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For additional meanings of "Captain", please see Captain.
"Part of being a captain is knowing when to smile, make the troops happy even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do. Because they're your troops and you have to take care of them."

Captain was a commissioned officer rank, the equivalent of which was used by the service organizations of many civilizations. The title of captain was often used by vessel commanders and, as a naval rank, in many Earth navies and Starfleet, was above commander.


The naval rank of captain was common in Earth militaries and was used by the United States Navy branch of the United States military and was comparable to the infantry rank of colonel. In the Earth Starfleet, and later the Federation, it was represented by four collar pips.

By the mid-22nd century, captain was a senior line officer rank of most space services and usually given to the commanding officers of starships. This naval rank was equivalent to the Romulan Star Empire's commander grade, the Cardassian Union's title of gul and the Ferengi Alliance's quasi-military DaiMon title.

Captains of starships, often located hundreds of light years away from and out of communications with higher authority, needed to be able to function autonomously and make independent command decisions affecting Federation policy and countless lives. Accordingly, few Starfleet officers ever gained the captaincy of a starship, the result of decades of sustained excellence as a Starfleet leader. (TOS: "Court Martial")

A senior captain given a large degree of responsibility or administrative assignment was sometimes given the title of fleet captain.

The rank of captain could also be held by non-command personnel, especially on ships with a number of veteran and senior officers whose experience had warranted advancement to the rank of captain but without command of a starship. Such was the case on the USS Enterprise-A, where the senior staff consisted of no less than three captains: the commanding officer (James T. Kirk), the first officer (Spock), and the chief engineer (Montgomery Scott). (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) Captain Scott had previously held his rank of captain while chief engineer of the USS Excelsior, where he was known as the "captain of engineering". (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)

Montgomery Scott is shown wearing a captain's rank pin in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, yet a commander's insignia in the final court martial scene of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, possibly indicating that his rank of captain was temporary, or that this rank was revoked due to his taking part in the hijacking of the Enterprise.

The rank of captain could also be held by staff officers, such as those assigned to as a Judge Advocate General sector officer. Such was the case with Phillipa Louvois, who was a sector JAG officer in 2365. (TNG: "The Measure Of A Man") Reaching the rank of captain in other non-command branches of Starfleet was generally considered difficult, as noticed by one security officer, who once remarked "You don't make captain by wearing a gold shirt". (DS9: "The Adversary") However, the rank was apparently obtainable in both the sciences and operations division, as the rank was held by Captain Krasnovsky in 2267, and Commodores Stone and Stocker both surpassed the rank of captain by the same time. Likewise, Admiral Leonard McCoy also surpassed the rank by 2364, as did Vice Admiral Toddman, sometime before 2371. (TOS: "Court Martial", "The Deadly Years"; TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint"; DS9: "The Die is Cast")

Krasnovsky is the only character in Star Trek to be seen wearing a sciences uniform while holding the rank of captain, while Jadzia Dax and Spock held the title of captain in a sciences uniform, but not the actual rank.

Tryla Scott was said to have achieved the rank of captain faster than anyone in Starfleet history as of 2364. (TNG: "Conspiracy")

In the 2360s, K'Vada, Kargan, Korris, Kurn, Larg, and Tel-Peh were captains in the Klingon Defense Force. (TNG: "Heart of Glory", "Redemption II"; DS9: "Dramatis Personae") In the 2150s, Vorok was a captain in the Klingon Imperial Fleet. (ENT: "Unexpected")

When Lieutenant Commander Data was asked in 2368 by Timothy why he wasn't captain of the Enterprise-D, Data explained that "My service experience does not yet warrant such a position." (TNG: "Hero Worship")

Some known Starfleet captains included:

The Starfleet of the alternate reality established in 2233 by the temporal incursion of the Romulan Nero had the following noteworthy captains:

Memorable quotes

"When I got this job, commanding the first warp five ship was about as big a responsibility as I could have imagined. Then we began running into so many... bad guys, and I had to start thinking more about the safety of eighty-three people."
"I want it recorded for all time that I, alone, am responsible for the fate that befell us. I have failed – as a captain. And as the man responsible for all the souls aboard my ship."
"You're a Starfleet captain. You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion, and love."
"You're the captain of this ship. You haven't the right to be vulnerable in the eyes of the crew. You can't afford the luxury of being anything less than perfect. If you do, they lose faith, and you lose command."
"One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it."
"Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material."
– Spock to James T. Kirk, 2285 (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
"He wants the impossible."
"That's the short definition of captain."
"There are three things to remember about being a starship captain. Keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, and never abandon a member of your crew."


Background information

The lead characters in Star Trek productions have traditionally been Starfleet captains. In the broadcast television era, these characters were (in production order) James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), and Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula; the only difference when listed chronologically being that Captain Archer was before the other four captains). This format was the intention from the very first episode of Star Trek, "The Cage", wherein Captain Christopher Pike is established as the lead character. At first, the only exception to the captain-as-series-lead practice was when Sisko was portrayed as a commander during the first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, however in the streaming era, this has become much more common: for example, in Star Trek: Discovery, Captains Philippa Georgiou, Gabriel Lorca, Christopher Pike, and later Saru serve as secondary characters to series lead Michael Burnham, who only becomes a captain herself at the end of the third season after a long story arc. Similarly, Picard follows retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, while Lower Decks follows a group of ensigns.

Regarding the challenge of following the legacy of so many extremely well-established series lead characters who had been Starfleet captains, Discovery Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman commented, "It's incredibly difficult to follow the amazing Starfleet captains that have already been created and beloved by so many. Every single one of them in different ways have been rendered so beautifully and so specifically that they're all tough acts to follow, but I'm sure that, when each one was being conceived, that the creators of those particular captains were scared about, you know, matching the one that had come before." ("Discovering Discovery: The Concepts and Casting of Star Trek: Discovery", DIS Season 1 DVD and Blu-ray special features)

The actors who have appeared in lead roles as Star Trek captains on broadcast television have been extremely varied. Jonathan Frakes remarked, "The five captains are so distinctive because of the five actors that play them, obviously. Patrick [Stewart] was cast against type, coming after Bill [Shatner]. Avery [Brooks], quite obviously, was cast against type, coming after Patrick. It was smart to bring Kate [Mulgrew] in, as a woman, and then Scott [Bakula] had an entire charm of his own. I think [...] whether it was planned or not, it was a very successful endeavor." (The Captains)

The Bajoran Militia, which also used army rank names, has been referred to by the Star Trek Encyclopedia as having a captain grade, with an insignia seen in episodes on officers subordinate to Major Kira Nerys, although they were never referred to by that rank on screen.

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