During the events of the Star Trek: The Next Generation 2-parter, The Best of Both Worlds, Riker received a field promotion to Captain while Picard was assimilated. Does this mean that Riker should be considered a Captain of the Enterprise? Or, as it was a field promotion, and not a proper promotion, does this mean he should not be considered a legitimate equal to such greats as Kirk and Picard in the annals of history?

  • 7
    Sorry, I'm not quite certain what the exact question is. "Captain" as in "held rank of Captain" or "Is among people who captained Enterprise"? Yes to both, by definition. "Captain" as in "holding rank of Captain"? No, since Picard returned to duty. "legitimate equal to greats"? In the eye of the beerholder. Nov 18, 2011 at 22:06
  • According to Memory Alpha, Riker was an official captain of the Enterprise-D. Also, Cpt Edward Jellico in the 2-parter "Chain of Command".
    – Raven13
    Nov 18, 2011 at 22:52
  • Wouldn't a Field commissions need to be approved and verified by starfleet? so maybe this doesn't count, I was going to suggest he was Captain of the Enterprise in "All Good Things..." but on checking he actually an Admiral !!
    – AidanO
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:35
  • 1
    The word you are looking for is en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brevet_(military)
    – Gaius
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:44

6 Answers 6


Is Riker an official captain of an Enterprise? I guess that depends on your definition of who is a captain of an Enterprise. Technically, yes, Riker held a temporary field commission of Captain. But if you're going to apply that, then I believe you must also include a number of the TOS characters as well, who all held the rank of captain within Starfleet, even though they didn't hold the center chair. At the very least, as I recall, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhura and Sulu were all captains while serving aboard the Enterprise A. And you have to include Christopher Pike, Decker and whatever the names were of the two captains of the Enterprise B and Enterprise C that appear in the tv show and movies. C'mon, if you know their names without looking them up, you really need to get out more.... :)

But when it comes down to it, there is a huge difference between technically being a captain of the Enterprise and who you think about when you think of the Captains of the Enterprise. That's really what it comes down too. Was Riker a captain? Sure, for a couple days. Do we think about Riker when we're thinking about Captains of the Enterprise? For 99.9999% of us: Not a chance.

  • 11
    I think you're wrong in your definitions, one is not the captain because one holds the rank of captain and is on a ship, one is the captain because they command the ship (Sisko was captain of the Defiant, but was a commander in rank). Riker was captain of the Enterprise, because he commanded it. Spock and Decker were also captains of an Enterprise because they commanded it, but Scott and Uhura were not captains of the Enterprise because they weren't commanding it.
    – dkuntz2
    Nov 20, 2011 at 2:02
  • 1
    There are many who "command" a ship. Worf and Kira commanded the Defiant on multiple missions. Are they considered captains of the Defiant? Chekov, Scott, Spock and Sulu all commanded the Enterprise on many occasions while Kirk was away or a prisoner of someone or other (which seemed to happen quite a bit...). Spock was even the official Captain of the Enterprise at the start of the Wrath of Khan. But that doesn't change my central premise in that none of them are considered by the fan base as Captains of the Enterprise, while all of them technically were at one point or another.
    – BBlake
    Nov 20, 2011 at 13:20
  • 2
    By command the ship, I mean those who were placed as the CO of the ship by Starfleet Command. Worf and Kira commanded the ship, yes, but they weren't made the CO by Starfleet command. The same goes for Checkov, Scott and Sulu (and Crusher). I consider Spock to be A Captain Of The Enterprise, because Command made him the CO, same with Deckard.
    – dkuntz2
    Nov 20, 2011 at 21:13
  • 2
    @dkuntz2: The commander of the ship is the captain, always, regardless of rank. "Behind The Lines" makes it explicit, as O'Brien explains to Nog that he should call Jadzia "Captain" for as long as the Defiant is hers. That being said, there are plenty of occasions where Sisko was still called "Commander" whilst commanding the Defiant, so it's far from universally applied. Aug 4, 2014 at 17:10
  • 2
    "Captain" can be a position or a rank or both.
    – Morgan
    Aug 6, 2014 at 22:04

Yes, Riker was captain of the Enterprise, for a short amount of time. This is because he was the commanding officer of the Enterprise (not just the ranking officer on board, but was in command of the ship itself).

BBlake's point about the fact that several officers whom held the rank of captain (Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhura, and Sulu) weren't The Captain Of The Enterprise because they weren't the commanding officers (except in the case of Spock, who was a Captain of the Enterprise).

Please, check out the bottom of any person who was given command of an Enterprise on Memory-Alpha. There is a list of "Commanding officers of The starships Enterprise". And before someone points out it says Commanding officers and not captain, please check out Captain#Starfleet Captains on Memory Alpha, which states the following:

On starships, the term captain is also often used as a synonym to commanding officer. Proper naval parlance says that, even if a vessel is commanded by an officer whose rank is lower than captain, that officer is still able to be referred to as a captain while on the deck of their own vessel, no matter their literal commissioned rank.

Which means that yes, Riker was captain of the Enterprise.


Yes, William T. Riker was, for a brief time, the official captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D. His name would be included in the vessel's command history.

He was given a field promotion and control of the ship by Admiral Hanson during the events of The Best of Both Worlds, parts 1 and 2.

Whether Riker is a heavyweight in the sense of Kirk or Picard is up to history. We can all assume that Riker enjoyed a storied career after his stints on the Enterprise D and the Enterprise E — enough to make him an admiral in at least one timeline...



Background on meaning of usage of "Captain" (in order to clarify the sense(s) in which this response answers the question)

As has been discussed in other answers and comments on this question, there is more than one usage of the word "captain". Captain is, first and foremost, a naval rank, used by Starfleet. Someone may hold the official rank of captain with or without having a ship to his or her name. (There may be a period of time where a captain is not assigned to the command of a starship, for various reasons.) Captain is also used to address the person who has been "given the conn" by the officer most recently in charge of the ship (an officer who may or may not be the official captain of the vessel.)

As an in-universe example, Kirk might leave the Enterprise with an away party and leave the conn to Spock. It is then customary for anyone serving on ship to address Spock as "Captain" (even though Spock's official rank was "Commander" during the TOS years). This usage occurs especially in an affirmative to a direct order, i.e. answering "Yes, Captain" to whomever is in the Captain's chair. This usage of captain is customary, not official. Furthermore, it would be both awkward and incorrect for an officer to answer an order with "Yes, Captain Spock", as this would be inferred as an incorrect assessment of Spock's rank. In any case, if Spock were to then also join the away party, he may opt to leave the conn to Scott, who then is addressed as "Captain" by fellow officers (and so on).

In terms of Riker, he was left in charge of the bridge in many episodes, and therefore was "captain" in the customary sense on many occasions. However, Riker was captain in both the official and customary senses during The Best of Both Worlds. It was Starfleet's opinion that Picard (discovered to have been assimilated by the Borg and given the designation "Locutus") was irretrievable. Shortly before his death in the Battle of Wolf 359, Fleet Admiral Hanson bestowed upon Riker a field promotion to captain and gave him control of the Enterprise. It is safe to assume that Hanson had the command codes of the Enterprise formally transferred over to Riker, although this is not seen on-screen.

In Starfleet, field promotions are legitimate promotions regarding the career of active-duty officers. They are neither temporary nor honorific. Every Starfleet vessel has a "command history", indicating the individuals who were in possession of the vessel's command codes over its service life. Riker would be listed as the official captain, during the stardates of The Best of Both Worlds.



The command history of the Enterprise D, in chronological order:

  • Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

  • Capt. William Thomas Riker (during The Best of Both Worlds parts 1 and 2, then willingly and honorably downgraded to Commander upon Picard's return to active duty)

  • Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

  • Capt. Edward Jellico (during Chain of Command parts 1 and 2)

  • Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

Picard's captaincy of the Enterprise D ended when the ship was left unsalvageable during the film Generations.


Since Starfleet tends to follow US military traditions, let's look what they do. In the US military, by law, an officer not on active duty is allowed to be addressed by their highest rank achieved during wartime, even if it was a temporary commission.

(e) A person not on active duty who served honorably in time of war in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps may bear the title, and, when authorized by regulations prescribed by the President, wear the uniform, of the highest grade held by him during that war.

For example, George Custer is properly addressed as General Custer even though his permanent rank (and the one he held when he died) was Colonel. I think this speaks to the idea that temporary wartime commissions are considered serious business in the military.

Riker was given sole command of the Enterprise by Starfleet Command while having the rank of Captain, and he commanded the Enterprise in battle. This differentiates him from others who commanded the Enterprise in Picard's temporary absence. I think it would be fair to say Riker was a Captain of the Enterprise.

Whether he's one of the "greats" is something else entirely, but he did whip Picard's butt... twice.

  • Schwern Custer led brigades and divisions during the Civil War as brigadier general and then major general of United States Volunteers, while also being a lieutenant and then a captain in the United States Army - 2 different ranks in 2 different armies. After being mustered out of US volunteers Custer remained a captain until promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 7th US cavalry. Custer also was given the largely honorary brevet ranks of Colonel, brigadier general, & major general in the US Army, which gave him the right to be addressed as general and wear a general's uniform when off duty. Feb 2, 2018 at 19:46
  • Schwern - My point is that Custer was not called "general" while in the regular army because he had once been a general in another army, the US Volunteers, but because he had commissions as brevet brigadier general and brevet major general in the regular army. Similarly, Custer didn't call Captain Benteen "Colonel Benteen" because Benteen had once been a colonel in the US volunteers, but because Benteen had a commission as brevet colonel in the US Army. Feb 2, 2018 at 19:52
  • Schern - to put it more simply, if asked Custer would have said something like: "I am not called general because I WAS a major general of US Volunteers, but because I AM NOW a brevet major general in the US Army." Am, not was. Riker's promotion to captain was intended to be permanent but he resigned it and then he was called "commander" not "captain". Similarly Dr. Crusher wore commander's pips and was never called admiral after returning from being "Chief of Starfleet Medical" even though she was probably a temporary admiral while in charge of Starfleet Medical. Feb 2, 2018 at 20:06
  • @M.A.Golding To avoid a detailed history of Custer, here's a list of his promotions and ranks. Yes, Regular and Volunteer Army had separate ranks and it got weird, but both were US Army. Regardless, when not on active duty you were referred to by your highest rank achieved in the US Army. Riker was a Brevet Captain, so under these rules when not on active duty he would be Captain Riker. Beyond that, I'm not sure what point you're making?
    – Schwern
    Feb 2, 2018 at 20:19
  • @M.A.Golding If you want to discuss the particular details of Custer's ranks and what he would be called at particular times and situations we can do that on History.SE. I don't see how it materially changes this answer except that ranks can get really complicated. This is why nearly everyone has standardized on numbers with the names being tradition. A naval "Captain" would be NATO OF-5, US O-6. I'm sure the TNG Starfleet 4 solid pips has an underlying number.
    – Schwern
    Feb 2, 2018 at 20:29

In Star Trek, field promotions are as valid as any promotion (even though Riker agreed to get demoted back to commander, a decision forced by the writers). Consider Wesley Crusher and Nog, both had field promotions and their ranks were valid.


In the final episode of TNG, "All Good Things", Admiral Riker shows up to save Captain Beverly Crusher from a Klingon attack. Admiral Riker is in command of the Enterprise and stated something about it being nice to keep hold of his old ship.

I guess that means he was a Captain of the Enterprise; in a different time line.

Garret was included in a list of Captains, but that two was an alternate timeline. Was she a Captain in the original TNG timeline?

And now, with the reset done in the last movie, is a timeline even a relevant factor when considering who was a Captain of the Enterprise?

  • Yes, Captain Garret was the Captain of the Enterprise C in both timelines. The history known by our TNG crew includes the Enterprise C destroyed by the Romulans while protecting the Klingon outpost at Narendra III. Dec 27, 2013 at 23:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.