On the question about whether you can get married while travelling, Mark Mayo posted a comment that any marriage has to be on dry land or close to it.

But I'm sure all of us have heard of ships' captains marrying couples at sea.

From the movie Casablanca:

Say, why don't we get married in Marseilles?
Well, let's see. What about the engineer? Why can't he marry us on the train?
Well, why not? The captain on a ship can. It doesn't seem fair that...

So is this fiction after all? If not how does it fit with Mark's comment? What special rules and such should we know?

If I'm travelling at sea with a significant other and wish to tie the knot, can we do so with any captain on any ship on any sea? Must it be international waters?

  • 1
    I am in doubt here if it is on topic. Nice question, but more for skeptics.se
    – user141
    Dec 21, 2011 at 10:54
  • nevertheless +1
    – user141
    Dec 21, 2011 at 10:55
  • 3
    If you're on a ship at high sea you are travelling. And I'm not skeptical of it d-; Dec 21, 2011 at 11:00
  • You can marry inside an flying aircraft. weddingbridaltips.com/real-life-wedding-stories Dec 22, 2011 at 11:02
  • 1
    Props for Casablanca, but IMHO even better is The African Queen, where Humphrey Bogart asks the captain of an enemy warship (Theodore Bikel) to marry him to Katherine Hepburn before they are to be hanged as spies. Aug 17, 2016 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


Generally No.

Again this depends completely on the marriage laws of your home country and possibly also the ship's home country. But according to this (German) article, most countries do not allow this. It even mentions a number of regulations (by the US Navy, the state of New York, and the British merchant navy) that explicitly disallow it. It also mentions some Swedish captains explicitly authorized to perform weddings on a cruise ship. This article claims that there are a number of companies that offer weddings at sea, but performed by an authorized official, not the captain. And I suspect that it would in fact have to be not in international waters, but the waters of the official's country.

There's also the concept of an "emergency wedding" - many countries (For example Spain, according to this forum article) allow weddings to be performed with relaxed regulations in situations when one or both of the prospective spouses' lives is in danger. This has then to be officially approved afterwards. Obviously, this is not something you can plan for.

  • @hippietrail: It's not su surprising if you stop to think about it for a bit. Marriage has effects on taxes, inheritance, child custody and right of residence - all very important stuff with potential for manipulation and abuse. It does make sense to regulate it. Dec 21, 2011 at 12:47
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    Hmmm...I wonder about the "international waters" part. Since all ships have a flag country, it seems like what would matter when in international waters is that the officiant is legally recognized by the flag country as authorized to perform a wedding. And of course, that you want your wedding to be certified by said flag country. Dec 21, 2011 at 18:27
  • Also: straightdope.com/columns/read/546/… "So far as I can tell, sea captains in the United States cannot now and have not ever been able to perform marriages at sea or anywhere else..."
    – nibot
    Jan 25, 2013 at 10:07

Most cruise ships have chapels for religious services, and for weddings.

As to the details, look them up, or confirm them with the cruise line beforehand. In some instances, the ships captains can perform the functions of a justice of the peace. In other case, you need a clergyman/woman. And location of the ship could make a difference, as could the nationalit(ies) of the bride and groom.

The answer appears to be "some captains on some ships for some people." But not "any captain on any ship" for anyone.

  • 1
    Cruising isn't really a tradition where I come from. I don't know anybody who's ever been on one. Dec 21, 2011 at 14:53
  • @hippietrail: I've been on a few cruises.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 21, 2011 at 15:32

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