Can Boat Captains Really Marry People?

Reader Meredith wrote in with a question: "Why can boat captains marry people? Can other people in charge of other large vessels perform weddings?"

Meredith, if you plan to have a boat captain officiate your wedding (how Jim and Pam of you), I hope you read this before leaving port. While a good sailor knows that the captain is the ultimate authority on a ship, his or her power extends only so far. At one point, the United States Navy explicitly stated, "The commanding officer shall not perform a marriage ceremony on board his ship or aircraft."

What about non-Navy captains, though? Well that depends on the captain. They can't perform marriages at sea (or on dry land) by virtue of their maritime license alone, and no state has enacted a statute explicitly authorizing ships' captains to officiate marriages. However, if a captain also falls into one of the categories of "persons qualified to solemnize marriages" prescribed in laws of the state they're in, then they're good to go.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my home sweet home, these qualified persons are:

"¢ Active or retired justices, judges or magisterial district judges of the Commonwealth

"¢ Active or senior judges or full-time magistrates of the District Courts of the United States for the Eastern, Middle or Western District of Pennsylvania

"¢ Active, retired or senior bankruptcy judges of the United States Bankruptcy Courts for the Eastern, Middle or Western District of Pennsylvania who are residents of the Commonwealth

"¢ Active, retired or senior judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit who are residents of the Commonwealth

"¢ Mayors of any cities or boroughs of the Commonwealth

"¢ Ministers, priests or rabbis of any regularly established church or congregation

tribbiani-weddingOther states have their own qualified persons. In Florida, public notaries make the list. New Jersey allows "every minister of every religion" to officiate weddings, even those without "established churches or congregations" (i.e. people who get ordained through the Universal Life Church's website). Massachusetts law allows the governor to "designate non-clergy individuals to solemnize a marriage, such as a friend or a family member," which means just about anyone (even sea captains) can officiate a marriage if they fill out an application and submit a letter of recommendation and $25 fee.

Despite what the laws say, some people have gone ahead and gotten married by plain old boat captains anyway, and the courts have been pretty inconsistent when ruling on the validity of these marriages. In one well-known case, Fisher vs. Fisher, a court ruled that a particular marriage solemnized by a ship's captain was valid (and more generally that, absent a statute stating otherwise, an exchange of vows between two consenting parties constituted a valid marriage). In another case, Norman vs. Norman, a court came down on the opposite side of the fence.

So, kids, if you're planning on having a wedding at sea, make sure your captain is qualified. Or just do it and let the courts sort it out later. Or, if you're in New Jersey, I'd be happy to be ordained in the Universal Life Church and perform an official mental_floss wedding for you. I'll take requests via Twitter.

One-Syllable Presidents
Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too

There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.


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