• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

The naval equivalent of Just Plane Wrong. Writers sometimes get maritime procedures, depictions of naval vessels etc. wrong. Sometimes they Did Not Do the Research or They Just Didn't Care.

Often invoked simply because of practicality—if you're shooting a movie about the Pearl Harbor attack, for example, it's highly unlikely you'll get the Navy to actually raise anchor and ship out so that you can fill it with (ludicrously expensive) period-accurate recreations, so just dress up what ships are there and understand the audience will (hopefully) suspend their disbelief.

See also the Useful Notes on Naval Gazing. Not related to artistic ships.

Examples of Artistic License Ships include:

Anime & Manga

  • Kurogane Pukapuka Tai, an odd mixture of Girls Love romp and World War Two military action, largely avoids this trope.
    • The main ship, the Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Unebi, is fictional, but plausible and explained; its operational history is based on that of real Japanese commerce raiders, although those were converted merchant ships.
    • The German submarine U-800 is a fictional example of a real U-boat class, the IX-C, which is a feasible type to be in the Indian Ocean attacking British shipping.
    • The destroyer HMS Cutlass is a fictional example of the C Class destroyer, and is obviously visually identifiable as the 1931-built class, not the 1943 and onward newer C class. However, the older C class had by then been transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy. However, the almost identical D class was still in service, and it would have worked just fine; it's quite likely the C class was just chosen instead to allow a name beginning with C.
  • Super Atragon: In their effort to stuff more anti-American cliches into the show, the writers overlooked the fact that US battleships are named after states, not abstract concepts. Those are reserved for pre-Nimitz class carriers (USS Independence) or new, headlines-worthy corvettes,[1] such as the USS Freedom.


  • The Spy Who Loved Me has the Soviet submarine (a Murena/"Delta I") missing its fairwater planes.
  • Pearl Harbor featured an impressive effects model of Battleship Row which managed to use the wrong superstructure for the U.S. battleships, despite the production crew having several hundred pictures to work from, and also hideously messed up the sinking of the Oklahoma. There are also several seriously anachronistic ships present, most obviously Spruance-Class guided missile destroyers. Then again, this is the same movie that didn't notice an M26 Pershing tank in stock footage, the Arizona Memorial visible in a movie set before it even sank, or a large building with 'Est 1952' printed on the front.
    • Also in this movie, the Doolittle Raid was launched off of what was obviously a modern carrier, featuring an angled flight deck. These were developed in the mid 50s as jets began being deployed to the fleet. There's also a nuclear submarine sailing in front of the fleet.
      • This is because the two WWII carrier sets were built on the deck of a real-life modern carrier. The Japanese carrier Akagi is a modern carrier in long shots too, and sometimes you can see catapult runs on her deck.
    • One of the Japanese intelligence photographs shows a North Carolina-class battleship. No such ship was in Pearl Harbor at the time.
    • The Queen Mary appears in the movie in her civilian paint scheme: in reality, she was painted battleship grey during the war.
    • Moving the battleships 100 feet apart just so they could film cool sequences of airplanes flying between the rows while Cuba Gooding Jr. shoots at them with .50 caliber machine gun even though he also would have been shooting up the ship moored alongside. The real Doris 'Dorie' Miller was awarded the Navy Cross and certainly deserved a better portrayal of his heroism.
  • The Sum of All Fears (the movie version) shows an American aircraft carrier sailing alone, with no air patrols, within striking range of Russian airfields during a serious international crisis. If this had happened in real life, they would deserve to get sunk.
    • It does have escorts. They are very briefly visible in a single scene, and don't fire a single shot. Yeah.
      • Compared to the novel which was supposedly source material, where the carrier group detects decoy incoming aircraft and orders them shot down - a decision which dramatically increased the situational tension anyway...
  • It is common for warships to be 'played' by other classes of ship.
    • Under Siege had the Iowa-class USS Missouri (BB-63), which was portrayed in most shots by the South Dakota-class USS Alabama (BB-60) (which was conveniently a museum ship).
      • The Alabama's status as a museum ship has allowed to be used for other battleships, such as in the miniseries War and Remembrance.
      • The Longest Day tried to get around this by only showing warships in silhouette, though all that did was exaggerate their anachronistic features, like post-war lattice masts.
  • In any World War II movie, if you see an angle-decked carrier (the catapults go diagonally across the deck), you are seeing something built/modified after the war.
    • Somewhat excusable because almost all straight deck carriers were rebuilt with angled decks after the war, so they didn't exactly have a choice.
  • Averted, partly, in Battle of the River Plate, where the cruisers Achilles and Cumberland were played by the actual Achilles and Cumberland. Then again, Graf Spee was played by the USS Salem, which looked nothing like the real Graf Spee. And Cumberland was minus a turret thanks to a refit.
    • Of course, they couldn't use the real Graf Spee, because it had already been defeated by the other real ships that starred in the movie and scuttled. Even in Hollywood, it's difficult to sink the same ship twice.
    • Lampshaded when the German Captain says sometimes they even disguise themselves as an American cruiser and the captured British merchantman Captain accepts that as being why they have a number painted on the bow. This treads the line between Truth in Television and Very Loosely Based on a True Story because there are plenty of pictures of the real Admiral Graf Spee disguised as a US Navy cruiser—without a hull number—because US Navy cruisers did not display their hull numbers in 1939 either. And, since the newest American cruiser in commission at the time of the battle was USS Helena, hull number 50, the number 139 (Salem's hull number) would have been somewhat ineffective as a disguise.
    • It's the silhouette that counts. By the time you're close enough to read the hull number it's far too late to matter.
    • Besides, the ships are given acting credits during the title sequence - "HMS Sheffield as HMS Ajax" and so on. The USS Salem looks as much like the Graf Spee as Will Smith looks like Muhammad Ali...
  • U-571. Where to start? The plot? The German tugboat destroyer sailing around in the mid-Atlantic?
  • Mostly averted in Das Boot which in fact is praised for its realism of portraying how would be to live in a WWII Uboat. However, there're a few errors, most notably the film taking place in December 1941, when things were going much better for the Kriegsmarine than later in the war (1943 onwards) and the Allies lacked bombers with enough range to bomb La Rochelle. Also, the end of the movie with the U-96 being sank four years before its real world counterpart and in a different place -La Rochelle (France) instead of Wilhelmshaven (Germany).-
  • Avoided entirely in The Caine Mutiny, which replaced the novel's four-piper destroyer-minesweeper conversion with a Gleaves-class conversion. The only problem is that this leaves a few comments about the Caine being a rusty old tub sounding slightly odd, since she would've been less than five years old during the Pacific campaign.
  • And sometimes, you just can't win: the production crew of the John Wayne/Kirk Douglas film In Harm's Way went to a lot of trouble to avoid this by using models for the battle scenes, but sadly they only sailed straight into another trope.
  • In the fourth Star Trek IV the Voyage Home movie, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is played by a ship of a different class: the USS Ranger (CV-61). The Enterprise crewmembers are even wearing USS Ranger ball caps. Not only was the Enterprise out to sea at the time of filming, but the Navy wouldn't have allowed the reactor spaces of the Enterprise to be shown on-screen anyway: its a classified area. The USS Ranger, being among the last of the non-nuclear-powered aircraft carriers until her decommissioning in 1993, was often used by the Navy for filming movies for precisely this reason — not only were her internal spaces not classified, but she was a lower-priority operational unit and was thus available more for filming. USS Ranger appears in Top Gun, and Flight of the Intruder in addition to Star Trek IV the Voyage Home.
  • The film Master and Commander: Far Side Of The World was a refreshing aversion of this trope. As the film, and book it is based on, is part slice-of-life, Royal Navy style, the authenticity and historical accuracy is both essential and commendable. Wooden Ships and Iron Men period pieces are often rife with historical inaccuracy (Director: I don't care if this is set during the Seven Years' War, exploding cannon shot just looks better on screen!), but Master and Commander is thankfully an exception.
    • It also proves very much that realism doesn't have to take away from excitingness or coolness. If anything, the battle sequences were better for the lack of explosions etc.
    • Also an interesting subversion: The plot of the book that the movie borrows heavily from, Far Side Of The World, features the HMS Surprise pursuing a larger American ship (The fictionalized USS Norfolk, based on the real-world USS Essex). The Americans in the movie became French privateers... sailing in an American-built ship.
      • Of course, the only surviving American frigate from that era is the USS Constitution, which was a larger 44 gun "Heavy Frigate" vs the 36 gun Essex. The moviemakers used a detailed model made by digitally scanning the hull of the USS Constitution in Boston to portray the Norfolk. So simultaneously they have Shown Their Work while they also used some artistic license.
    • This was pure pragmatism. They wanted to keep the plot, and the American audience. We don't like to see our countrymen portrayed as the enemy, and doing so would have hurt the film at the box office.
      • More pragmatic than that: the film is set in 1805, at the height of the direct French threat to Britain, which is referenced by the characters and used by Aubrey to motivate the crew before battle. After the Battle of Trafalgar that year, Britain was in no real danger of attack and the French were an insignificant naval threat. During the War of 1812 (when the Royal Navy would be directly combating the United States Navy), there was no threat at all of either country actually conquering the other.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, along with many films featuring Wooden Ships and Iron Men, suffers from a variation - you cannot turn a full-rigged sailing ship simply by spinning the wheel like it's a Formula 1 car. There is a whole array of multi-man, complex procedures for doing so.
    • Not to mention: Jack Sparrow's sinking ship at the start of the first film is impossible. Later on, hilariously, the Royal Navy officer says that the Dauntless "cannot be crewed by two men." Neither can the Interceptor, in reality.
    • Even being a Badass supernatural pirate can only take you so far - if any pirate captain was stupid enough to attack a heavily defended shore installation during the period, he would lose his ship very quickly.
    • Port Royal had been destroyed by the time the films are set in, and Tortuga looks nothing like it does in the film.
    • The whole Maelstrom battle. Yeah. Also, a first-rate ship of the line like the Endeavour could eat a pair of heavy frigates like the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman for breakfast.
  • The Hunt for Red October had the USS Blueback play the Red October. Notable as the Blueback is a diesel fast attack sub rather than a nuclear ballistic missile sub. But the Blueback was at least a modern design.
    • Again, security concerns: the Navy would rather swallow ground glass than put a close-up shot of a nuclear missile submarine on-screen in 1990.
    • And then there was that "supercavitation makes it silent" bit...
      • Technically in the book, it was more akin to Tom Swift Jr. And His Jetmarine—a waterjet for propulsion, and the point was no so much quiet as 'sounding just like background flow', an underwater equivalent of white noise.
      • This trope was also averted hard in the latter half of the film, with the frigate Reuben James being played by the frigate Reuben James.
        • Not so much. The story takes place in the winter of 1984, and the Reuben James (FFG-57) wasn't commissioned until March 1986.
          • It's a Shout-Out to Red Storm Rising, there were Perry-class "figs" in service in 1984.
  • Although much of it was filmed aboard the actual USS Nimitz, with the participation of many of that carrier's crew, the scene in The Final Countdown that showed the carrier sailing into Pearl Harbor, in the present, showed the USS Kitty Hawk, as at the time the movie was filmed, the Nimitz was part of the Atlantic fleet.
    • They wanted it called the Nimitz because that was a plot point. So they couldn't change the name of the ship without changing that.
    • The Nimitz was the most advanced carrier of the time. The name just allowed for a gag about a ship named for a serving admiral.
  • In Titanic they managed to get port and starboard mixed up. For those who want to know, starboard is right and port is left (you can remember by keeping in mind that "port" and "left" both have the same number of letters, or that starboard refers to the positioning of the steering oar before the invention of the rudder (on the right because the pilot is naturally assumed to be right-handed)).
    • This is actually an inversion: With the writers and directors getting it right and that audience thinking otherwise. The officer really did say Hard to Starboard!, and as even a novice Titanic buff knows, the Titanic was hit of the Starboard side. Obviously the officer and helmsman weren't suicidal. In fact, crews and vessels (at least British merchant ships) were still under what are known as "Tiller Commands," which in fact reverses the directions: whereas today it's "Hard To Starboard = Bear Right" and "Hard to Port = Bear Left," using tiller commands it would be "Hard to Port = Bear Right" and "Hard to Starboard = Bear Left." Therefore, if anyone is at fault with this misconception in their film, it's the writers of Pirates Of The Caribbean, due to the fact that, presumably, they would also have been using Tiller Commands during this time period.
  • SOS Titanic has the deck scenes filmed on the Queen Mary, with no attempt to disguise the Cunarder's distinct differences from the White Star ship.
    • The 1953 Titanic film didn't even try to be accurate with the ship's interiors, basically relying on a stock "luxury ocean liner" setting.
  • Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Stock Footage of an Iowa-class battleship is identified as a destroyer. The rest of the movie is equally ridiculous.
    • Blasphemy. That entire movie was 100% accurate. It is the only motion picture that dares to tell the true story of the government's secret mega-shark project.
    • Why is this even being argued?
  • Most of the ships in the Kamikaze movie "For Those we Love" only exist in the FX computers. However there are a number of action and beauty shots of what is recognizably an American Destroyer Escort. Much of the filming was in the Philippines and apparently the crew were able to use the Philippine flagship BRP Rajah Humabon (Ex Cannon-class, USS Atherton, later Naval SDF Hatsuhi). Even better, it still carries its WWII-era 3 inch, 40mm, and 20mm mounts. The only jarring part is the lack of deck clutter near the stern (the depth charges are long gone).
  • Disney's Atlantis the Lost Empire features the Ulysses, a Steampunk submarine that's the size of two aircraft carriers that can dive as deep as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In real life, submarines of that size cannot dive that deep because the high pressure underwater will cause its hull to crack open and take in water. Fortunately, the movie also averts this when the Ulysses gets blown up by the Leviathan when it is halfway from the bottom of the Atlantic, and the submarine crew had to use the ship's escape pods (since this is only possible with the smallest submarines) to reach the bottom.
    • Worse, the Ulysses, as mentioned before, is actually steam-powered. In real life, this is actually impossible because a steam engine, if placed inside a submarine, would actually deplete said submarine of all of its oxygen if it dove underwater, and as a result the crewmembers would all die of asphyxiation because of this.
  • Battleship seems to think that it only takes a handful of men to prep and arm a decommissioned battleship in under an hour. It also thinks that a 50,000 ton warship can perform handbrake turns.
    • Actually not so much. The USS John Paul Jones has a crew of about 280, and the Myoko has about 300. When the JPJ finally went down, we can assume that atleast half of the ships crew got off, and then there's the survivors from the Myoko. Knowing this, we can assume that the surviving crew we don't see numbered in the area of about 100 to 150, MAYBE 200. On top of this, the survivors were well aware of what would happen if they failed to knock out that communications array, so with that kind of pressure, getting a ship ready to sail can get done even faster. Remember, The USS Nevada managed to get under way DURING the attack on Pearl with most of her crew either fighting fires, or shooting at Japanese planes, leaving only a handful to get the engines going. One final point is that the retired Mighty Mo crew was assisting the JPJ/Myoko crew in getting the ship going.
    • One area the film-makers did screw up in however, is the portrayal of John Paul Jones herself. She is the third ship in the Arliegh Burke Class of Destroyers, which means she is a Flight 1. Flight 1s have a helipad, but lack a hanger. The USS Sampson (which was destroyed) is a Flight 2A. These models HAVE a hanger. However, someone in the film studio seemed to think that all Burkes have hangers, which would be excusable if the ship and hull number was fictional, but the USS John Paul Jones is one of the better known of the Destroyer fleet, and there are hundreds of photos to reference from.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who, "World War Three"—a Trafalgar class attack submarine with Trident nuclear missiles?
    • And they used a Harpoon anti-shipping missile against Number 10. Trafalgars carry the Tomahawk, a missile actually designed for use on land targets.
  • Airwolf features a "Delta III" submarine with vertical launched SAMs. Which just happen to look like US Polaris ballistic missiles. Between shots it turns into a US Los Angeles-class boat. The submarines look completely different, with different functions. The "Delta III" doesn't even carry surface-to-air missiles.
    • The "Akula" class can carry SAMs - hand-held ones.

Tabletop Games

  • There are a fair number of older Harpoon scenarios that pit a Soviet carrier group against an American one. The actual Soviet use of the "Kiev" and "Moskva" classes were to defend areas for missile submarines, not engage in a suicidal tangle against a Nimitz group, unless the latter got close to the Soviet mainland. If the Soviets were going to take on a U.S. CBG (Carrier Battle Group), they'd use submarines and/or aircraft. Even then, the Motherland would lose a lot of units in the process.
    • Harpoon predates the current ubiquitousness of AEGIS ships in the USN, meaning there was a greatly increased risk of the heartstopping "SS-N-12 SANDBOX detected. METHOD: Visual" happening. This did not stay true for long after the game's release though.
  • May not apply here but this is the closest thing I've found to a place this piece of critical information belongs: Emperor-class battleships don't launch Space Marine drop pods, and that was probably close to two full chapters they just flung out there.

Video Games

  • Golden Eye 1997 was supposed to feature a La Fayette-class frigate like the movie did; the ship actually looks nothing like the La Fayette and rather more like an American Brooke or Garcia-class.
  • The majority of naval simulators offer far more customization than would be feasible on any Real Life design, along with the usual abstractions.
  • Modern Warfare 3 has one level set in New York harbor, which is an active battleground between American and Russian ships. Quite apart from the aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, Tarantul missile corvettes, and submarines slugging it out at Napoleonic ranges, there's the whole bit about having an SSGN just offshore instead of at standoff distances, or the insanely short minimal range on those SS-N-19s.
    • Modern Warfare in general is just awful about this. In the same battle, you drive over the sunken USS Nimitz (CVN-68), which is stationed in Washington state. Even worse was in 2, when the Sixth Fleet was transplanted from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.


  • Often, store bought ship models are simply a generic ship of the hull type with different numbers put on the decal strip.
    • Though this is rarely true of capital ship models, since these are sufficiently high-profile that people will be interested in buying specific ones. It is, however, often the case that the kit will reflect an odd mish-mash of equipment fits from throughout the ship's service life rather than the ship at a particular set point in time. Which is why aftermarket parts exist.
  • Any documentary about WWI and WWII combat suffers from the absolute dearth of interesting stock footage (photographs are in better supply). Reasonably savvy history buffs can generally tell you exactly what ship you are seeing (and often enough, when the footage was shot). General rule, if the battleship has triple turrets and is rolling over slowly that's Szent Istvan an Austro-Hungarian ship from WWI (sunk by Italian torpedo boats). If the ship finishes turning over and then explodes, that's HMS Barham (WWII Med, U-Boat torpedoes). These two ships comprise 90% of all "ships sinking" footage that don't involve flak and aircraft carriers.
  • The museum ship HMS Belfast, moored in the River Thames, has its 1950s weapons layout, but its D-Day paint scheme. This was deliberate, but still annoys some people.
  • John Winton's novel Aircraft Carrier combines this trope with Just Plane Wrong: the fictitious HMS Furious (probably based on the real HMS Hermes) defends itself against enemy missile attacks with 60s-vintage Seacat missiles (good in their day, but by no means an adequate anti-missile defense even in the 1980s) and 40mm Bofors guns (only an adequate anti-missile defense if Lady Luck is at the controls) while the Sea Harriers of its air group carry AMRAAM missiles. By the time AMRAAM was available to the Fleet Air Arm, 20mm Phalanx anti-missile guns and the much superior Seawolf point defense missile would have been available to a fictitious aircraft carrier.
    • Continued from above, the aviation blunder has the ship's air group sacrifice itself by going out to tackle an incoming bombing raid and then being unable to land back on the carrier due to rough weather, whereas in fact the Harrier, of all aircraft, is best suited to doing this (the pilots elect to eject and be picked out of the sea, and drown to a man instead; the author appears to have done this for dramatic effect, in order to make the carrier's gun and missile fit the only thing that was still defending the convoy).
    • Partly averted by the same novel, to be fair, when the fires on the ship are licking at the walls of the missile magazines. The captain orders them flooded to prevent the ship from exploding, despite the fact that there are still men inside. This has been done in the World Wars, and would be done again if necessary. Whether the missiles would survive the dunking is another matter.
  • The BBC's online news has become infamous for referring to anything larger than a dinghy as "a battleship".
    • Also common in fiction. Video games and television programmes like to refer to any seagoing military vessel which isn't submersible as a 'battleship'. A battleship is a specific type of warship, and one that hasn't seen much use since World War II. The term battlecruiser is even more specific, and similarly misused.
  • Fox News Channel once reported on seven U.S. battleships leaving for Iraq!
    • ... And?
      • Battleships were huge, heavily armored and armed ships that were rendered obsolete decades ago by the development of anti-ship missiles and guided bombs. The US only maintain one, the Iowa, and that's mostly for show.
        • And even she's now been retired and a museum ship in California, though they are required to keep her in a state such that she can be reinstated if necessary
  • Ironically, nearly every movie that uses models to portray real ships also fails to pay shipping charges, if only because it's impossible to scale water.
  1. or, Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) if you're a US Navy officer