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"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. As an infantry rank, captains ranked subordinate to a major and above a first lieutenant.

On Earth, the title of captain was used as far back as the Middle Ages, where a captain was a nobleman commissioned to command a company of soldiers. One of the characters of William Shakespeare's play Henry V was quoted as saying "Under what captain serve you?" when approached on guard duty. (TNG: "The Defector")


Infantry rank

During the 20th century, the infantry rank of captain was common in Earth militaries and was used by the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force branches of the United States armed forces. It was comparable to the naval rank of lieutenant and was represented by a double rectangular silver bar uniform insignia for ground units.

In 2364, the Q-entity took the form of a late 20th century US Marine Corps captain during his initial confrontation with Captain Picard. In this disguise, Q was quoted as stating, "All it takes is a few good men." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")

In 2373, Q later took the form of an 1860s Union Army infantry captain during the Q Civil War, while another Q took the form of an 1860s Confederate Army infantry captain. (VOY: "The Q and the Grey")

In 2374, a holodeck simulation of a Nazi campaign in France, a group of Hirogen pitted the crew of USS Voyager against holographic 1940s Germans, a US Army captain named Miller was the role assigned to Chakotay in the program. (VOY: "The Killing Game", "The Killing Game, Part II")

It was also used by Nazi Germany during World War II. In the German Army, the rank was translated as hauptmann (headman), but in the SS, company captains were referred to as hauptsturmführer ("head storm leader"). The collar insignia for this was a black square bordered with white, with three silver pips in a diagonal line, with two stripes underneath.

In the same Hirogen Nazi holodeck campaign, a hauptsturmführer was a key character in the simulation. He was referred to by Brigitte as a hauptmann. (VOY: "The Killing Game", "The Killing Game, Part II")

The Nazi captain in "The Killing Game" was played by J. Paul Boehmer. He was billed as the SS-Kapitän, a Kriegsmarine rank, but his rank insignia was that of the aforementioned hauptsturmführer.

The rank remained in use on Earth well into the 22nd century, where T. Ginwald and T. Pine served as captains in the United Earth Military. (Star Trek Beyond)

Naval rank

The naval rank of captain was common in Earth militaries and was used by the United States Navy branch of the United States armed forces 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, although he may have held command qualification while also being a science officer, and Vice Admiral Toddman presumably held the rank sometime before 2371. (TOS: "Court Martial"; 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. Leonard McCoy also presumably once held the rank, since he was an admiral in 2364, but wasn't seen in a uniform.

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")

According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 2, p. 9), captain was a rank in the Military Assault Command Operations in the 2150s. The insignia for this rank was on display in a diagram of MACO rank and insignia.

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 noted 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 typically been Starfleet captains. In series television, these characters have included (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, although Kirk was portrayed as an admiral, rather than a captain, in the first four Star Trek films. Also, the alternate reality version of Captain James T. Kirk has served as the lead character in three films – Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond – but has never appeared in televised Star Trek. Other instances of breaking the captain-as-series-lead method are in Star Trek: Discovery, which portrays Captains Philippa Georgiou, Gabriel Lorca, and Christopher Pike as secondary characters to series lead Michael Burnham.

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 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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