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I have seen some works of fiction portraying marriage ceremonies happening on ships, officiated by sea captains (such as a famous scene in the Disney movie At World's End).

Is this a tradition outside fictional works? Or at least based on some tradition? Can ship captains legally marry people aboard a ship?

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Depends on the flag the ship is flying. In my country (sweden) a ship captain could marry people, but the authority was removed as unnecessary around 2000. I Wonder what the US rules are?

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  • Almost no passenger ships fly under a U.S. flag. Captains of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships do not have that authority as a general rule. – ohwilleke Jul 3 at 19:56
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No, and they never did

It’s a Hollywood myth and always has been.

Of course, there is nothing stopping any given ship’s captain from also being a qualified marriage celebrant and that person could marry people. However, getting and maintaining a ship master’s ticket is a full time job on its own so very few do.

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  • Allthough that maybe true today, it certainly was not in the past. One of the tasks of a Master of a UK registered vessel is definded in present day UK legislation: Merchant Shipping Act 1894 Section 253 (1)(viii): Any marriage which takes place on board with the date thereof, and the names and ages of the parties. – Mark Johnson Jul 4 at 7:11
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    @MarkJohnson that requires that they record marriages, not conduct them – Dale M Jul 4 at 10:18

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