Why does “the captain go down with the ship”?

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Why does “the captain go down with the ship”?

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Anonymous 0 Comments

The captain is responsible for ensuring everyone else on the boat gets off safely *before* the captain does.

They don’t really “go down with the ship”, it’s just a saying to imply that they’re the last ones to leave.

Case in point: the Costa Concordia disaster where the captain did leave early and went to jail for manslaughter


Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s not a law. It’s more of a tradition. A captain is supposed to be responsible for the safety of the passengers on the ship. He should be the last one off the ship if it starts to sink. If a captain does leave the ship before all passengers are off the ship, he may have to go to trial to answer for negligence charges.

Anonymous 0 Comments

He doesn’t have to go down with the ship.

He **should,** if at all possible, be the last person off. The ship is his responsibility. The safety of every person on it – crew and passengers – is his responsibility. If he cracks and rushes to leave the ship without

* making sure that the people he’s responsible for are also okay
* doing everything possible to protect the ship and keep it functional for as long as possible

then everything that happens after he’s gone is going to be his fault.

Do you remember a ship called the Costa Concordia? It got into trouble in January 2012 when it struck a rock, and it started to sink. The captain, Francesco Schettino, decided that saving himself was more important than anything else he could possibly be doing…

Because he wasn’t there, the chain of command broke down. The evacuation was confused (ultimately I think the **musicians** on board took command and organised it!) and took hours longer than it should have. People were injured. People died.

Even afterwards, when the salvage team came to get it and float it back up they found the ship in much worse condition than they’d expected, because after Schettino ran away without telling anyone evacuation had been so chaotic than none of the usual safety procedures had been followed.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think it is meant figuratively, but the captain is expected to at least be the last one to leave.

If you are the last at to leave, you won’t always make it…

Anonymous 0 Comments

Basically when anyone, not even a captain, is in a position where instant death is better than what your future holds than you are going down with that situation, aka ship.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The captain often knows about problems before any passengers, and gets to tell the crew what to do, giving them a lot of control over how to respond to those problems. It would be very easy to abuse that power to be the FIRST one off the ship, giving them a higher chance of survival than anyone else. 

Also, without the captain on board, rescue efforts would be impeded — it’s hard to handle a disaster when nobody is in charge. And impeded rescue efforts means more casualties. 

So to keep the captain from saving themself at the cost of others’ lives, we insist that they stay on until the end.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In addition to the safety responsibilities for passengers and crew that people have mentioned, there are two other factors I can think of.

One is that the captain is usually financially tied to the fate of the ship. Either the captains owns part or all of the ship and its cargo, or else it is a big financial responsibility entrusted to the captain by an investor, government, or employer. Particularly before modern insurance and liability practices, a captain would be professionally and financially ruined by the loss of their ship. They lose their livelihood and reputation and likely will be in debt for the rest of their life. The captain has an incentive to stay with the ship until the last possible moment in the hope that it can be salvaged.

Another is that it is a kind of martial tradition, similar to a general refusing to surrender their post to the enemy. Just like an officer might chose to fight to the death to give his men the most time to escape, or to have an outside chance of holding a fortress or objective that is about to be overrun, a captain of a navel vessel might refuse to abandon ship until it was destroyed.

So on the one hand there is definitely a concrete responsibility to get everyone else off safety. On the other, there is a ‘death before dishonor’ aspect where the captain is tying their own fate to the fate of the ship itself. It’s a romantic ideal of devotion to your duty and honor.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Unlike American politicians who will hop on a jet to their overseas beach penthouse and the slight worry of danger, used to be the integrity of boat captains to make sure they do whatever they can to make sure their constituents, I mean crew are safe first

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because a captain who’s been convinced by his employers that his only options are 1) die, or 2) save the ship, is going to try a lot harder to save the ship.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The captain doesn’t have to go down with the ship but the captain is responsible for everyone on the ship.

It is a very bad look if you do what the captain of the Costa Concordia did and “fall into a lifeboat” to safety instead of coordinating things on board to see that as many people as possible get of alive. Or did what the captain of the MV Sewol did and order everyone to stay put while escaping with your life.

You won’t get punished when you leave when there is nothing more that you can do to help, but since that was not always easy to establish after the fact, people tended to look at surviving captains suspiciously.

Especially back before the Titanic when not having enough boats for everyone on board was common, the captain leaving while there were still living people on the ship might mean that he was taking a chance of survival away from someone who was nominally in his charge.

You really don’t want to get the reputation of being someone like the captain of the Méduse.

that combined with chivalry and some amount of what we would today would call toxic masculinity evolved into what we got when the troopship HMS Birkenhead where the soldiers being transported stood in formation on the deck of the sinking ship as their families went to the available rescue boats “women and children first”.

For a captain to not stay on the ship to the last moment would be seen as dishonorable, dereliction of duty and cowardly.

Especially since whatever caused the ship to sink was likely going to be the captains fault anyway so even in survival they would only have to look forward to a court case and punishment and shame and dishonor. You might as well go down with ship at that point.

Nowadays ships usually carry enough lifeboats and investigations afterwards are better at assigning blame and figuring out if there was really nothing else that could have been done by the captain when he left the ship and we recognize that people are not perfect and focus as much on preventing future accidents as punishing those as fault.

So the captain doesn’t go down with the ship anymore and is not expect to, but if they are not in the last boat leaving they better have a good reason and a good explanation why they though that there was nothing else they could have done when they left.