Maritime Lawyer John K. Fulweiler Sheds Light on Maritime Marriage Myths in New York Times Feature

Posted by John K. Fulweiler | Mar 01, 2024 | 0 Comments

John K. Fulweiler, a specialist in admiralty and maritime law based in Newport, R.I., was approached by The New York Times to demystify a long-standing maritime myth: the belief that sea captains have the authority to legally marry couples at sea.  This misconception, widely spread and romanticized through Hollywood films and television shows, including classics like "The African Queen" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," as well as the popular 1970s series "The Love Boat," has led many to mistakenly believe in the nautical nuptial powers of ship captains.

Fulweiler's expertise sheds light on the complexities surrounding the issue, clarifying that the legal standing of shipboard weddings is far from straightforward. He points out that the belief in captains' marital powers may stem from their historical role as the highest authority on long sea voyages, where they managed all aspects of life aboard the ship.  However, he emphasizes that, in legal terms, a captain's ability to officiate a wedding is bound by a web of jurisdictional and regulatory conditions that vary significantly.

The legal framework governing such ceremonies often hinges on the laws of the country under which the ship is registered, as well as the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage is intended to be recognized. Historical legal precedents have shown varied outcomes, with some courts recognizing shipboard marriages and others not.  Moreover, the U.S. Navy's 1913 Code of Regulations specifically prohibits its officers from performing marriage ceremonies on board ships or aircraft outside U.S. territory, except under certain conditions that align with local and state laws.

Despite the romantic allure of being married at sea by a ship's captain, Fulweiler's insights, as highlighted by The New York Times, reveal the legal intricacies and potential misconceptions surrounding such ceremonies.  He underscores the importance of understanding the specific legal requirements and implications for couples considering a maritime wedding, ensuring that their special day is not only memorable but also legally binding. 

Read the full New York Times article here:  NY Times Article: A Marriage at Sea? Get Me Rewrite

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About the Author

John K. Fulweiler

Proctor-In-Admiralty / Licensed U.S. Coast Guard Master Formerly a partner in a New York maritime law firm, John K. Fulweiler graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a Marine Affairs degree and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law. In addition to being recognized by...


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