The recent society "wedding" of film-star Pamela Anderson by a Riviera megayacht captain off Pampelonne Beach near St Tropez has rekindled interest in the thrill and glamour of being married at sea. This subject was treated in Riviera Reporter N° 48 of April-May 1995, just after the UK's 1994 Marriage Act legalised many hotels and other premises for the performance of marriages, up to then limited to churches and Registry Offices. Enquiries showed then that Britain would not be licensing ships and yachts as premises, however glamorous they might be; nor aircraft, hot-air balloons or underwater locations.
Now in 2006 there are some 5000 places in England and Wales licensed for civil marriages (they must be indoors, and open to the public), such as Harrods, the Natural History Museum, Chelsea Football Club, the London Zoo, the Central London Golf Centre etc (see www.confetti.co.uk/venues) and they can provide the whole reception and wedding package, unlike a Registry Office. But the UK has licensed no ships for marriages, except those firmly attached to land like the RS Hispaniola, berthed at Charing Cross on the Thames since 1973. There are also 35 so-called "licensed venues" listed for France, including the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, Chateau Eza, La Bastide de St Tropez and the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. But it turns out these are simply places for a ceremony after a prior civil wedding; in France this would be in a Mairie. Such venues need no special "authorisation" at all, as any café can hold a party!
The myth about ships' captains being permitted to celebrate marriages arose from the emigrant ships of the early 1800s. The voyage from Europe to Australia often lasted over 9 months so, to avoid the then stigma of illegitimate children, there was some legal tolerance of measures in the absence onboard of a clergyman. But nowadays a Ship's Master is authorised to register only births and deaths onboard - but not marriages. And no marriage lines means No Valid Marriage. Pamela would have known that; but she and her "husband" had a lot of fun. Of course, a ceremony to repeat or renew your marriage vows can be held any time, any place - and where better than a yacht? - but then a valid marriage must already have been celebrated beforehand. In France or Monaco, this would be a Civil Marriage by a Maire (or a delegated adjoint) and only in his Mairie; but a legal marriage from any country would be acceptable.
However, the subject of this article is real weddings at sea. And in 2005 there were 694 real "Maritime Marriages" celebrated by ships' captains on the high seas. These were all civil ceremonies with no religious content, just as in a British Register Office. They were performed by the Masters of certain cruise liners registered in the British overseas territory of Bermuda - 16 ships of Princess Cruises plus the "wedding fleet" of P & O Cruises: Arcadia, Artemis and Oceana; and all this started following the enactment of Bermuda's Maritime Marriages Act 1999. In time for 98 couples to tie the knot at sea over the Millennium Year 2000, facing their Captain (probably also dressed in white) as the ship sailed onwards toward their honeymoon. Bermuda's Registrar General licences the individual captains concerned and issues the Marriage Certificates, valid anywhere. There are no snags in all this; and the very strict Bermuda law, which is quite distinct from English law, ensures that everything is properly conducted. But several months notice is necessary for both the cruise company and the Registrar. Many of these ships cruise the Mediterranean, and their calls at Monaco, Cannes, St Tropez and Villefranche are already programmed until late 2007, so there is no need for the bride, groom, witnesses, bridesmaids and guests to venture far from home for a wedding - just outside French territorial waters will do.
A further possible Captain to marry you is Captain David Robertson, a celebrant well-known in England and able to marry any couple - except same-sex ones. But he has neither a Master's Ticket nor a ship; he is a senior Salvation Army Officer in Nottingham. Not much use for Riviera weddings!
Really, the best option for those readers who can afford it is to own or charter a Bermuda-registered yacht and stage their dream ceremony which will be authentic, not just a parody. This means complying with all the necessary formalities, which need very long advance planning. There must be an opening for the more alert charter-brokers to develop a market here. Who will be the first broker to persuade the Registrar General of Bermuda to licence a yacht captain to conduct a Maritime Marriage onboard his Bermuda-registered yacht? Nobody has yet made that request.
And if the answer is "yes", I hope I get invited along.
From Riviera Reporter 117, Oct/Nov 2006
Married by your Captain
- Michael Healy