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Sinking Ship Scenario

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Catastrophic damage to a large vehicle (such as a spaceship, or a cruise ship) forces the characters to struggle to survive in a familiar environment that has suddenly become dangerous. Some characters must deal with situations outside of their expertise, because the appropriate person is unavailable. Meanwhile, the senior command personnel may need to make decisions that could mean sacrificing crew to save the vehicle.

Subtrope of Fight to Survive. Can be used as a plot for a Bottle Episode, as it can be used to craft a tense episode without having to craft new sets. Often includes at least one Locked in a Room scenario when the power to the doors fails. May lead to a Cold Equation. While it often goes hand in hand with Abandon Ship, it usually has nothing to do with Ship Sinking unless the shipwreck kills one of the lovers or otherwise separates them.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The pirate-themed Doraemon adventure, Doraemon: Nobita's Treasure Island have the gang running into one such scenario when caught in a nasty storm. And then, their ship's hull gets busted and water starts flowing into the hull, but thankfully Doraemon had his Water Gloves gadgets (which can literally lift water to throw overboard) ready for everyone, while the Mini-Doras are equipped with underwater gadgets for fixing holes. After an intense struggle they manage to make their way out of the storm and survive.
  • Both the heroes and Team Rocket trio find themselves in this situation in Pokémon when the St. Anne sinks with them still onboard, forcing them into an Enemy Mine to make it out alive.
  • Cradle of Monsters by Sanbe Kei, which follows a handful of survivors from an intercontinental school trip as they struggle to escape a luxury cruise liner that, like in the movie "Poseidon," was capsized and is currently belly-up. As if trying to find a way off a sinking ship wasn't bad enough, they've also got to deal with their dead peers coming back to life as crazed, murderous zombies. And to make matters worse, a few of the survivors aren't as nice as they let on, and others have decided to kill anyone who MIGHT be infected. Somehow, From Bad to Worse just doesn't begin to describe it...
  • Tamagotchi: Subverted. In Yume Kira Dream episode 9, when everyone is discussing what kind of things would make them cry, Himespetchi imagines a scenario where she and Mametchi are on a cruise ship re-enacting the famous "I'm flying" scene from Titanic (1997) when the ship starts to head right for an iceberg. Instead of the ship hitting the obstacle as in the original film, Mametchi steers everyone safely out of the way, and Himespetchi is very grateful for him saving the boat from destruction.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Season 7 episode 32 of Happy Heroes, Happy S., the leader of Planet Xing, Ambassador Wang, and Ambassador Miao all board a cruise ship to take a relaxing vacation. As one of the episode's thinly-veiled references to Titanic (1997), the climax has the cruise ship hit an iceberg and start slowly sinking, forcing the Ambassadors (who are normally bitter enemies with each other) to work together to build a lifeboat and save all the passengers.

    Comic Books 
  • Played for Laughs in Jonah, a comic strip from the British Anthology Comic The Beano. Each week Jonah would manage to attempt to board a ship and then accidentally cause it to sink.
  • Deep Gravity is the spaceship variety; the freighter Vanguard is damaged, and needs to be escaped before it is destroyed in a planetary atmosphere. Beyond the danger of the damaged ship itself, survivors also have to contend with also escaped alien predators which were being transported.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The "Journey to the Stars" arc is kicked off by Diana and Natasha getting sent spiraling deep into space on a malfunctioning craft with no navigation system which they try to find a way to survive as they run out of oxygen. Their distress calls end up responded to by the Sangtee Empire when they're just about out of oxygen, which saves their lives but enslaves them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Poseidon Adventure and its 2006 remake Poseidon: May be seen as the template for film portrayals of the scenario for decades to follow.
  • U-571, in which the crew of an American submarine must escape to the German sub they just stole a decoding machine from, when their own boat is sunk. Everything is labelled and documented in German, making it next to impossible to use the controls.
  • All adaptations of the RMS Titanic disaster feature this, but the James Cameron version in particular.
  • The submarine at the end of The World Is Not Enough and its video game adaptation.
  • Late in Star Trek Into Darkness, the Enterprise is crippled and tumbling into Earth's atmosphere. Kirk and Scotty make their way to Engineering as Gravity Screw sends them and their fellow crew members tumbling, with many a Red Shirt seen falling to their death.
  • In Life of Pi, a cargo ship sinks in a heavy storm at night with a few people desperately trying to get into the lifeboats. Ultimately, Pi becomes the Sole Survivor and sets off in his lifeboat, accompanied by an ape, a hyena, a zebra and a tiger.
  • The Finest Hours: The crew of the Pendelton find themselves in one after a welding seam breaks under stress, and the ship breaks in two.
  • Pearl Harbor has the USS Oklahoma capsizing, showing the fates of the sailors both above and below deck. On a lesser note is the USS Arizona, shown exploding and immediately sinking after being hit by an armor-piercing bomb. The Oklahoma's scenes are equal parts nightmarish and heartbreaking, as they show what happens when you don't escape a sinking ship in time, even in shallow waters like Pearl Harbor.
  • USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage has the titular US Cruiser sunk by a Japanese submarine, with most of the surviving crew members dying of exposure, shark attack, and dehydration in under 5 days.
  • Yamato, where a large portion of the second half of the film is taken up by the Yamato's final mission, where it was eventually sunk by repeated attacks from hundreds of aircraft before it reached its destination.
  • In Morning Departure the 12 survivors of the explosion and crash are trapped in submarine sitting on the bottom of the sea.
  • The Last Voyage centers on the sinking of an aged ocean liner in the Pacific Ocean following an explosion in the boiler room.
  • Midway (2019) depicts the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack for the Americans. Later in the film, the destruction of the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu are also shown, though only the last ship's sinking is depicted, with the rest Killed Offscreen.

  • Ghosts of the Titanic: When Kevin dreams he was sent back to the Titanic, he ended up on it the instant after it hit the iceberg. As a result, he witnesses and experiences the panic and chaos that resulted when the Titanic was sinking.
  • One episode of Mission: Levity deals with the crew having to board a broken space ship and turn off the Tractor Beam linking it to the Levity before both ships burn up in the atmosphere.
  • The Perfect Storm, based on a true story. In this case, there were no survivors.
  • The first chapter of SeaFire has James Bond and his current girlfriend stopping a takeover of a cruise ship by Ruthless Modern Pirates. An explosion caused by a misfired torpedo from Big Bad's submarine nearby rocks the boat in the next chapter, and it goes bottom of the sea.
  • The book Star Surgeon by James White, after Sector General was hit by a missile that tore a hole in the hospital and destroyed the translation computer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Expanse: The second episode of the show, The Big Empty, forces the survivors of the Canterbury to use their shuttle as a leaky lifeboat. With their oxygen slowly dwindling, they have to repair and power up transponder beacon in order to signal a rescue ship.
  • Horatio Hornblower:
    • Marie Gallante, a French supply ship, is damaged by a cannon ball during her capture by the Indefatigable. Hornblower is assigned to take her to an English port. When he realizes the ship is holed, he tries to do some damage control, but he's unable to save her. The ship sinks and his crew of four men and their French prisoners must abandon the ship and sail in a small boat.
    • Justinian, British ship of the line, is destroyed off-screen by Papillon, a French ship of war and sinks. The crew from the "Indy" are sent to pick up survivors.
    • Captain "Dreadnought" Foster takes command of a supply ship with two small rail guns and attempts to do battle with a Spanish frigate. He manages to deprive the Spanish of their supplies and he prevents them from taking the British supplies, but their schooner (with said supplied) is wrecked and most of the crew do not survive. Foster does survive and thinks he did the best thing he could.
    • Spanish ship Almeria is chased by "Indy" inshore in a big storm and founders on the rocky shoals. Hornblower persuades his prison guard Don Massaredo to give him his parole and lets him launch a rescue boat to save the crew.
    • Captain Bracegirdle loses his ship Grasshopper in "Duty". He survives, but has lost his ship and his crew and is just a shell of a man he used to be.
      Bracegirdle: They were loyal to me to the last. They managed to get ashore. And as those bastard frogs came at us. My men stood by me. And my men died for me. And in amongst their bodies, I was left for dead. I wish I were dead, Horatio. I lost my ship and all my men. And even if a court martial were to acquit me, I'd never get a command again.
  • "Inside the Spaceship" (a.k.a. "The Edge of Destruction") in Doctor Who, where a malfunctioning switch attempts to send the TARDIS back to Event One—the Big Bang—where the TARDIS and her occupants will be obliterated.
  • In MythBusters, Jamie and Adam tested the power of duct tape in a sinking ship scenario. Turns out, duct tape may be able to keep a small boat from sinking long enough that it can get help.
  • Bones: The Gravedigger traps Booth in a ship that’s being intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef. Water is coming in even before the explosives go off though and Booth fights to escape before it’s too late.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 2 opens with Shepard struggling to save Joker (the pilot) as the Normandy burns.
  • SOS, a SNES game which is almost The Poseidon Adventure The Game, with a similarly capsized ocean liner that must be evacuated through the bottom of the ship.
  • In the first mission of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the ship is bombed by enemy planes and you have to run through the flooding and collapsing cargo hold to get topside, where you must make a Leap of Faith to a helicopter.
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld has Lara entering a boat only to release a demon that results in the ship sinking. Cue a turn through the sinking ship.
  • Resident Evil 6 at one point has Ada enter a submarine in order to get a Plot Coupon but it turns out to be an elaborate trap and the sub is scuttled forcing Ada to escape the now horizontal boat.
  • Far Cry 3 has Jason sneaking aboard a boat in order to get the location for some lost treasure only the computer is booby-trapped and in the resulting explosion the boat starts to sink; forcing Jason to swim through the ship fighting off the enemies that for some reason are more interested in killing him than escaping with their lives.
  • In Persona 5, after completing the seventh Palace, a giant cruise ship, the Phantom Thieves are forced to escape from the sinking ship. It takes Ryuji performing a Heroic Sacrifice and nearly dying in the explosion for them to escape.
  • Adol Christin, the main character of the Ys games, often begins games just after the boat he is aboard sinks.
  • The final round of Jackbox Party Pack 6's Joke Boat, caused by hitting a rubber duck.
  • The latter half of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed begins when Starkiller, having been revived following his betrayal by Darth Vader, attacks one of Vader's secret research facilities to rescue his pilot June Eclipse. Said facility is actually a small Imperial cruiser orbiting a star in a deserted system, and during the course of his one-man attack the ship triggers a mechanism to plunge into the sun to ensure the technology and data aboard remain secret. Starkiller and Juno then have to fight their way out as the ship, having automatically launched all its escape pods due to Vader naturally being a Bad Boss who wants to Leave No Witnesses, falls into the star.
  • The world of Alrest in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 exists entirely on Titans swimming on the Cloud Sea. As a Titan ages, the climate on the creature gets harsher (as seen with Mor Ardain), and once the titans all die out, there will be nowhere left to live. This fact is used as a pretense for dying nations to go to war with others for their titan and resources. The protagonists' goal is to find the mythical Elysium, which has more than enough livable space for humanity. While the fabled Elysium turned out to be a dud, the events of the story result in the god of the world directing all of the titans to a continent on the Earth's surface, finally giving Alrest the space it needs.
  • A Hat in Time: The climax of the "Arctic Cruise" DLC involves the cruise ship "S.S. LITERALLY Can't Sink" crashing into an iceberg and sinking. Hat Kid is forced to rescue all the passengers and crew on account of being the only remotely competent person on board.

    Visual Novels 
  • Happens in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, though the ship has floodgates to control its sinking. Of course, it only applies to the Nonary Game 9 years ago on the Gigantic. The one in which the game takes place is just a recreation of the ship, with simulated flooding.

    Web Original 
  • Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has the SS Ourang Medan, which explodes and sinks not long after being discovered by the crew of an American cargo ship.
  • The Weather: A sinking ship, damaged and drowning in a nasty storm, is the setting of one of the skits. The captain, played by Cricket, spends the entire time ordering the caller to climb the mizzenmast and send a flare, while also openly admitting everyone on the ship is going to die. Despite this, she was focused on trying.

    Western Animation 
  • "The Posei-dam Adventure" in The Angry Beavers, combined with Chained Heat to explain why there would be peril in the first place. Beavers can hold their breath for 15 minutes, you know, but shrews can't.

    Real Life 
  • Naturally, a common training exercise in real world navies. The typical setup is to send the team of trainees into the room and start flooding it, and then they have to use whatever is on hand to devise methods of sealing holes, blocking leaks, and isolating sections that are too far gone. Everyone will be soaked by the end regardless.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Survive The Sinking Ship, Sinking Ship Plot


"Sinking Peril"

"Sinking Peril" has Sly scaling Clockwerk's tower as it sinks into the lava, the magnatronic support field keeping it up having been destroyed in the previous mission.

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