Abandon Ship

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Essentially, you have a ship of some sort, be it an oceangoing vessel or a Cool Starship. At some point, be it in the prologue of the story, or at the climax near the end, or any point in between, the ship suffers some catastrophe that makes it a very good idea not to remain there, because it is about to explode, fall to the planet below, go careening uncontrollably into the nearest star, or, you know, sink. What are the passengers and crew to do? Why, they must Abandon Ship! Bonus points if the trope's actual name, which is a Stock Phrase nearly omnipresent in all movies dealing with naval action, wet or otherwise, is used.

If much of the story has taken place on the ship, then her death (and it will often be played as a death rather than a destruction, complete with strangely mournful sounding metallic groans and dramatic music) will be rather dramatic and played out. If our hero gets to the lifeboat only to realize that a friend or loved one has not similarly done so for some reason, a miniature quest may ensue as they make their way through the chaotic process of the ship breaking up and sinking. Some reference might be made to the Captain Going Down with the Ship.

On a military airplane, the crew might be expected to make use of Ejection Seats to escape the plane. Otherwise, they'll probably have to get out the old fashioned way: Strapping on a parachute and getting to an exit before the plane crashes.

Not to Be Confused With Abandon Shipping, which occurs when a Shipping community suddenly abandons a given pairing (and was formerly known as Abandon Ship).

Examples of Abandon Ship include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, the crew of the White Base is forced to Abandon Ship after getting shot down during the Final Battle.
  • In Gundam Seed, where the crew of the Dominion (along with Flay), who abandon ship when Natarle turns on her commander and the Archangel sinks the ship. Too bad the pod drifts straight into Rau le Creuset, who's more than happy to finish the job.
  • After War Gundam X: the crew of the Freeden escape from their ship (in jeeps; remember that they're on Earth) after ramming an enemy battleship to clear the path for Garrod's launch into space.
  • One Piece, when the Going Merry went down.

Comic Books

  • Almost inevitably happens whenever Groo the Wanderer gets on board a boat.
  • In The Red Sea Sharks, Tintin and Haddock's kidnappers abandon ship after the engine breaks down, only for Haddock to fix it later and take over the now-repaired ship.


  • Battle of Britain, being a war film about a months-long aerial battle, includes numerous scenes of airmen bailing out of bombers and fighters. Or at least trying to.
  • Spaceballs plays it for comedy, evacuating everyone (including the orchestra and the zoo), but leaving behind Colonel Sandurz, President Skroob, and Dark Helmet.
  • Starship Troopers. When the Roger Young is seriously damaged by Bug plasma the crew tries to get to the lifeboat deck to escape.
  • Titanic: Half the reason for watching the movie.
    • And about the only reason to watch Titanic II is to see The Asylum subvert the hell out of Titanic.
  • Happens in several Star Trek movies:
    • The Search for Spock features the destruction of the Enterprise, though there weren't exactly a lot of crew members to evacuate.
    • Star Trek Generations has the Trope implied when the Enterprise-B, under the command of Captain Harriman, arrives to rescue the passengers and crew of two El-Aurian refugee ships trapped in a Negative Space Wedgie. Later in the same Film, the Trope is played straight with the loss of the Enterprise-D
    • Star Trek First Contact features a scene where the crew of the Enterprise-E evacuates the ship so as to self-destruct and kill the Borg on board. Subverted when the Borg Queen deactivates the selfdestruct sequence and gets killed shortly afterward, so the ship is saved.
    • Star Trek: The prologue features the crew of the USS Kelvin abandoning ship, with the shuttles launching from the shuttle bay making for a nice visual metaphor for James T. Kirk's birth just before the Kelvin is destroyed, with Kirk's father, George Kirk, staying aboard to make sure the shuttles escape.
  • Invoked in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, where Lando orders Cloud City abandoned after the Empire seizes control, then played straight in Return of the Jedi after the Emperor dies and the Super Star Destroyer crashes into the Death Star.
  • The Last Jedi runs with this by having the crews of the smaller ships in the Resistance's fleet evacuate to their flagship, which is eventually vacated so that it can used as a battering ram against the pursuing First Order.
  • The Filipino film Temptation Island forces its characters to do this, after a fire sinks their yacht.
  • Red Tails depicts an aviation variation on this trope:
    • In the prologue, a formation of American bombers is being attacked by German fighters. The pilot of a badly damaged bomber orders his crew to prepare to bail out. Immediately afterwards, a German fighter attacks the bomber head-on, killing both pilots. Some men can briefly be seen tumbling out and opening chutes.
    • Later on, a fighter pilot's plane is shot up, and he bails out in the most expeditious manner available: He jettisons the canopy, unbuckles his seatbelt, and rolls the plane over so he falls out before opening his chute.
    • Another pilot, badly injured, and his cockpit filling with gasoline from a ruptured fuel tank, tries to bail out, but is too weak to pull the emergency release for his canopy. He crashes on landing, but is pulled from the burning plane and survives.
  • The movie "Abandon Ship!" (1957 starring Tyrone Power) has the survivors from a torpedoed ship in an overloaded lifeboat. The captain tries to keep it afloat by ruthlessly throwing out those who can't survive and keeping those he feels can, making no moral judgements on who is worth saving. Supposedly based on a true story.
  • Also "Lifeboat"
  • In the film Battleship, the destruction of the John Paul Jones via a pair of alien "Shredder" droids sees a good portion of the crew bailing out of the ship as it's taken apart beneath them. Earlier in the film, the Myouko has several bail-outs after getting blown in half by alien det-charges. However, this trope is sadly averted with the loss of the Sampson, the destruction of which is so sudden and cataclysmic that there are no survivors.


  • Happens reasonably frequently in Honor Harrington with crew abandoning ships that have taken damage in combat. These run the range from small numbers of survivors evacuating in escape pods right before the ship explodes to an orderly evacuation of a ship that is still intact but has taken sufficient damage to its alpha nodes or hyper-generator that it cannot leave the system and has to be scuttled.
  • The crew of the Cerys in Septimus Heap is forced to Abandon Ship after it's overrun with Warrior Jinn. It doesn't work very well at the start.
  • It's not the whole ship that's abandoned, but when an enemy attack breaches the section that Ciaphas Cain [1] and Jurgen are in, they are forced to abandon the ship in order to save their own lives. This being a Ciaphas Cain [2] book, this just drops them into even greater danger.
  • In the novel "When the Ship Sank" a ship is torpedoed and sinks slowly but people cannot escape because the entire engine crew has been killed and no one can turn off the engines. It eventually sinks and the survivors spend a horrific night in the water until they are picked up by another ship. The second ship is taking them back to England, where the first ship came from, but is intercepted by another submarine (or maybe even the first one) which opens fire with its deck guns sinking it in minutes. Most of the people on board, including almost all the survivors from the first ship are killed almost instantly.

Live Action Television

  • An example from the final season of Lost. Many of the remaining characters are on board a submarine, and soon find that the Big Bad has smuggled a bomb on board. It detonates (taking out a major character in a Heroic Sacrifice), and proceeds to cause the sub to sink. The survivors rush to flee the sinking vessel, with the exception of Sun (who is trapped behind debris) and Jin (who chooses to remain on-board to die with his wife).
  • Babylon 5: The first season episode Babylon Squared takes place aboard the space station Babylon Four, which had been lost (as in, physically misplaced, as in, a five mile long space station just disappeared in a instant for no known explanation) years previously. The station reappears, just long enough for the crew of Babylon Five to effect an evacuation. As the station is about to disappear again, the remaining crew members (and the personnel from Babylon Five who came to retrieve them) make a hasty retreat to cram onto the remaining shuttles.[3] trope is discussed and dismissed: Commander Sinclair is most definitely not Babylon Four's commander, and the officer who was in charge of the station had every intention of leaving as soon as the personnel under his command had been evacuated.
    • The same episode includes a Flash Forward where Babylon Five, in flames, is being evacuated as the security personnel frantically attempt to hold off the unseen attackers to give the civilians time to escape. As a matter of fact, the visual of a lone shuttle escaping the station just before it explodes gets used for a long string of Prophecy Twists That visual does finally come true. But not the way anyone expects.
    • In the episode A Voice In The Wilderness, the station is at risk of being destroyed by the planet below blowing itself to pieces. Sinclair asks Garibaldi to make sure that Ivanova makes it onto an escape ship, even if Garibaldi has to knock her out and bodily toss her in.
  • Just as it happens fairly often in the films, this Trope also plays out surprisingly often in the various Star Trek series:
    • In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Cause And Effect, the Cold Open starts with Picard announcing "All hands abondon ship! All hands abando--" just before the Enterprise explodes. We then go through variations of this same scenario several more times.
    • Star Trek Deep Space Nine actually begins this way. The first scene of the series is a prologue, showing the starship Saratoga serving as part of a Starfleet task force assembled to stop the Borg at Wolf 359. After the Saratoga is knocked out of the fight by a single hit from the Borg Cube, the rest of the scene is the panicked crew (and passengers) abandoning the crippled and burning ship.
      • Near the end, the Defiant itself, along with all but one ship from the allied fleet, gets taken out to demonstrate the Breen as being a credible threat.
  • Happens in the finale of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Unlike most other examples, a sizable amount of the ship remains, even after the Final Battle takes place in it. Unfortunately, the Big Bad had already set it for a Colony Drop - it's possible there was enough left after impact to be turned into a galactic settlers' colony as intended, but we never get a good look.
  • Happens regularly in Red Dwarf.
    • In the episode 'Marooned' the crew are forced to abandon ship because 5 black holes are approaching, it turns out to be grit on the scanner scope.
    • In the episode 'Polymorph' they decide to abandon ship when a chameleonic life form attempts to suck out their emotions.
    • In 'Demons and Angels' the ship has a major overload after a problem with a matter replicator, once they've escaped the ship it blows up only to leave two copies in its place, a high version and a low version. Once they work out a way to replicate the original they must then get out of the new "low" Red Dwarf before it disappears.
    • In 'Only the Good...' the entire resurrected crew of Red Dwarf abandon ship when a genetically engineered virus begins eating the ship from the inside out.

Tabletop RPG

  • Traveller adventure Action Aboard - Adventures on the King Richard. If there's a problem aboard the title passenger starship, all of the passengers are put onto lifeboats. The lifeboats are cast off and the passengers wait until either (a) the problem is resolved and they can be retrieved or (b) the problem can't be resolved and they're on their own.

Video Games

Web Comics

  • Schlock Mercenary had crew of several killed battleplates partially evacuated via terapods. Space navies capable of threatening battleplates suppress teraport with overlapping systems, so probably would just catch the pods, but when losing a fight to Pa'anuri it's a life saver: if one gets too close, the battleplate's gravitics is no match for a surprisingly agile entity with the mass of a planet, so the vessel is doomed, but pods can still be launched, and small vessels don't provoke immediate aggressive response while something big is left un-crunched, so at least some avoid flailing gravitic anomalies without accident, then make it far enough to 'port away.
    • The crew of Graveplough performed evacuation with appropriate haste (and expression on the Captain), once they noticed that their missiles just armed themselves without being launched first.

Western Animation

  • Exo Squad: The loss of The Exo Carrier Resolute, and with it, Captain Marcus.
  • The Titanic episode of Futurama naturally used this Trope.
    • Bender attempts to get everyone to do this in "Parasites Lost", uttering the phrase a few times and having to be restrained. Also, the miniature ship does wind up abandoned after the end of the journey.
  3. Incidentally, the Going Down with the Ship