At some point after Spock becomes the captain but before Kirk does, he gives an order to Chekov who replies "Aye, Commander", then immediately corrects himself, saying "Ah! Captain, sorry, captain". Although Spock was in command and was made "the captain" by Pike, he still retained the rank of commander. Was Chekov wrong, in the sense that he could have been reprimanded as per Starfleet regulations, for calling Spock "Commander"?

  • Nog makes the same error
    – Valorum
    May 24, 2022 at 19:18
  • 9
    This question is unanswerable because the Starfleet rules and regulations around addressing officers, and consequences for addressing them incorrectly, do not exist.
    – Ian Kemp
    May 25, 2022 at 11:36
  • also related: Why was Sisko promoted to captain? May 26, 2022 at 13:02
  • To go sideways, whether any officer has ever given an order to a superior is a matter of historical fact. At the same time, "everyone (interested in things military) knows" there are protocols by which the man on the front line is entitled to say "General, I'm only a (What Rank) and I'm telling you, the situation requires (whatever action)" The downside is career ending if not military prison and perhaps even a firing squad but that's a very different thing. May 26, 2022 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


Commander and Captain are (in current Naval practice) both ranks, but "Captain" is also a job. One can be "the Captain" (commanding officer) without holding the rank of Captain (JFK was captain of a PT boat while holding the rank of LT). However, for clarity and courtesy it is the practice to refer to the Commanding Officer as Captain regardless of rank. Chekov had made an understandable mistake, but it is not likely to result in a reprimand (repeated misaddressal might lead to reprimand and charges).

Quote from Wikipedia (itself paraphrasing The Naval Officer's Guide):

Any naval officer who commands a ship is addressed by naval custom as "captain" while aboard in command, regardless of their actual rank, even though technically an officer of below the rank of captain is more correctly titled the commanding officer, or C.O. Officers with the rank of captain travelling aboard a vessel they do not command should be addressed by their rank and name (e.g., "Captain Smith"), but they should not be referred to as "the captain" to avoid confusion with the vessel's captain

Per the Manual for Courts-Martial (IV-21, paragraph 15; p. 329 of the PDF), the elements of Article 89 (Disrespect to a Superior Officer) are:

  1. Disrespect toward superior commissioned officer.
    • (a) That the accused did or omitted certain acts or used certain language to or concerning a certain commissioned officer;
    • (b) That such behavior or language was directed toward that officer;
    • (c) That the officer toward whom the acts, omissions, or words were directed was the superior commissioned officer of the accused;
    • (d) That the accused then knew that the commissioned officer toward whom the acts, omissions, or words were directed was the accused’s superior commissioned officer; and
    • (e) That, under the circumstances, the behavior or language was disrespectful to that commissioned officer.

Note, I am assuming that US Navy practices carry forward to Starfleet - but Roddenberry's rules for believability state that if you can't imagine a good current US Navy officer doing something, then it shouldn't happen in Star Trek.

  • OK, accepted. Thanks! May 24, 2022 at 19:52
  • 6
    This cannot be the answer because the Starfleet rules and regulations around addressing officers, and consequences for addressing them incorrectly, do not exist. It's a good speculative guess based on the fact that Star Trek was written by an American who presumably would have based these hypothetical rules on those of his own country's navy, but it is still only a guess.
    – Ian Kemp
    May 25, 2022 at 11:38
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    @IanKemp Congratulations! You've just invalidated the answers to 90% of the questions on here!
    – Peter M
    May 25, 2022 at 12:57
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    @Barmar I was reading a thread about how Gene was actually in the Army Air Corps, so it's more like a mismash of AAC quirks and how the Navy might have been perceived by someone in a different service. May 25, 2022 at 15:54
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    @AzorAhai-him- Possibly. But all the ranks mirror Navy ranks, as does much of the language, like "you have the conn", and traditions (burial at sea becomes casting the deceased into space). They even use the boatswain's call. The only one they seem to be missing is the use of "bells" for time of day.
    – Barmar
    May 25, 2022 at 15:58

To elaborate on Valorum's comment, this has been addressed in the DS9 episode "Behind the Lines", where Commander Dax temporarily takes command of a ship.

DAX: Are you two ever going to be finished?

NOG: Just a few more minutes, Commander.

O'BRIEN: That's Captain. It's an old naval tradition. Whoever's in command of a ship, regardless of rank, is referred to as Captain.

The fact that O'Brien calls it a tradition, and not a regulation, indicates that there probably would not be any punishment for Nog calling Dax 'Commander'.

A clip can be seen here:

  • 3
    @LogicDictates Thanks for the welcome, I edited the answer.
    – Helena
    May 26, 2022 at 17:30

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