Ships and Sailors Game

The Ships and Sailors game is a fun way to get a group of people working together and creating bonds. It’s ideal for medium to very large groups, and because it’s an elimination game, the amount of players in each round will shrink. The game is named Ships and Sailors because players follow instructions related to the theme of being aboard a boat or in the ocean. Since there are many different commands, it’s a good idea to practice all of the moves a couple of times through before officially starting the game. This game is best played in large open spaces such as a field or basketball court, so that players can move safely about the boundaries.


  • Select one person to be the “captain.” They will be in charge of calling commands throughout the game.
  • Mark the boundaries of the area as you would a boat. For example, on a basketball court Starboard would be near one basket, while Port is located on the opposite side. The sides are either lines running perpendicular to Starboard and Port.

Practice the commands:

  • Port-North—run in the direction of the marked Port
  • Starboard-South—run in the direction of the marked Starboard
  • Seasick—run to the sides of the boat and pretend to get sick
  • Man Overboard—(2 players) one person is on their hands and knees, while the other puts their knee/foot on that players back and pretends to look overboard.
  • Shark—(1 player) lie on your stomach with an arm up to look like a shark fin.
  • Fish out of water—(1 player) lie on your back kicking your knees like a fish out of water.
  • Jellyfish friends—(2 players) partners face each other and wiggle their arms.
  • Row, row, row your boat—(3 players) 3 players 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—(4 players) 4 players sit as if they were at a table and pretend to eat.
  • Captain on Deck—Freeze where you are, face the captain, and hold the salute position. You can’t break this position until the Captain says, “At ease.” If you follow any other command before hearing “at ease,” then you will be kicked out of the game.
  • At Ease—The only command to release players from “Captain on Deck” position.

How to Play the Ships and Sailors Game

  • Select a captain who will call out the commands during the game.
  • Review the commands listed above.
  • At any point in the game, if someone if the last to perform the command or does the wrong command, then they will be out on the sidelines.
  • Those players who are out can help the captain spot other players to eliminate.
  • The captain will call out the commands for the players to follow.
  • Players will need to listen and react to the commands accordingly. If the command involves a partner, 3 players, or 4 players, then groups will need to form quickly to avoid being eliminated.
  • There are no set partners or groups.
  • At least one person will be eliminated in each round—sometimes more depending on the command.
  • The game is played until the last player is standing.


  • This game can be played with smaller groups if needed.
  • The commands can be adjusted to follow a different theme or response.
  • If physical activity needs to be limited then adjust moves like shark or fish out of water to avoid lying on the ground.
  • The captain can call out commands as quickly or slowly as he or she wants. Command times can be adjusted to increase the competitiveness.

Like this activity? Please check out our other great 100+ icebreakers!

Like these icebreakers? Please help us keep this site FREE by sharing this post: