Gather your group in the centre of the playing space, and ask them to imagine they are standing on the deck of a tall-ship.
Indicate where the bow, stern, port and starboard positions of the ship are, in relation to the space.
When you call a command, each person is expected to respond as quickly as possible, eg move to the stern.
In addition to instructing your group to move to the “BOW,” “STERN,” “PORT” and “STARBOARD” positions, other calls may include:
– “ATTENTION” – individuals stand to attention, saluting with their right hand.
– “SWAB THE DECK” – individuals get on their hands and knees and scrub the deck.
– “SAILOR OVERBOARD” – everyone lies on the floor and wiggles their arms and legs in the air.
– “LIFEBOATS” – three people form a single file line, sit down and pretend to row a boat.
– “RIG THE SAILS” – two people join hands and pretend to be setting up the sails.
Start the game by making your first of a series of commands in quick succession, waiting a few moments between each command.
Continue for several minutes, or try a variation.
How To Play Narrative
This exercise has been passed down from many generations, so it is often known by different names, with many different actions. This is how I recall it being played as Shipwreck in my youth group days.
With everyone gathered around, teach your group a series of sea-worthy chores to perform on an imaginary tall ship’s deck.
First of all, point out where or along which boundaries of your playing space are the bow (front,) stern (rear,) port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the ship can be located.
As a form of warm-up, test your group’s reaction by making a series of commands, inviting your group to move to those positions as quickly as possible.
When ready, describe and demonstrate the appropriate actions for the following commands:
“ATTENTION” – individuals stand to attention, saluting with their right hand.
“SWAB THE DECK” – individuals get on their hands and knees and scrub the deck.
“SAILOR OVERBOARD” – everyone lies on the floor and wiggles their arms and legs in the air.
“LIFEBOATS” – three people form a single file line, sit down and pretend to row a boat.
“RIG THE SAILS” – two people join hands and pretend to be setting up the sails.
The game resumes with everyone standing on the deck, ie centre of your space. You, the ‘Captain,’ will then issue a series of commands, including instructions to send everyone to the “BOW,” “STERN,” “PORT” and “STARBOARD” sides of the deck.
Start the game by making your first random call, then wait a few moments for your group to respond accordingly. Then, follow it up quickly with another call. Basically, keep them moving.
You need to understand that the ‘captain’ is a masochist, because he or she loves to send people to the bow, then the stern, to rig the sails, then back to the bow, to the port, to swab the deck, all within 30 seconds.
This high-energy exercise is ideal for large groups, is suspenseful and fun, and comes with no particular ending. Unless of course, you take on a popular variation below (see Variations tab.)
Practical Leadership Tips
Like many games of this nature, a quick game is a good game. As ‘Captain’ you are encouraged to issue your commands quickly, giving little time for people to think or catch their breath between commands.
If you are playing in a room (with four walls), caution your group about the impact of charging recklessly into the four edges (wall) of the ship.
As noted in the Variations tab, there are certainly elimination formats to this game. Your context is your choice – when in doubt, keep as many people moving as possible.
The game is sometimes called Captain’s Calling, which is a very descriptive label. For some reason, I have always known it as Shipwreck, even though, I now realise, there was never any wrecking of ships!
You could integrate Shipwreck as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a really healthy dose of physical activity and a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to ensure that everyone enjoys playing the game may speak to the benefits of having developed a strong sense of safety consciousness in advance of the activity. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see to keep their interactions safe.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Shipwreck could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Elimination Rounds: Introduce an elimination element. People can be eliminated when:
– One or more sailors are the last to perform a particular chore, or get to the designated side of the deck;
– One or more sailors are the ‘odd one out’ when they cannot form a complete team to perform a chore;
– When the captain calls “ATTENTION,” he /she must say “AT EASE” before anyone can perform the next chore, ie a sailor is eliminated (lost at sea) when they respond (move) to a trick command.
Sailor Rescue: To give the elimination format of the game longevity, when you call “SAILOR OVERBOARD,” everyone who is still on deck, may rescue a sailor who has been eliminated.
Your Own Commands: As shown in the Video Tutorial, you are encouraged to make up your own array of commands, actions and themes for the game. If possible, involve your group in this creative process.
Hilarious & highly energetic small team energiser.
Robbing The Nest
Fast-paced & engaging energiser for all group sizes.
Quick-movement energiser to teach safety consciousness.
Useful Framing Ideas
The film Pirates of the Caribbean inspired an interest among young people, particularly boys, about sailing on the high seas. Even for adults, there is a certain romance of tackling the far horizons of the ocean, and living life at sea. As you can imagine, there is very little room on-board a tall ship, and there is a lot to be done to sail the ship successfully. And the most important person on board is the Captain. Whatever he or she says, must be followed. That’s exactly what happens in this next game…
Shortly, your group will be challenged with a problem to solve that will require rapid responses to certain information. I’ll discuss that exercise in a moment, but for now, I would like to develop and sharpen your listening and reflex skills, not to mention, your ability to work with others in this next activity…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this energetic, large group game:
What did you notice as you attempted to respond to all of the commands?
What was necessary to help you respond successfully to each command?
Where else in your life/work/school do you need to respond quickly and accurately?
The inspiration for Shipwreck, and many more large group, running games, was sourced from the following publication: