Ships and sailors game

‘Ships And Sailors’ Game: At Ease, Sailors!

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Have you ever played ‘Simon says’? Well, the ‘Ships and sailors’ game is pretty much the same thing. If you’re a tutor, you should know that this one is a great choice for active children that love group games because it not only creates and strengthens a bond between them but also teaches them to listen to each other and respect a given set of rules. All these – while having lots of fun. 

Players and purposes

One player is named ‘captain’, while the others become ‘sailors’. The captain is supposed to stand in front of the sailors, calling out commands, while the rest must follow them. 

‘Ships and sailors’ is an elimination challenge, so the goal of the players should be to stay in the game as long as possible. This is appropriate for children aged 6 to 12, for medium to very large groups. You should have at least 5 players, to begin with, because remember, the number of players will shrink after each round.  


‘Ships and sailors’ is a great outdoor team building activity for youth, a nice camping game for kids, and something to be played during fun family gatherings, or backyard get-togethers. Anything, just to keep the tiny ones entertained! With this in mind, you must have already figured out that this is no indoor game. ‘Ships and sailors’ is best played in an outdoor setting where kids can run around and move safely within the boundaries. A large field or a football/basketball court would do the trick. 

Next, establish the boundaries of your playing area. Mark the starboard and the port on opposite sides of the court. The sides will be the lines running perpendicular to the starboard and port. Make sure the players are familiar with these denominations. 

Ships and sailors game: Rules / Commands

Your players must know a few more things before starting the ‘Ships and sailors’ game: the commands and their meaning. 

  • ‘Captain on deck’ = Players must face the captain, hold the salute position, and freeze
  • ‘At ease’ = Players are allowed to break the ‘captain on deck’ position only after hearing ‘at ease’. If they follow any other command before ‘at ease’, they are out.
  • ‘Port-north’ = Players must run in the direction of the marked port.
  • ‘Starboard-south’ = Players must run in the direction of the marked starboard.
  • ‘Ships = Players must go to the left. 
  • ‘Sailors’ = Players must go to the right.
  • ‘Seasick’ = Players must run to the sides of the boat and act sick.
  • ‘Shark’ = Players must lie on their stomach with an arm up trying to look like a shark.
  • ‘Fish out of water’ = Players must lie on their back, kicking their knees like a fish out of water.
  • ‘Man overboard’ = Requires groups of 2: One has to be on their hands and knees, while the other has to put their foot on their back, and pretend to look overboard.
  • ‘Jellyfish friends’ = Requires groups of 2: They must face each other and wiggle their arms.
  • ‘Row your boat’ = Requires groups of 3: Players must sit in a line and pretend to row a boat, while singing ‘Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream/ Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is what a dream!’
  • ‘Dinnertime’ = Requires groups of 4: Players must sit as if eating at a table.


  • If players don’t complete an action or they don’t find a group for the commands that require one, they are out of the game. 
  • The commands can be adjusted, depending on the number of players involved, their strong points, and their weak points. You can juggle with them to increase or decrease the level of difficulty. 
  • For example, If physical activity needs to be limited, adjust the ‘shark’ or the ‘fish out of water’ to avoid lying on the ground. 
  • Another example would be to have the captain call out commands quickly or slowly.

How to play the ‘Ships and sailors’ game?

  1. First, you must decide who is the captain that is going to call out the commands. 
  2. Next, you need the make sure all players are aware of the boundaries of the ‘boat’ and the meaning of each command.
  3. In each round, the player who is the last to perform the given command or makes the wrong move is out of the game.
  4. The players who are put out can stay on the sidelines and help the captain spot the players that need to be eliminated next.
  5. Players must listen and react to the commands fast. If these commands involve a partner, 3 players, or 4 players, then they must act accordingly to avoid being thrown out of the game.
  6. There are no set partners or groups.
  7. At least one person has to be eliminated after each round. Sometimes, even more, depending on the command.
  8. The ‘Ships and sailors’ game is played until the last player stands. That one is declared the winner.

Hopefully, we’ve helped you kick off a great team building activity for children! Check out other fun activities on eTeamBuilding:

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