The captain's role on a sinking ship

A captain going down with his sinking ship is one of the strongest and most honourable traditions of the sea.

Every maritime nation can tell of captains, both naval and mercantile, who stayed with their ships until the last moment, and very often beyond.

Was the captain required to salute as the ship sank?

While a final salute was not necessarily part of the abandon ship drill, it was an appropriate gesture and many captains are recorded as giving a last farewell in this way.

Satirised on film

This heroic tradition is satirised in the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, when Sir Alec Guinness, playing Admiral D'Ascoyne as a pompous and stupid Victorian naval officer, stands saluting on the bridge until his cap floats off, while his ship, brought into collision through his own fault, sinks beneath his feet.

A real life example

This episode was based on a real event: the collision between the battleships HMS Victoria and HMS Camperdown in 1893, during routine manoeuvres in Lebanon. Admiral Sir George Tryon – in actual fact an outstandingly gifted officer – was last seen on the bridge of his flagship, HMS Victoria, as she sank with the loss of over 350 men. His last words were said to be, 'It is entirely my fault'.