Ship’s Captains can Perform Weddings at Sea
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Ship’s captains can perform weddings at sea.

Don’t Believe That!

Ship’s captains often marry couples at sea… in the movies and television. Unfortunately, vacationing couples who suddenly get the urge to elope will be disappointed to learn that they are generally not allowed to perform this duty in real life.

The captain has broad authority over his ship and its passengers, and when in international waters, is not under the specific jurisdiction of any country. This would lend weight to the belief that he has the power to join a couple in holy matrimony. While a ceremony can certainly be performed, the marriage would not be officially recognized once the ship returns to port. The general rule is, if a captain is licensed to marry on land, he is licensed at sea – otherwise, no. Some cruise ship captains are in fact licensed for this purpose, but separately from any other credentials.

The United States Navy has even officially codified this prohibition, in the Code of Federal Regulations (32 CFR 700-716). The British Mercantile Marine Office has a similar prohibition.

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