Can Sea Captains Really Officiate Legally Binding Marriages?


According to countless movies and TV shows,
sea captains, in addition to getting to wear dapper uniforms and snazzy hats, have the
ability to marry couples aboard their ships thanks to the power bestowed upon them by…
the sea we guess? So can these captains actually perform marriages
that are then legally binding? As in most things in life, particularly when
the law is involved, it’s complicated. However, as a general rule, with a few exceptions
like Japan, Bermuda, and Romania, sea captains do not have any inherent authority to officiate
weddings where the couple will then be considered legally married. (Japanese sea captains are given such authority,
as long as they’re marrying two people who are also Japanese, and a similar thing is
true in Romania, where interestingly Romanian law also gives aircraft captains the same
power. Bermuda allows ship captains this same privilege,
so long as the ship they’re captaining is registered in Bermuda. This was a not too subtle way to get more
cruise ships to register their boats in Bermuda- and it totally worked, by the way.) Despite this sort of authority not really
being a thing in most regions, it is entirely possible, and not even terribly uncommon,
for sea captains to marry couples. For example, one Captain Arnold Wonsever,
working for Skyline Cruises in New York, noted he performs on average close to 200 weddings
per year. So how do all those sea captains who currently
do it get around the legality problem, and where did the ubiquitous idea that such individuals
had that authority come from in the first place? To begin with, because there is such a common
notion worldwide that sea captains are able to officiate legally binding marriages, some
sea captains choose to go get the extra certification they’d need to do so. It’s simply a great way to make a little
side money while otherwise performing their day job of captaining the ship. It’s also in some cases a way to get more
people to come aboard your ship in the form of wedding parties. Getting such certification isn’t difficult
in many regions, such as in the United States where becoming ordained is absurdly easy,
with various organizations offering this service online, in a few cases even for free. Moving beyond the certified, some sea captains
will simply officiate a wedding ceremony, but with it understood that said individual
does not have the ability to sign off on things to make the marriage legally binding. However, there is even a caveat here in that,
depending on where you’re from, it may be the case that declaring in front of witnesses
that you’re marrying someone that you also then go and live with can qualify you for
a common law marriage. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s often
not required that you live with the person for several years before said common law marriage
kicks in. In some places, it’s instant. In this case, it wouldn’t matter if you
had the guy who swabs the decks, or even a literal bilge rat, perform the ceremony. It could still be legally binding if you wanted
it to be. And, pro-tip- the bilge rat’s probably way
cheaper than getting the captain to do it. For all other cases where the captain has
no legal authority here, the individuals getting married will typically just go get married
officially in front of a judge or minister somewhere else either before or after their
wedding at sea. In fact, aboard some cruise ships where the
sea captain isn’t certified to officially marry a couple, but said company offers some
sort of wedding service package, the company will simply have an individual on board who
does have the required certification. This way the couple gets the sea captain wedding
ceremony they wanted, and the legally binding side of things as well all in one place. This all brings us around to the question
of how this widely accepted trope came about. Well, nobody knows for sure… But the general thought is that, as traveling
across the big blue was once a rather time consuming process and potentially done with
many people packed aboard off to start new lives, there was sometimes desire for marriage
while on the trip. Now with the occasional need established,
it’s also noteworthy that sea captains once had near absolute authority over the vessels
they commanded. For example, captains from many regions historically
had the authority to do things like arrest and jail those aboard their ships, create
birth and death certificates, more or less function as a notary for official documents
like wills, and even in some cases were required to note in their logs when weddings occurred
aboard their ship. Thus, it’s hypothesized that these types
of extra powers, particularly officially logging marriages that happen on the ship and then
later reporting them to authorities, all perhaps gave the general public the idea that captains
could legally marry couples. And, for whatever reason, sea captains seem
to have been happy to oblige such requests. In an apparent attempt to get their captains
to stop doing this, at least in the US Navy, in the early 20th century they included a
section tucked away in the Code of Regulations dealing with this very phenomenon – The commanding officer shall not perform a
marriage ceremony on board his ship or aircraft. He shall not permit a marriage ceremony to
be performed on board when the ship or aircraft is outside the territory of the United States. According to the regulations, the only time
such marriages are allowed is if a registered official who can perform a legally binding
marriage is aboard the ship or plane and all relevant permits and permissions in accordance
with local laws of the couple being married have been obtained. Outside of that, however, the first sentence
forbids captains from performing the ceremony, and the second sentence forbids them from
allowing others to do it when at sea, presumably owing to the legal complication that arises
from marrying people when out in international waters. But to sum all this up- no, as a general rule,
outside of the caveats previously mentioned, sea captains do not have the authority to
legally marry a couple. This, however, has not stopped them from performing
such ceremonies, nor Hollywood from promoting the idea that they do have this power. This has all resulted in an almost world-wide
notion today that sea captains are able to do this, in turn resulting in some captains
getting additional certification to be able to marry couples looking for a sea based wedding
performed by someone in a snazzy uniform. The culmination of all of this has even resulted
in places like Japan and Romania granting their sea captains this ability. And in recent years there’s even been a
push by shipping unions in the UK to likewise give sea captains this ability without having
to jump through an extra hoop of getting outside certification.

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Comments

  1. A captain of a ship in international waters or an aircraft captain (once the doors are closed) have almost absolute authority. From this authority also derives the authority to officiate a marriage… if there is no other regulation that expressedly excludes this.

  2. 2:17 "some sea captains choose to […] get certified, so they're able to [marry couples]."

    Certified? You just say that as though we are supposed to know what that means.
    Certified in/as what? By whom?

    I even rewound the video to see if I maybe just missed your explanation, but it did not help, there seems to be none.

  3. In Florida, ship captians can officiate weddings provided they are also notaries.

    https://www.hillsclerk.com/Additional-Services/Marriage-License/Who-Can-Perform-Marriage-Ceremonies

  4. Universal Life Church Monastery. But one would think I have as much authority as Kirby Hensley or the bunch of ULS heretics with which I have associated myself to form my own church. In fact, I am. We are going to worship Simon Whistler as the source of all true knowledge. Every adherent must have a beard. Check. And speak with a British accent. Cheque. Your checks payable to me. I need jet plane.

  5. have you guys done one one sunscreen stimgs like he'll when you put it o , even if you have no cuts on your face?

  6. I think if you have sex, with anybody or anything, you should be legally married from that point on… Whether you want to be or not.

  7. Got married on a cruise, in international waters, the captain married us. Our wedding is registered in Bermuda like the video says #confirmed

  8. This will blow your minds… Czech Republic is landlocked, however. If a sea ship is outside of it's teritory and life of a person engaged is in clear danger, than a captain has the authority to officiate wedding and it's completely legal as long as the ship sailed under Czech flag. This applies planes to, just flag is replaced by registration in Czech Republic. § 667 fo Czech civics code (Občanský zákoník)
    So yeah, even landlocked countries can have sea captains marrying people 😀

  9. I can't believe you missed the obvious. Sailors in foreign ports would find gullible women and tell them they would marry them. The women would be eager to believe because many sailor would be given a stipend for a wife from either the Navy or the larger merchant shippers. The captain would play along with the rouse so the sailors could get laid. Many a bastard child was left behind never to meet their father.

  10. I find that your all you videos are full of information. But still fail to keep me focused on everything. Gets me bored. I support you but this is my feedback. Ps: not a negative comment. Cheers

  11. I'm, genuinely surprised. If you told me that they didn't have the ability anymore I would have understood but (as you mentioned) given how much power sea captains could have I sort of just accepted that ability to marry was among them, seems odd that it never was though.

  12. The open water scares me. There's no cover. It's easier to get lost out there. There's no telling what's in the water. And at night it's so black. The idea of being that open and vulnerable freaks me out.

  13. According to the law of the Czech Republic, in life-threating situations weddings can be officiated by captain of ship or aircraft under Czech flag or commander of Czech millitary mission.

  14. This addresses the issue of what is legal, but barely touches the historical reasons, including the fact that people have generally been more concerned with what the society would recognize, as opposed to technical recognition of the law. The family, historically, has not been a thing determined by law as we speak of it (though the English expression “in-law” refers to a concept of law, one I think that differs from what is commonly spoken of today as “legal”.

  15. while not at sea, my father told me that when he was in the Army, he once was requsitionned by his captain for a marriage "entre la photocopieuse et la machine a café" (between the photocopier and the cofee machine) and the marriage was pronounced by a captain of the commisariat de l'armée de terre (now commisariat des armées), which have authority in such manners as officer of civil registration

  16. I'm an Ordained Psudo-deist post-humanist materialist techpriest X3

    Universal life church will ordain anyone in anything free and it only takes a minute to fill out the form :p

    US sea captains can do that super easy.

    If your an american captain and you have internet you can marry people….

  17. Speaking of common law marriages in Saskatchewan Canada living for as little as 3 months makes you common law. What has now lead to a court case in which 2 same sex room mates are getting divorced despite not being in a relationship due to a mistake by the census. The 2 individuals were foreign exchange students and did not correctly understand the questions asked and in a phone interviews for the census they suddenly found themselves effectively married by accident.

  18. Oh Simon, spare me the false modesty. Your technical prowess was on display for all to see in your WoT promo. You deserve a cool hat and snazzy uniform yourself.

  19. You made a cite but have no tech abilities. In tbe podcast and video about how you make this channel. You share amazing skills lol

  20. Damn, the subtitles were actually pretty good for this one! I'm not sure that changing "ocean" to "big blue" was necessary but at least there weren't entire sentences of exposition flickering by.

  21. cut to the rom/com where the couple try to get the captain to officiate only to be told thats not a thing. for some reason I'm picturing John C. Riley as the captain.

  22. Just so you know I am a mariner myself and have a captain's license and I can tell you this much having a captain's license gives you great authority because stimming back from the days of Columbus and before captains were considered ambassadors of their country therefore they had the power vested in them by their country which is also where the whole captains officiating marriages came into play. Just a side note captains also have diplomatic immunity when traveling abroad to this day and are still considered ambassadors of their country which is why a licensed Captain will have a green passport signifying an ambassador vs the standard blue passport that everyone else gets

  23. "According to countless movies and TV shows, sea captains, in addition to getting to wear dapper uniforms and snazzy hats, have the ability to marry couples thanks to power bestowed upon them by… the seeeeea, we guess?"

    Bah. I didn't vote for her.

  24. The idea that they get their power from the sea isn't so far-fetched when you consider that sailors still run things past Poseidon whenever they rename a ship. Search "renaming ship ceremony".

  25. See I assumed that, given it was in international waters, the captain of the vessel is the nearest head of authority with respect to the country the ship is registered with, and thus had the ability to exercise said country's law at their own discretion in most circumstances. Including (if all the paperwork was in order and carried out in the required manner by said country) marrying a couple.

  26. gonna say, I'm a 1600ton master (US) and there was PLENTY of business questions in the test, but nothing about doing up-down, left-rights for couples!

  27. A sign in the mess of a fishing boat said it best: "Marriages conducted by the captain of this ship are valid only for the duration of the journey" 😉

  28. Here in Colorado, a couple is considered common-law married if they simply announce that they are married in a public place.

  29. My late father was a sea captain. I think he was with Grace Lines when he go up and down the west coast of South America. He emphatically stated that sea captains could not marry people. He said he thought it was probably a myth created by Hollywood.

    In fact, he said, it was a standing joke at the time that, yes, the captain could marry a couple but the marriage was only good for the duration of the voyage and once the voyage was over so was the marriage.

  30. For some reason I read the title as "legally blinding marriages" and not "legally binding marriages"

  31. A ceremony of any kind is not a legal requirement for marriage.
    Once you fulfill the legal requirements you can have any kind of ceremony you want, performed wherever, by whomever, as many times as you want.
    A ceremony means nothing under the law. You are free to do it at any time with as many different people as you want. It just wont be legally binding.

  32. Common law marriage in BC, Canada is 3 months living together…. just a heads up, if you break up they can legally take a lean on your home.

  33. I don't know about Romania. It took me 6 months to get the necessary paperwork, fees, 3 separate notaries the list goes on. I think if we tried to marry on a ship here we would need serious bribery to get married.

  34. In most states in the US it is possible for almost anyone to lead the ceremony and sign off on the paperwork as the administrator. While I am card carrying duly ordained minister of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster there are few states that could actually challenge me the truth is that I have never once been asked to present credentials when turning in the paperwork. A bit disappointed about that, actually, after all my ordination cost me twenty bucks!

    May His Noodly Goodness shine down upon you all.

    Ramen

  35. Ha. As a Romanian, I know a couple who did that, on purpose. Their marriage licence reads: "Place: the Black Sea, 43°26'22"N 28°43'13"E " which is on the sea route from Constanta, Romania, to Varna, Bulgaria, where they spent their honeymoon.

  36. When my step-dad was in the Navy, he had to goto his Captain and ask permission to get married to his first wife. He told Me the Captain would basically take the role of being like a father to the guys on the ship.

    Not 100% sure, I also think on some ships, The Captain can double up as an Ordained Minister, if the ship does not have a Padre

  37. "In many countries it`s easy to get ordained for exapmle in the US" is there actually any other example? Does any other country say hey marriage is outdated and useless so let`s just allow anyone who can download an internet certificate to perform a wedding?

  38. Please do a video on that time in the UK people believe that blacksmith's had spiritual powers and there for anyone who is not being allowed by the Anglican Church could slip over the border into Scotland to obtain a legally binding marriage Wich was often a blacksmith. Which had the bonus that the couple often had rings forged as part of the cerimony

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