of sheer cultural inertia. If it didn't as soon as NASA started naming space shuttles right out of maritime tradition. There's even a test shuttle named Enterprise
(though that is a case of Defictionalization
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Anime & Manga
- Infinite Ryvius takes this further still; the series takes place after the Solar System is given a Negative Space Wedgie. The result is the "Sea of Geduld" (from the German word for "patience"), a nebula-like cloud engulfing the bottom half of the ecliptic plane. Ships that go too far — "deep", you might say — inside are crushed by the radiation and gravity anomalies, unless they're built to withstand the "dive". In other words, submarines in space.
- Mobile Suit Gundam:
- While the show mostly avoids this territory (or goes to great lengths to justify it), White Base still has a big, old-fashioned and suspiciously nautical steering wheel on the bridge. The same goes for both the Musai-class cruisers and Gaw-class carriers.
- Deserving special mention is Crossbone Gundam, which has no less than two different ships designed to look like galleons, the Mother Vanguard and its sister ship, Eos Nyx. There's a seeming justification in a later manga, where one character says "Well, if we're going to be Space Pirates, we might as well run with the theme!", but the fact is that Mother Vanguard was designed by an entirely separate faction, one that tended to be aristocratic and knightly rather than piratical.
- Avoided completely with Gundam Wing, for all of the talk about indestructable Gundams, there was little to no space warships (except for fragile Mobile Suit Carriers which did not pack much in the way of aramaents) and Mobile Suits attacked from Space Stations and Asteroids.
- The anime OAV Sol Bianca takes this one step further, in that the eponymous ship enters and exits hyperspace like a submarine diving or surfacing, complete with waves.
- Super Robot Wars Original Generation used Army ranks, while using terms that seem to be a combination of nautical and atmospheric flight along with some new ones. This could easily be explained by the fact that star travel is still really quite new — they have some orbital colonies, a base on the moon, and a space station in the asteroid belt.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, where the Cool Starship suddenly sinks into a literal space ocean.
- The Chouginga Dai-Gurren is going to sink!
- Sink? This is space! Why would there be an ocean in space?!
- It seems that the waves of ultra-dense space are pushing us down!
- Yeah. Like I said. WHY THE HELL ARE WE SINKING IN SPACE?!
- In this case, it was supposedly space so condensed that it acted like water. This included things like pressure. In fact, when that pressure resulted in the super-condensed space punching holes in the hull and "flooding" the ship, they decided that it was more accurate to call it "spacing" than flooding. This might actually be a case of Truth in Television, supermassive black holes (such as the one believed to be at the center of the Milky Way) are theorized to have a density close to water.
- Leiji Matsumoto provided some of the most literal examples of this trope known to anime, as well as some of the oddest subversions.
- Space Pirate Captain Harlock is steeped in nauticality: the main title song references the "Sea of Space", the eponymous space pirate's ship Arcadia has a sterncastle, with a Skull and Cross Bones pirate flag hung above it. The ship is steered with an old-fashioned wooden steering wheel, and Harlock has, on occasion, sailed her on and below an ocean. Harlock's friend Emeraldas' ship Queen Emeraldas is a literal ship, suspended from a zeppelin.
- In Space Battleship Yamato, Earth deliberately refits old (as in WWII-vintage) battleships as starships, and even continues to paint anti-fouling paint on them below the "waterline." The paint, however, makes sense, as the ship is intended to still function on water. Almost all the space combat is two-dimensional as well until a battle in Season Three where the Yamato attacks from below the plane of battle, spinning on its fore-to-aft axis to shoot enemies on all sides.
- The Re Make Space Battleship Yamato 2199 once again takes this almost literally but justifies the design of the ship as a method of camouflage during construction. However it regularly averts 2-D Space with Yamoto being attacked from below or surprised from above...then again it also has sub-space submarines.
- The same thing happens in GoGo Sentai Boukenger — The GoGoVoyager is a (VERY large) battleship which, naturally, reconfigures into a giant robot, DaiVoyager. At the end of the series, GoGoVoyager has been converted into a spaceship... quite badly, if the cockpit is any indication.
- In Galaxy Express 999, and The Galaxy Railways, though, space is a railway.
- Likewise, the mode of travel in the Night on the Galactic Railroad is a train.
- In Starship Operators, the ships are on the same scale as battleships and (usually) fight like battleships. Two "stealth ships" are called "space submarines". Whenever any ship is destroyed, it's reported as having been "sunk".
- The opening in Outlaw Star gives a narration in most episodes heavily relating space to being an ocean. Also in one episode their ship rides a stream of aether through space.
- In The Book of the New Sun, the ships of the Hierodules travel through time and between Universes on mirrored sails. The terminology used is nautical to the extent that Gene Wolfe expresses frustration that Severian draws no distinction between nautical and space vessels. Indeed, sailors themselves apparently find the two sorts of vessel interchangeable for employment.
If a distant continent is as remote as the moon, then the moon is no more remote than a distant continent.
- Taken very literally in an early issue of Fantastic Four. There's only time to send one of the Inhumans to rescue Reed, who's stuck in the Negative Zone; Black Bolt chooses Triton, the merman, because space is like an ocean.
- Recurring X-Men allies The Starjammers fit this trope.
- The French graphic novel series, HK has the submarine route, as spacecraft here look like giant robotic whales and sharks. Whilst you don't see them battle each other, their decks are arranged in parallel like a submarine, and they land in bodies of water at harbors.
- In issue three of Warren Ellis' "Ministry Of Space", Sir John refers to Britain's space dominance as "this new ocean above Britannia's shores."
- Parodied on Back at the Barnyard. Otis and Pip are in outer space, with no idea of how to pilot the space shuttle they are in. Pip makes a remark about how, "that ship has sailed." Otis acts as if this reference to ships gave him an idea, saying, "Wait a minute? Ship? Sailing?" But then he admits, "No, never mind, I've got nothing."
- The movie Treasure Planet takes this trope to the very extreme (although for a good...ish reason), with spaceships that have big honking sails on them. The characters are not in outer space in those ships, but rather in a kind of backwards universe where normal physics do not apply uniformly.
- While solar sails are in fact a reasonably scientific idea, they probably wouldn't be slung on masts of craft which were basically spacefaring galleons, leaning instead towards thin sheets, many hundreds of kilometers across, designed to
catch particles of the solar wind reflect photons. The "solar sails" in the movie act more like ridiculously efficient solar panels than actual solar sails; the ship's propulsion is actually provided by engines mounted at the stern. The sails don't propel the ship directly, they just provide power to the engines, and probably the artificial gravity and the other stuff that requires electrical power.
- There's even a black hole that's treated as a whirlpool.
- The Axiom's autopilot, who is literally the ship's steering wheel, turns so that the ship tilts and everybody slides across the floor.
- The captain has a typical cruise liner captain's hat and jacket, previous captains as seen on the picture wall and in the BNL ads had the full uniform. The Axiom itself resembles a giant stylised ocean cruise liner.
- In BURN-E it is revealed that the ship had actually tilted several degrees to one side. Not that it makes much sense, but it was pretty cool.
Films -Live Action
- Star Wars (Though many of the films' space battles would be incomprehensible if they took full advantage of 3D space.)
- Where the concept is taken to its reductio ad absurdum endpoint in Attack of the Clones where Obi-Wan Kenobi is forced to dodge seismic charges (read: depth charges) that make a loud "sonic" boom in a vacuum and send out a horizontally expanding shockwave.
- The space battle which opens Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith takes this to an extreme, with kilometres-long spaceships side by side, firing broadsides at each other like ships of the line from the Age of Sail. Any doubt as to what the scene was trying to evoke was removed when you saw the gun crews loading and firing their giant blaster cannon through force-field gun ports. There's no excuse for the gun crews and gun ports, but the side-by-side combat is excusable: the battle takes place in the orbit of the Republic's capital planet. The attackers are not there for conquest but a raid and kidnapping; for that they have to get close to the planet to land ground troops safely.
- In Return of the Jedi when Rebel vessels and Imperial Star Destroyers trade blasterfire during the final climactic space battle, with fighters streaming past in the foreground. This is justified however, in that the Rebel fleet is being fired on -with devastating results- by the Death Star. Their best chances at survival is to close in to super close range with the Imperial Fleet. That way, the Death Star can't shoot at them without hitting the Imperial Fleet. As Lando says to Admiral Ackbar "Maybe we can take a few of them with us!".
- Star Destroyers seem to array most of their guns in a top-turret and broadside position, making them commically vulnerable to anyone coming in from behind or below them.
- This is abused in Star Wars: The Clone Wars where Ahsoka orders her ship to face the bottom at the enemy, thus rendering all damage to non-vital areas of the ship.
- The film version of Wing Commander, ridiculously bad as it was, did do an interesting variation on this trope. In it, space was like an ocean, but spaceships were more akin to submarines than sailing ships (to the point that the crew was told to make no noise to avoid detection). Missiles had to be loaded into great honking tubes after the auto-loaders were said to have broken down from battle damage, they had depth-charge-like weapons.
- Additionally, the missiles had to be fired manually by the loading crews on command from The Bridge instead of a single button on said bridge. Interestingly, the final space battle between the Tiger's Claw and a Kilrathi battleship ends up looking more like a surface naval battle with the Tiger's Claw forcing the Kilrathi ship to come by her side and then opening up with a broadside.
- The Space Fighters, though, looked more like World War II fighters with a computer and a HUD and wouldn't look out of space with propellers on the front. They also, for some reason, include jump drives, even though they're never expected to perform jumps. Oh, and their on-board computers appear to have tons of data, including the identities of top-secret high-ranking operatives. The Kilrathi should've been trying to capture one of those computers instead of a Navcom AI.
- This Island Earth. Even the title is an example. Actually, during the space travel scene, the alien UFO does a very non-nautical manuever to dodge an asteroid, tilting right 90 degrees while gravity inside the ship remained the same.
- In The Man From Planet X an astronomer says, "The only difference between water and space is a matter of density."
- Walt Disney's movie The Black Hole is a version of Jules Verne's classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea set in space. The Palomino was portrayed as a vertically-arrayed vehicle, and given the FX of the time the first half an hour of the movie makes a game attempt to portray a crew operating in free fall in a spacecraft that actually looks somewhat plausible, given FTL. It's an odd contrast to the rest of the movie.
- Though the film The Fifth Element has very few (and even less relevant) space aspects, it takes this trope to its logical conclusion: the luxury space cruise liner Fhloston Paradise is shaped like a steam paddle boat, and has a classical nautical steering wheel to make course corrections. The "borders" of the Solar System also have floating buoys in a single plane.
- It is noticeable, at the beginning of the film Alien, that as the Nostromo leaves planetary orbit, it does so to a swelling soundtrack reminiscent of a classical nautical adventure movie - the music evokes a tall stately sail-ship leaving port rather than a beat-up cargo ship setting off into space.
- In Man of Steel, Zod's viral message refers to him crossing "an ocean of stars."
- In Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Ahab says the line "...where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with the bones of millions of the drowned..." comparing the planet itself to a ship sailing through the cosmos.
- While the design of his spacecraft reflect a working knowledge of engineering, almost every book Robert A. Heinlein wrote that took place aboard a spaceship assumed nautical, particularly Naval, discipline and traditions, from Laz & Lor's stick-on Captain's insignia to Captain Hilda of the Gay Deceiver. This might have had as much to do with Heinlein's own Naval career as anything, although it has undoubtedly shaped the trope to some degree.
- The novel Berserker Fury is the World War II naval Battle of Midway Recycled IN SPACE!! The AI robot ships are the Japanese and humanity is the Americans. Complete down to the planet named 50/50 (Midway), the "space carriers" Venture (USS Enterprise), Stinger (USS Hornet), and so on. They even broke the Berserker code, like the USA broke the Japanese Purple Code.
- The Honor Harrington novel series technology was set up explicitly so author David Weber could do Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE, with formations of spacecraft blasting away broadsides at each other and even using "gravitational sails" to navigate hyperspace (hyperspace itself having "currents", "waves" and areas just too damn stormy...err, gravitationally random, to move through safely).
- The overall plot was nice for most who knew their naval history, saying oh X is Y and so forth. Then Napoleon got nuked ...
- Echoes of Honor is basically a retelling of CS Forester's Flying Colours — only much, much bigger. Instead of escaping with twenty prisoners in a dinky cutter like Hornblower, having destroyed three small rowboats sent to chase him, Honor escapes with half a million prisoners and an entire battlefleet, fighting major battles on the way.
- An article describing various literary examples of "Hornblower in Space" (including Weber's) can be found here.
- David Drake's RCN series is loosely based off the 18th century British navy, complete with spaceships that travel through hyperspace using sails. However, the sails are handled fairly realistically: stripping a ship's sails with a plasma cannon is a quick and easy way to keep it from escaping into hyperspace, the sails need to be furled and stowed before entering an atomsphere, and when deployed, interfere with the ships's realspace maneuvering and combat.
- In the same way that Honor Harrington is Hornblower/Nelson IN SPACE, the RCN books are Patrick O'Brian IN SPACE, with Daniel O'Leary in the role of Jack Aubrey and Adele Mundy as Stephen Maturin (only with her being the ship's comms officer rather than its surgeon).
- Drake's Reaches novels (Igniting the Reaches, Through the Breach, and Fireships) are Hakluyt's Voyages crossed with the adventures of Sir Francis Drake during the wars with Spain. It's 16th century exploration & piracy IN SPACE.
- Used in Accelerando by Charles Stross to justify shooting digital communist lobsters into space. They want to return to the ocean, but as digital entities that's not possible. Putting them in a space ship's computer and launching it into space, however...
- In Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of Thonboka, there is a species of giant rays that live in vacuum and consider it an ocean. The opening passage of the novel describes space as though it were an ocean.
- Played straight in Vorpal Blade by John Ringo. Humanity's only spaceship is a converted nuclear submarine. He also speculates that there are "standing gravity waves" in interstellar space; the space equivalent of oceanic currents.
- The Silmarillion plays this trope straight with Eärendil, an actual sailor who ends up sailing the celestial oceans in an actual ship - seen and interpreted as a star.
- In Ender's Shadow, Bean arrives at Battle School and goes exploring. He remarks: "Most poles and ladderways would merely let you pass between floors — no, they called them decks; this was the International Fleet and so everything pretended to be a ship."
- Later on in Shadow Puppets Ender's father, after hearing a reference to a "dry dock", asks if there is also a "wet dock". Dimak's response is: "Nautical terminology dies hard."
- Peter F. Hamilton's spaceships (especially in the Night's Dawn trilogy) are spherical, and for a reason: Adamist (that is, non-biotechnological) starships use a "ZTT drive" to jump across lightyears. The drive creates a wormhole that, like a black hole, has a spherical event horizon. Activating the drive while the ship is in non-spherical mode (that is, with sensors extended) will lead to everything beyond the event horizon being torn apart and compressed to fusion density. BOOM!
- Edenist voidhawks, however, are far superior to Adamist ships in every way — including FTL travel — due to the fact that they are made of "bitek" (a biological material). Voidhawks are lenticular in shape rather than spherical. Blackhawks — bitek starships with Adamist commanders — on the other hand can be pretty much any shape.
- Hamilton uses many Space Is an Ocean tropes, but in a manner that is far more ''2001'' than ''Star Wars''.
- In "Night Train to Rigel" by Timothy Zahn, space is actually a railway system. Go figure.
- Arthur C. Clarke's short story The Wind from the Sun. This is an interesting case because it manages to evoke the feel of ocean travel in space despite being a fairly realistic and hard work. It is a story about literal Space Sailing — using perfectly realistic solar sails, shown to behave the way one would expect given Real Life physics.
- A note: despite 'Navigators', and a feudal setting, Dune space travel is not in the least an example of this trope - the Holtzmann effect, while never properly described, seems to work more like teleportation than anything else (huge distances are moved 'in the blink of an eye', actual 'sailing' is negligible on any scale, and space warfare non-existent apart from orbital skirmishes due to the Guild (who are neutral) monopoly on interstellar travel.
- There are elements of this in the Legends of Dune prequel novels with disputed canonicity, which features plenty of space battles between the League Armada (later Army of Humanity) and the Thinking Machines. Unusual for this setting, though, the military ranks in use are all made up and, in fact, change throughout the trilogy. For example, the equivalent of a general would be a Primero (League Armada), a Bashar (Army of Humanity), and a Caid (post-Jihad). These fictional army ranks are also used by ship officers. Strangely, the novels have generals command both ground and space battles. One would think these would be two completely different types of combat, requiring different skillsets (you wouldn't put a naval admiral in charge of a ground battle or an army general in command of a fleet, would you?).
- Harry Harrison:
- Harrison makes an effort to avert this (to an extent) in his Starworld novel, although the novel only has one space battle. An engineer shows the protagonist (also an engineer) a clip of a space battle from an old sci-fi movie and asks him to point out everything in it that's wrong. The protagonist can't do it, as he knows absolutely nothing about space combat and space travel in general. Among others, the engineer points out that the ship in the movie maneuvered like an airplane (banking hard), was able to stop on a dime to hide behind a planetoid, was using energy weapons (while lasers and plasma weapons exist in this 'verse, they're only useful at relatively short ranges), and had windows. Actual space combat is explained as between ships many kilometers away from each other, and the only weapons being used are missiles (both conventional and nuclear), although they are often deployed as screens (an impromptu mine field) ahead of the fleet. The reason the engineer needs the protagonist's help is to help him iron out the last few kinks on the rebels' secret weapon - a mass driver using plain old metal balls as ammo. They also have short-range autocannons firing rocket-propelled bullets. The entire Curb-Stomp Battle is ridiculously short. The Earth fleet gets crippled by the mass drivers' opening volley with the autocannons delivering the coup de grâce.
- Harrison made a habit of this. In Space Viking, the structure of a spaceship is discussed in some detail, with the command center deep inside. During the space battles, the crew are well aware that attack can come from any angle, and keep eyes-high accordingly. Captain and other crew ranks are used.
- Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun relies heavily on this. Space crafts are described as ships, the crew are called "sailors" and so on, to the point where it's often not clear whether the narrator is talking about seafaring or space travel. In the coda Urth of the New Sun, the interstellar space ship turns out to have masts and sails, and to apparently be made partly of wood.
- In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm series, this is played with: the terms have clearly been lifted from ocean ships, but they mean very different things.
- Wet-navy terminology is heavily used in The Flight Engineer, as might be expected from a trilogy coauthored by James Doohan. Space itself is not an ocean, however, and at one point the series delivers a hilarious Take That to the Star Trek episode where Roddenberry confused the Enterprise with a submarine.
- Much like Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), below, the Star Carrier series relies on 20th- and 21st-century nautical metaphors rather than ones from the Age of Sail. For example, it's not a bridge or quarterdeck, it's a CIC, and the commander of the fighter wing has the title "Commander, Air Group" (which gets lampshaded, and explained as the old name sticking despite efforts to update it), CAG for short. (Note here that the author served in Vietnam as a Navy corpsman.) The America's CIC is also placed in a better-protected location, in the habitat rings aft of the giant mushroom-shaped shield cap at the bow. Even the Navy SEALs are still around, except the acronym was updated to SEALS (the second 's' being "space").
- Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series makes liberal use of naval metaphors in its space travel, including fleets of private merchant vessels that deliver goods from planet to planet on a monthly schedule, and "passenger liners" that do the same for people. It retains some of the metaphors of naval combat, although not all: starship combat is generally done at great distances with lightspeed or FTL weapons, but the notion of a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet along with Space Fighters remains intact. The series does not, however, make the mistake of having spaceships look like oceanfaring vessels; quite the opposite: a KK-drive starship resembles a toilet plunger or a wineglass stuck onto an oblong main hull; the end of the "plunger" is the fan for an Artificial Gravity generator.
- In The Lost Fleet series, there is a Space Navy with a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet using 20th-century ship types (e.g. destroyers, cruisers, battleships). Enlisted men and women are often called sailors. And even terms like "port" and "starboard" still survive. However, during the Battle of Kaliban, a civilian character asks Geary about the use of these terms as well as "up" and "down" in space, especially since the main body of the fleet is, at that point, inverted from the perspective of the rest of the ships. Geary explains that "up" and "down" are conventional directions with respect to the ecliptic (as long as it's determined ahead of time which hemisphere is "up" and which one is "down") of the current star system. "Starboard" is towards the star (Geary even mentions that attempts to replace it with "starward" failed), while "port" is away from the star. When asked what happens when ships are far from any star system, Geary replies that this never happens. Since the only known methods of FTL Travel involve either the use of Hyperspace Lanes or a Portal Network, ships don't normally go out into interstellar space.
- Played straight in Future History, complete with Space Clouds, Space Friction, and a Standard SciFi Fleet.
- This is one of the defining characteristics of the Larklight book series. Not only do (most) spacecraft strongly resemble sailing ships, space is also populated with a wide variety of fish that even grow increasingly stranger the further away they are from the sun, much like deep-sea fish on Earth.
Live Action TV
- Babylon 5 did dispense with the atmospheric flight analogies, but retained many of the naval ones. It is even mentioned on-screen in the movie "A Call To Arms" that the command decks of Earth ships are traditionally modeled on a submarine. Probably because submarine warfare is the closest analogue to space combat you are likely to find until it actually exists: the arena is 3D, visual targeting is almost always useless, and a small hole in the ship is a major problem rather than a minor inconvenience.
- The modern Battlestar Galactica avoided many of the traditional Space Navy trappings, to replace them with the trappings of a modern US Navy aircraft carrier. A case of Shown Their Work, there are many details lifted straight from modern naval procedure and culture. Your typical viewer likely has no idea why engineering types are called "snipes" for example.
- Perhaps most notable the CIC (rather than the 'Bridge') is deep inside the ship, with no windows to the outside. Others include use of the terms CAG and CAP.
- Lampshaded in Face of the Enemy. When stranded in a Raptor with a non-operational FTL, one of the crewmen in Felix's group begins praying to Poseidon. One of the Eights on board is puzzled since they're a long way from water. He replies that they're in a ship so it's close enough.
- In a new Doctor Who episode, The Doctor realizes there is something wrong because of the lack of engine vibration — the assumption being that of course a spaceship would need engines constantly running to move through space. They don't need the engines because the ship is being moved via a Space Whale swimming through space .
- Long-range spaceships are usually designed to accelerate for half of the distance (until the turnaround point) and then decelerate, so the engines are always in use. Now, Starship UK may not have had a set destination (and thus no turnaround point) but that's even less realistic: Picking a random vector and drifting is the worst possible way of approaching a star, let alone a habitable world.
- Even if not needed for propulsion there would still be the need for power, lights, artificial gravity, etc.
- In a different episode, an earth pirate is able to successfully fly the TARDIS because it is so analogous to his pirate ship. He can determine what parts of the control panel are the "compass" and "wheel" based entirely on his life experience as a pirate captain.
- Firefly made frequent use of the nautical metaphor, even though it was somewhat at odds with the style of the show as a "western in space". In particular, Mal will not stop calling the ship a "boat." "Wagon" wouldn't have had quite the same ring.
- The Alliance cruisers in the series were designed to avoid this. The result is a ship consisting of four large vertical towers, with fighters and other craft launching upside-down off a flight deck at the "bottom" of the ship. It looked more like a mobile city than a ship. The smaller warships that appeared in Serenity resembled nautical vessels more, but that's likely because they're meant to operate in atmospheres as well as space.
- From interviews and DVD commentaries, the feel of Serenity specifically was supposed to be submarine-oriented rather than ship-oriented, which does then make the nickname of 'boat' remind one more of "u-boat" (a German word for "submarine" even if in English it's used almost exclusively for German World War submarines) than surface ships and boats. This was deliberately designed to contrast with the Alliance 'floating cities' as a way of showing the concept of efficiency (submarine-like ships that don't waste any part of the structure) and decadent waste (alliance ships being designed to be impressive, but not efficient). Best highlighted in the episode "Bushwacked" when Kaylee displays a willingness to take on the Alliance single-handedly for daring to call Serenity a junker - Alliance ships are the junk vessels to her because of their (dangerous) lack of engineering logic.
- Submarines are referred to as "boats" in the US Navy, too.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 tended to vary in its depiction of space depending on which was funnier at the moment. In The Movie, the Satellite Of Love's controls were shown to be identical to a boat's helm, and Gypsy, piloting the satellite, was wearing a sailor's cap and singing a sea shanty.
- In general, Space: Above and Beyond tended to have nautical metaphors for the larger craft and, like Battlestar Galactica, atmospheric flight metaphors for the one-person craft. The analogy seemed to be with an aircraft carrier.
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis avert this trope in some ways, but follow it in others:
- Since the Stargate program is run by the U.S. Air Force, it uses more Air Force than nautical analogies. (And with official Air Force technical advisors, they generally get the details right.) For example:
- One of the spacecraft in Stargate Atlantis was dubbed the "Puddle Jumper", an aircraft name (though it was called a Gate Ship by the original creators, as well as Mc Kay, in two separate realities).
- The terms used to describe ships and their commanders follow Air Force conventions. For example, when hailing another vessel the commander might introduce themselves as "General Hammond of the Earth vessel Prometheus." This contrasts with the common science-fiction convention of referring to the commander as a Captain or Admiral and calling the vessel "USS Name", which would follow Navy conventions.
- Prototype USAF starships and fighters are dubbed "X-301" and similar, following Air Force practice for experimental aircraft.
- On the other hand, the show also demonstrates how deeply entrenched this trope is, in that all major Earth starships are named like Navy ships, and in the fact that they're actually called "ships" as opposed to "aircraft" or "spacecraft."
- Since the characters of the Stargate Verse are quite Genre Savvy (in multiple instances comparing their spacecraft to those of Star Trek), one interpretation is that even for them, the idea of calling a spacecraft a "ship", the command center the "bridge", and the prison the "brig", are so deeply entrenched that it simply sticks. Or at the very least, the Air Force is aware that their 303s and 304s are more like aircraft carriers than anything else, and borrow some of the terminology.
- In a possible reference to this trope, when Ba'al screws around with the timeline in Stargate Continuum, the Navy runs the Stargate program in the alternate timeline instead of the Air Force. The original SG-1 are all slightly put off by this revelation. Which is a little strange, since this timeline's Earth does not have any starships.
- In the British sci-fi series UFO it appears that Space Is The English Channel given the number of Battle of Britain tropes it draws upon: Moonbase is the beleaguered sector airfield, SID (Space Intruder Detector) the RDF radar post, and calmly-speaking young women (WAAF's) vector in SHADO Interceptors (Spitfires) against the anonymous alien invaders (German bombers). But given that the Moon takes 27.322 days to orbit the Earth, one wonders why the aliens don't just attack SHADO headquarters when the Moon is on the opposite side of the planet.
- Carl Sagan famously said that "the surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean," and devoted an entire episode of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage to comparisons between sea travelers of old and space travelers of the modern day and future. But at no point does he attempt to claim any of the above ocean/space tropes are actually logical or viable, instead merely using the analogy to help others understand. He also had a habit of referring to all manner of spacecraft as "ships" - everything from small robotic probes to theoretical interstellar designs, though, again, this was just poetic license.
- Inverted in Seaquest DSV, whose premise was basically "The Ocean is Space".
- The show pretty much ignores fluid dynamics whenever it's convenient and goes with the Water Is Air idea.
- Not only is space an ocean in DAAS Kapital, but the spaceship of choice is a submarine!
- Space 1889 Justified. European countries have their regular ocean navies handle the liftwood ships and aether flyers and since liftwood is relatively new (less than twenty years ago) to the Europeans their shipbuilders mostly use nomenclature, technologies and techniques from the regular navy.
- The tabletop RPG GURPS Transhuman Space both uses and averts this trope. Set at the turn of the 23nd Century (2199-2205), in sci-fi universe that doesn't leave the Solar System, the United Kingdom's space forces are formed by the Royal Navy, while the Chinese are based on the Army Rocket Forces, and the American space force is an extension of the Air Force, who beat the U.S. Navy in a bidding war. So the UK forces use naval metaphors, while the others don't.
- Mage: The Ascension has the Sons of Ether, techno-mages based around fringe, outdated, and/or pulp science, who have galleon-like Etherships whose sails catch "etheric currents." That Ethernauts tend to stand on the decks of such ships, dressed in nautical steampunk and firing lasers from cannons, is in line with the Etherite mentality. It also irritates their foes, as the Void Engineers are constrained by a 'no oxygen/waves in space' paradigm. note
- The implied setting for Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons includes the Astral Sea. Despite the Astral Sea being three-dimensional and possibly infinite, a "surface" exists that most creatures stay near out of instinct.
- The Warhammer 40,000 spinoff game Battlefleet Gothic is a great example of this. The game and the ships in it joyfully embrace the coolest aspects of naval combat through history, with vast hypertech vessels using Napoleonic broadside-based tactics of lines and crossing the T, ancient Greek-style ramming and boarding actions, early 20th century torpedoes and torpedo boats... Eldar ships even have solar sails, need to be at the right angle to the sun to work most effectively, and sometimes tack.
- Rogue Trader runs with this- there's more detail on life in a spaceship, and it's surprisingly similar to living on an Age of Sail vessel (only GRIMDARK, of course). It's also got that lovely submariny touch of Silent Running for stealth purposes- in fact, this is stated to be the main way to disengage from a battle. Ships have a Fore, Aft, Left and Right side- no love for top and bottom...
- Battle Space, the space-combat game based in the Battletech universe, avoids most of these aspects. While played on a 2D board, ships act in 3D space, there is no friction so all movement must be countered by spinning the ship around and applying thrust, some larger ships (jumpships/warships) have ambiguous hulls to hide the bridge (though, it should be pointed out that every captain would have intel on all non-top secret ships, so this would be moot), and fighters, dropships, and a few landing craft are the only things that can enter the atmosphere without being destroyed. There are still many that are unavoidable (space travel times, ship class names), but most of that is handwaved as otherwise it would be horrendously boring.
- "Full Thrust" is a truly great tabletop wargame, with great background fluff, realistic (semi-optional) "vector movement" rules, and a variable unit system - the game system measurements come with a suggested (very reasonable) scale, but is in the end explicitly left up to the players to decide. In one game, 1 Movement Unit might be a single kilometre, while in another, it might be a whole AU or more. 1 point of Mass might be the suggested 100 tonnes and scale linearly, or it might be 10 and scale logarithmically.
- Best of all, the turns do not alternate; the players write down their movement orders for the turn, fire ordnance based on anticipating the enemy's movement, move their ships, resolve ordnance fire and then take turns firing the main ship-to-ship weaponry - all in the same turn! Makes the game a lot more realistic, and more about actual tactics than quirks in the rules.
- Starfire has fleets of starships, with size classes named things like "light cruiser", "battlecruiser", "superdreadnought", etc., who cruise under constant engine power and always follow their noses. The Terran Federation Navy is run by admirals, who give orders to starship captains. Messages sent between star systems have to be delivered by courier drone, or in person, since radio signals can't travel through a warp point. And, of course, the game is plated on a flat map, which in the first edition was even blue in color.
- Attack Vector: Tactical tends towards the harder-than-diamonds end of the Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness and therefore avoids directly copying mechanics from wet navy combat. However, the military organization structures are all over the place. Novaya Rossiya calls the space branch of its military the Artilleriya Kosmosa and refers to its starship crew members as "soldiers," their Shokoladki-class starships are even officially classified as "Space-Mobile Artillery Platforms." Meanwhile, the Caliphate of Medina based the organization of the Medinan Star Force on the Royal Air Force, by way of the Pakistani and Egyptian Air Forces, so their starships are classed as "Multi-Role Fighter," "Attack Spacecraft," etc. Olympia, Xing Cheng and Novo Brasil play it perfectly straight with their naval-style space forces and fleets of cruisers, destroyers and frigates, however.
- The Spelljammer setting for Dungeons and Dragons has rather a lot of starships that look like sailing ships. This is because at the tech level of Dungeons and Dragons, major trading centers on planets are likely to be coastal or at least river cities. Many of the spelljammers are designed to be capable of landing on water, so they can use the existing facilities (docks, presence of longshoremen to act as temporary workers to load and unload cargo, large and thriving merchant community). It's also explicitly stated that since the only really essential piece of equipment is the jamming helm, for most cultures it's easiest to take a vessel you've already got lying around and slap a helm in it, and water-based cargo vessels tend to be significantly larger than land-based ones, so...
- Combat rules are based on 2D combat. There's no provision for soaring over or diving below another vessel. A valiant effort is made to justify this in the form of the "gravity plane": in Spelljammer, objects in space have ... for some reason ... a gravity plane, and gravity acts in a direction normal to this plane (from both sides, so it's possible to design a ship with decks on both the "top" and "bottom", though such a ship can't ever land on either land or water for obvious reasons). What's not explained is how the gravity plane "knows" to pass through the ship parallel to the decks instead of, say, perpendicular to them. There's also not just friction in space, but no concept of inertia whatsoever: no matter how fast you were moving last turn, if you don't use your movement points this turn, you don't move.
- Space often seems very nautical in Rocket Age. There are pirates, fairly traditional navies and the great black beyond often seems more like an ocean to be crossed and explored.
- The Sluggy Freelance takes this trope to extremes, with spaceships that have big honking sails on them. While solar sails are in fact a reasonably scientific idea, they probably wouldn't be slung on masts of craft which were basically spacefaring galleons, leaning instead towards thin sheets, many hundreds of kilometers across, designed to
catch particles of the solar wind reflect photons. The characters are not in outer space in those ships, but rather in a kind of backwards universe where normal physics do not apply uniformly. It's referred to as "Timeless Space", and there is not only gravity and an atmosphere but also an ocean beneath them—but touching that ocean will cost a character all of their time and effectively kill them. They think, at least.
- The trope is referenced in this Irregular Webcomic! strip, with the obligatory link to this page, where the NASA worker assures the (soon to be literally) Ascended Fanboy that Space Does Not Work That Way.
- Pockett is built on this trope, complete with a sea-captain type space captain, tradional pirate syntax, and common navy crew protocol.
- Used to great effect in Second Empire, in which a second-hand Dalek warship designed for slow bombing runs utterly curb stomps a fleet of attacking fighters and a much more heavily armed enemy cruiser merely by having the captain realize the immense possibilities the aversion of this trope affords.
- This tradition has gone on so long that assuming Earth does ever manage create routine space flight (which is unfortunately looking less likely) it is almost certain that this trope will be Defictionalized .
- There are some fairly recent advances in space travel that look straight out of this trope. Same principle, but it'd probably look more like a parachute. Given that even a normal sail is as much a wing as it is a sail, not only Space Is Air, but Ocean Is Air ar well.
- It is a possibility that the Navy might take over space faring expeditions because they already function on a tradition of being out at sea for long stretches of time living off of the resources on the ship, whereas the Air Force eventually has to get their air crafts back on the ground to refuel. Though in the event of any such Space version of the regular Military Forces there might be room for Joint Military Task Forces or even have the Air Force adopt Naval Traditions to avoid having authority stripped from them in Outer Space.
- On the Apollo 12 mission (2nd lunar landing), the mission insignia featured a clipper ship, and the service module was named Yankee Clipper. This was to highlight the naval service of the three crewmen.
- Astronaut David Scott named the Apollo 15 Command Module Endeavour after Captain James Cook's ship. He felt that the Apollo 15 voyage was similar to Cook's in that they were both travelling to unexplored areas to discover new things.
- The Apollo astronauts used celestial navigation during their missions, something that sailors have been doing for centuries.
- Early ballistic missile systems like Snark and Trident also used automated celestial navigation (using cameras fixed on particular stars) to improve their accuracy in the days before GPS and other more modern forms of guidance.
- In English, the very word "astronaut" is itself a Deficitonalized example; it ends in "naut". As in "nautical". "Astronaut" quite literally means "star sailor"!
- The same goes for the Soviet and Russian term "cosmonaut" (except that it means, well, "cosmos sailor").
- Much of modern space travel is derived from aviation, and much of that is derived from nautical tradition, partially because many of the early aircraft were seaplanes (because there were no runways yet). Many of the job titles associated with flying (Pilot, Stewardess, Purser, The Captain) and much of the other terminology was drawn from direct analogs in the seafaring trade (for instance, the fact that airplanes operate out of airports). Naturally, this all extended to space travel wherever applicable.
- The left and right side of a spacecraft are referred to as "port" and "starboard" respectively, such as during the launch of NASA's Orion spacecraft on 5 December 2014
- NASA commissioned the artist Mark Rademaker to create a "realistic" depiction of what a faster-than-light starship might actually look like. Mark worked with Dr. Harold White, Advanced Propulsion Team Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate, and the ship came out looking pretty realistic all things considered, but it still had a great big bridge perched on the front with windows and a deck oriented parallel to the ship's axis of thrust. So close.