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Going Down with the Ship

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Duty, honor and dignity, even to the end.

Peter Pan: You know the rules, Hook — a good captain always goes down with his ship!
Captain Hook: [Beat] I DON'T WANNA BE A GOOD CAPTAIN!
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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 crewmembers, 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.

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In many cases, the captain goes down with the ship because he/she would face major disgrace if he/she didn'tespecially if the ship is only sinking because of his/her 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.... (Unless they happen to be near a planet that they can crash on.)

No relation to Die for Our Ship, or Shipping in general.


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Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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!"
  • It's only briefly discussed in one flashback scene, but this was the fate of Bamse's grandfather. His ship sank, and as a captain he saw it as his duty to see everyone else to safety before he himself left the ship. It's implied that he was the only one who didn't make it off the ship in the end.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 rules, Hook! A good captain always goes down with his ship!". Captain Hook's reply? "I DON'T WANNA BE A GOOD CAPTAIN!".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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 (1955), 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 IV: The Voyage Home, when the Bird-of-Prey crashes in San Francisco Bay, Kirk is the last one to leave after opening the cargo bay to release the whales.
    • In Star Trek: Generations, Picard and Riker are the last ones to leave the wreck of the Enterprise-D.
    • In Star Trek (2009), newly-promoted Captain George Kirk goes down with the USS Kelvin — 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 Kelvin 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.
    • In Star Trek Beyond, Captain Kirk is the last person to eject from the ship, using an Escape Pod launched from the bridge itself, presumably with this trope in mind as they are called Kelvin pods.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Italian-Soviet film The Red Tent (1969). Umberto Nobile is the first to be evacuated from the survivors of an airship crash at the North Pole. The film deals with his guilt over this act, as he faces an imaginary court of colleagues involved in the disaster.
  • Morning Departure: As captain of the Trojan, Armstrong volunteers to be one of the four who remain on the sunken sub and wait for the rescue team.

    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.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series. A Subverted Trope in "The Doomsday Machine". After the U.S.S. Constellation is put out of action, Commodore Decker evacuates the crew to a Conveniently Close Planet, remaining aboard because The Captain is the "last man to leave the ship". Unfortunately the transporters fail, and he's Forced to Watch as the eponymous weapon ignores his spaceship and 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...
  • 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.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In the climatic scene of the Two-Part Episode "Year of Hell", Captain Janeway remains on board Voyager for a ramming Suicide Attack. Thanks to a temporal Reset Button, she fares better than Decker did.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gilligan's Island:
    • The second episode has the castaways 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.
    • In another episode, the castaways find a life raft and, after repairing it, intend to use it to sail off the island and back to civilization, only for it to sink due to everyone but Gilligan bringing along a bag of gold. As the raft sinks, Gilligan asks Skipper if he intends to go down with it:
    Skipper: I hope not, but if I go, you'll go with me!
  • Farscape
    • Near the end of season three, Crichton plots to destroy Scorpius's Command Carrier in order to stop the Wormhole Weapons project. The plan is successful, executed in such a manner that the ship collapses in on itself, thus allowing the majority of the crew to escape. Crichton then encounters Scorpius in the hangar, where Scorpius laments the destruction of his life's work, and his fears of the pending conflict with the Scarrans. When Crichton tells him that if he's going to leave now would be the time, Scorpius's remarks invoke this trope. Of course he survives, but it's the one time in the entire series we see Scorpius well and truly defeated.
    • Averted in "Nerve"; when a Peacekeeper base has a reactor meltdown, its commander is the first to head for a Prowler to escape.
    Chiana: But I thought the Commander was meant to be the last one to evacuate.
    Commander Javio: It's funny; I believe just the opposite.
    • He's not the only one; Durka kills a junior officer and takes his uniform in an attempt to escape the destruction of the Zelbinion.
  • In the final episode of Blake's 7, Scorpio is shot down by gunships while Running the Blockade and is Coming in Hot. The crew teleport out but Tarrant stays on the controls because if he releases them, Scorpio will flip over and break up before they can reach the teleport pad. When Avon hesitates (ever since his arrival on the series, Tarrant and Avon are involved in a running dispute over who should be The Captain), Tarrant points out that he's the only one with the skill to pilot the crashing spaceship, as it's already passed beyond the Master Computer's ability to do so. Tarrant survives the crash, only to get killed along with everyone else in the climatic final scene.
  • Discussed Trope in Come Back Mrs. Noah when the crew of Britannia Seven space station find the rescue shuttle doesn't have room for everyone, so start squabbling over who's going to be left behind.
    Fanshaw: What's more, you are the captain of the space station!
    Carstairs: What's that got to do with it?
    Fanshaw: By tradition the captain goes down with the ship.
    Cunliffe: In your case you can stay up with it.

    Literature 
  • 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 Danwait, 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 collision 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 Brown's 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.
  • In the Temeraire series, dragons and their captains tend to die together. In part this is because they are usually falling from a great height with no kind of rescue equipment (such as a parachute) and so the whole crew dies unless another dragon is close enough to help, but given the powerful emotional bond between dragon and captain, many of them wouldn't save themselves even if they were able.

    Music 
  • Steeleye Span song - "Let Her Go Down".
    While the Captain steered our wounded ship
    To the bottom of an angry sea
    And with his dying breath we all heard him say
    Just 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 come
    I'll let this ending ensue
    I've led an exciting nautical life it would seem
    and there's no better end than a death by the sea"
  • Voltaire's This Ship's Going Down plays with it. The captain fully intends to go down with the ship, and intends the rest of the crew to go with him.
  • Peter Schilling referenced the Titanic in "Terra Titanic".
    The rats have the sense to abandon the ship
    While the Captain adjusts his tuxedo a bit
    With his glass raised up high as the ice water hits

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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.

    Radio 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Kirby Super Star, when the Meta-Knights' airship Halberd starts to go down, Captain Vul decides to Abandon Ship while Mace Knight, Axe Knight and a few others choose to stay behind to try to stop Kirby one last time. Meta Knight himself also tries to stop Kirby, although he also escapes later when Kirby does so.
  • Return of the Obra Dinn: Captain Robert Witterel seems to be a good example. He is reaching the Despair Event Horizon when he sees the entirety of his crew, including his wife, being wiped out due to the ship being attacked by the mermaids, the Crab Riders, and the kraken, which is too much for him to bear. As a result, he accepts the fact that he will not be leaving the ship alive, and authorizes the surviving female passengers, stewards, and Dr. Henry Evans to leave the Obra Dinn in the last remaining lifeboat. He also intervenes on their behalf when topman Leonid Volkov attempts to prevent them from doing so, demanding that Volkov "let them go." Afterward, when there are only a few remaining crew members left to attack the Captain for the magical shells, the Captain is forced to kill them all, including his own brother-in-law and First Mate, in self-defense. Afterwards, he shoots himself in the chest, fulfilling his vow to his wife that he would be with her in the afterlife.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • Vexxarr gives an interesting reason for this practice, after the newly appointed captain realizes how badly the crew of his new command sucks.
    Vexxarr: Unless your crew gets there first.
    Captain Bot: And thus the captain goes down with the ship.
    Vexxarr: Sometimes it's a race.

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (1987): Subverted, barely,in "Wronguay in Ronguay". Fighting over a cannon, Glomgold and El Capitan sink their ancient treasure ship. It seems as if El Capitan goes to the bottom with his ship. However, he resurfaces at the end of the episode holding onto some flotsam.
  • A variant in the pilot episode of Adventures of the 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • In the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode, "Sink the Montana!," General Hawk confronts Admiral Lattimer, 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.
    Hawk: My aching back, George! Forget that going down with the ship stuff!
  • Adventures of the 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.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Death Trap", after the Jedi Cruiser Endurance is sabotaged, Admiral Kilian insists on doing this because it's traditional, telling off Mace Windu when ordered to get in an escape pod. He instead attempts a crash-landing on the nearby planet of Vanqor, and survives, only to be taken prisoner by bounty hunters.
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • Inverted in "Stealth Strike" — when the Imperial Interdictor and her escort cruisers are destroyed, Admiral Brom Titus is the only confirmed survivor.
    • In the Season 4 Finale, Governor Pryce chooses to remain aboard the flying Imperial dome rather than escape, calmly looking out over the city with a look of pure fury and hatred on her face seconds before the dome explodes.
  • In one episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the characters are playing pirate and their ship springs a leak. Tigger, as the first mate, tells Piglet, who's playing captain, that he must go down with the ship. Piglet then makes Tigger the new captain, who then makes Piglet captain again, and so forth.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Maker is thought to be the case of the HMS Birkenhead in 1852. When the ship ran into a reef off the coast of South Africa, the captain ordered that the women and children go into the lifeboats first. Then, realizing that any extra weight to the lifeboats would swamp and sink them, he ordered all the men to stand at attention as the ship sank. They all did so; while some managed to survive, all the senior officers were killed. This is considered the first time the protocol "women and children first" was ever initiated, and the soldiers' chivalry was celebrated and dubbed by Rudyard Kipling as the "Birkenhead drill".
  • The sinking of the RMS Titanic is probably the most famous sinking of a ship ever, and naturally the captain (and many other important people on the ship) went down with it.
    • Captain Edward J. Smith famously and prominently went down with the ship. However, there are dozens of differing accounts as to how he died; some survivors claim he shot himself just before the final plunge, while others say he swam after a drowning child and lifted him into a lifeboat but died of exposure before he could be saved himself. The most agreed-upon version, shown in James Cameron's film, is that he remained on the bridge for the final plunge.
    • Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic, also went down with the ship, after frantic efforts to help others get off. Popular belief suggests he suffered a Heroic BSoD, blaming himself for the shortage of lifeboats and unable to comprehend that the ship was not as "unsinkable" as advertised. Legend has it that he was last seen in the First Class Smoking Room, his life jacket cast aside, staring into space; this has since been called into question, particularly as the man who saw this left the ship over half an hour before it finally sank. Contemporaneous evidence suggests that Andrews continued assisting with the evacuation until the ship's final moments.
    • Most of the ship's department heads and officers also went down with the ship. Chief Officer Henry Wilde and Second Officer Charles Lightoller both had the ship sink beneath their feet as they tried to load the remaining two collapsible lifeboats; Wilde perished but Lightoller survived, becoming the highest-ranking officer to do so. First Officer William Murdoch's manner of death is unknown, but he is believed to have been crushed by the forward funnel. Chief Engineer Bell and his entire staff remained below decks to ensure that the ship had power until the last moment. Senior Wireless Operator Jack Phillips continued to send wireless messages up until near the end, and although he escaped the final plunge, he didn't survive either. The chief purser, chief steward, and even the owner of the ship's on-board restaurant all went down with the ship.
    • The ship's orchestra famously stayed on board, playing music to calm the passengers until the very end. The last tune they played is commonly believed to be "Nearer My God to Thee"; although it's disputed that this is actually what they played, it's become ingrained in popular culture as the song to play as a large group of people is facing certain death (which is why CNN famously has a recording of it to play right before the world ends).
    • The big aversion was J. Bruce Ismay, the owner and managing director of the White Star Line. He did assist in loading several of the lifeboats, and he did board the last lifeboat to be launched, but the very fact that Ismay survived was controversial, and he was labeled a Dirty Coward and forced to resign from the company his father had built. A popular myth at the time was that he dressed as a woman in order to escape.
  • The same happened to the Titanic's sister ship the Britannic, which was sunk by a German mine while serving as a hospital ship during World War I. Every passenger (who wasn't killed by the initial explosion, or by a gruesome accident involving a lifeboat and one of the propellers) managed to escape the ship. Captain Charles Bartlett, however, made certain that he was the last one off the ship, staying at the bridge until it flooded, waiting for his First Officer to leave the ship first. That said, for all Captain Bartlett's efforts, he was the second to last one off the ship; there was still a quartermaster stuck below decks gathering supplies who just managed to escape before the final plunge.
  • Admiral George Tryon went down with the HMS Victoria, which sank in one of the worst naval accidents of the 19th Century. The sinking was the result of a dreadful miscalculation by Admiral Tryon, who went down with the ship in a show of apology; his last recorded words were an admission of how he'd screwed everything up and, "It's all my fault."
  • The U.S. Navy has notably dispensed with the tradition; although it's still incredibly cowardly for the captain to leave the ship before anyone else, once the ship has been evacuated, it's considered pretty stupid for the captain not to save himself at that point. Also, the captain is expected to continue leading his crew even after the ship is lost, so he has to stay alive to be able to do that. As they say in the Navy, if a captain goes down with his ship, both need to be replaced. That said, it's considered a total career killer for a naval captain to have his ship sink under them (whether or not they were responsible), so it might be tempting for naval officers to go down with the ship anyway. Or, as Dick Gregory once put it: "When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me $85. That is why in the Navy the Captain goes down with the ship."
  • The tradition is particularly common in Japan, who had picked it up from the British. However, they didn't realize why the British did it; it's to ensure that everyone gets off the ship. The Japanese instead found that it dovetailed nicely with the bushido code, with the idea that the captain has to "share the ship's fate" matching the idea of a defeated samurai dying an honorable death. This meant that occasionally, a Japanese naval captain might go down with the ship even when he's sure that everyone else is safe. Especially in Imperial Japan, the Navy lost quite a few good commanders that way; in particular, Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi of the Hiryu refused rescue and chained himself to an anchor to ensure his death.
  • The tradition carried over to aviation, often invoked in situations where the plane has to land on water and has basically become a sinking ship anyway:
    • Captain Richard Ogg gets credit for one of the earliest successful ditchings of a passenger aircraft, in 1956, when he put a DC-6B with two failed engines into the Pacific Ocean. Captain Ogg was the last to get in a lifeboat. All on board survived and were rescued by a Coast Guard Vessel.
    • The famous "Miracle on the Hudson" was an event in 2009 when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his crippled Airbus A320 on the Hudson River. After deploying the rafts and evacuating the passengers, Captain Sullenberger was the last off the sinking aircraft, having wandered all the way down the aisle and back to check that nobody was left on board — twice.note  He also refused to leave the Port Authority Ferry Terminal until all of his passengers could be accounted for. His actions would later be depicted in the film Sully.
    • A variant happened in the lead-up to the Entebbe raid in 1976 (seen in The Last King of Scotland). An Air France flight from Israel was hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian militants, and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin negotiated with the hijackers and secured the release of all non-Israelis on the aircraft. The French captain — and the rest of the crew — refused to go, choosing to remain hostages until all of the passengers were freed (which they were, in the eponymous raid by Israeli forces).
  • This is pretty much expected from the captain of a submarine — when you're in a metal tube hundreds of feet underwater, escape is usually not an option. Famous examples include Günther Prien of U-47 and John Wesley Harvey of the USS Thresher. The big exception, though, is when the sub surfaces to attack, in which case the captain is usually on the conning tower leading the attack and is thus the only one expected to be able to survive an accident if one happened. Famous examples of this include Otto Kretschmer of U-99 and Richard Heatherton O'Kane of the USS Tang, both being their respective nations' leading submarine aces.
  • In fact, the tradition is so ingrained that when a captain doesn't go down with the ship, he's called a Dirty Coward and reviled for his actions. And it also shows that captains who try to escape first often tend not to be very competent at other captain things either.
    • Joseph Conrad's novel Lord Jim was inspired by the case of the SS Jeddah in 1880. While carrying 953 passengers, most of them pilgrims on their way to Mecca for the Hajj, the ship encountered a storm and started taking on water quickly. The captain, assuming it would soon sink, promptly abandoned ship without telling the passengers. But the Jeddah did not sink, and it was eventually discovered with almost all of the passengers surviving — and without a captain.
    • Captain Yiannis Avranas of the MTS Oceanos was one of the first off the ship when it sank off South Africa in 1991. He later decried the concept that the captain must go down with the ship, stating that "abandon ship is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay." The problem was that Captain Avranas dreadfully mismanaged the sinking, doing little to stop it (sometimes making it worse) and failing to even notify the passengers that the ship was sinking. The ship's entertainers had to run the evacuation. Fortunately, everyone survived, but they were pissed, and Avranas and his senior crew were later found guilty of negligence by Greek maritime authorities.
    • Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia not only left the ship before the evacuation was complete, but drew the incredible ire of local Coast Guard Commander Gregorio De Falco, whose frustrated exhortation "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" (roughly "Get back on board, for fuck's sake!") became a global meme and even found its way onto T-shirts. 33 people died, and Schettino was later found guilty of manslaughter. The full exchange between De Falco and Schettino is worth a listen:
      De Falco: Look, Schettino, you may have saved yourself from the sea, but I will really hurt you. I will cause you a boatload of trouble. Get back on board, for fuck's sake!
    • Captain Lee Joon-seok of the South Korean ferry MV Sewol abandoned the sinking ship with passengers still aboard and was among the first to be rescued — in spite of the fact that South Korean law requires the captain to remain on the ship. He was also spotted on the lifeboat without his pants, and it was suggested that he was attending to "business" in his cabin at the time of the accident, and that the crew was drinking beer on the deck as they tried to resolve the problem. The South Korean public was infuriated, especially as around 300 people died (many of them high school students) were killed, and the captain was found guilty of homicide and given a life sentence.
  • And sometimes a captain will want to do this, but circumstances prevent him from doing it:
    • The HMS Guardian sank on its maiden voyage on its way to the newly-founded British colony at Botany Bay in Australia. The captain, Lieutenant Edward Riou, evacuated the passengers into lifeboats and stayed on board with a skeleton crew, all of them expecting to die. Remarkably, they decided that they weren't about to go down without a fight, and they frantically began a series of quick repairs and gruelling, non-stop shifts at the pumps. And in an incredible feat of seamanship, Riou managed to guide the crippled Guardian — which by some accounts was little more than a gigantic raft by then — back to Cape Town. In a tragic irony, almost all the passengers Riou saved were never seen again — only a single lifeboat with fifteen people was found by chance, by a French merchant ship.
    • Captain William Thomas Turner of the RMS Lusitania tried to go down with the ship when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915. But he was swept from the bridge by a wall of water and found himself clinging to a chair in the open ocean. Fortunately, Captain Turner had the presence of mind to take the ship's nautical chart with him, which provided some key evidence in resolving the disaster.
    • Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Nazi ship Admiral Graf Spee ordered the ship scuttled when he believed it would be overrun by British forces in 1939, intending to go down with the ship. His officers convinced him not to, but he killed himself the next day anyway. In any event, his Nazi superiors could well have killed him as punishment for losing the ship.
    • The Jämijärvi skydiving disaster in Finland in 2014 involved a plane full of skydivers breaking up in midair, with the starboard wing and its strut folding into the fuselage and blocking the jump door. The only other exit was through the cockpit door. In this case, the captain had to be the first off the "ship" if anyone else was going to survive.


Alternative Title(s): Go Down With The Ship

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