Through seven Star Trek television series and 13 movies, we have followed the adventures of various ships and crews of Starfleet, the peacekeeping, scientific and humanitarian arm of the United Federation of Planets. Starfleet is run similar to a military operation with ranking officers, rules and regulations. Any Star Trek fan can tell you that Starfleet captains and their crews don’t always have time to follow the extensive, common sense based rules of the Federation. When the Borg is breathing down your neck, you don’t really have time to check your uniform and make sure it’s following the proper code. Also, no one was keeping track of how soon correspondence was being returned during the Klingon War. There are a lot of Star Trek episodes that feature captains from other ships showing up on various versions of the Enterprise and commenting on how the crew seems less formal and structured than others. While that is certainly true, this doesn’t mean they don’t respect their captains or follow the rules set forth.
Whether it’s Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Archer, Janeway, Georgiou or Lorca, every captain knows that while the rules are essential to their survival, they also can’t dictate a response to intense, emergency situations. It’s not uncommon to see senior officers using their own judgement instead of Starfleet’s rigid regulations. Actually, most episodes revolve around the captain making a tough decision that will help a civilization but may be against the law. Knowing the importance of trusting our captains, it’s time to take a look at the weirdest rules Starfleet officers must follow.
In Enterprise, we see that transporters are still a new form of technology, so not everyone is really comfortable with them or how to operate them.
There are a lot of rules on how Transports can be safely used. This is all great until Montgomery Scott comes along.
Scotty doesn't just break the transporter rules, he re-writes them. In the rebooted films, Simon Pegg’s Scotty is an expert on transporters. He not only pulls off amazing feats with them, but he goes on to literally write the book on them. Over and over, throughout all three movies, we see Scotty transport people while the ship is at warp.
It makes absolute sense that Starfleet would not want both the Captain and the First Officer on an away mission at the same time. Obviously, a senior officer needs to stay in command of the ship. Unfortunately, whoever made this rule clearly never served with Captain Kirk. Nearly every episode features he and Spock heading down to a planet to explore.
Usually, Scotty is left in command when this happens. It’s not that we don’t trust him, but maybe just once Kirk could have let his officers report back and do their jobs. Maybe a few of those redshirt crew members would have made it back to the ship safely if he had been more cautious?
General Order 7 says that no ship can ever visit the planet Talos IV. This traces back to the original Enterprise commanded by Captain Pike. This order cannot be disregarded, even in the case of emergency. Clearly, Starfleet takes this seriously, as it’s the only penalty that leads to the loss of life in the Federation.
After a negative exploration mission to Talon IV, the Federation banned all Starfleet from exploring the planet.
Upon the Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV, they were captured and tricked by the Talosians, who have the power to make others see imaginary hallucinations. They fear this power would destroy others the way it destroyed them, so they have resigned themselves to live in isolation. These events have been classified by Starfleet, so modern day ships don’t know why they can’t go near the planet, they just know the penalty is the loss of life.
While it makes perfect sense that the captain shouldn’t head into dangerous situations without security, we know that the captains we’ve met will probably never follow that rule. When they’re just trying to make a point and do that intimidating captain thing, obviously they bring the scariest person they can, usually Worf or Tuvok.
However, if their ship or crew is compromised there’s no way they’re waiting for security to show up. How many times have we watched Kirk, Picard, Archer or Janeway literally run into the fire to protect the crew? They’re not calling security or waiting for back up. Becoming a Starfleet Captain isn’t easy, so it seems the people who get these jobs aren’t exactly the safe type.
Every military has a rule about commanding officers stepping aside when they become emotionally compromised and Star Trek is no different. We’ve seen Picard give Data command when the crew was physically or psychologically injured. Perhaps, the worst example of this rule not being followed was Lorca on Discovery.
A captain should be thinking of their crew first. If they aren't emotionally up for the job, they should step down and let the First Officer command.
He was clearly not acting as any reasonable captain would, and should have stepped down. Of course, he was an evil mirror version and they don't usually play by the rules. We understand they were at war, but it’s stunning that it took Burnham so long to figure out that something wasn’t right with her captain.
What is the point of being the captain, if you don’t get to break the rules from time to time. Obviously, Kirk commands away missions all the time, so he clearly doesn’t care about this regulation. In fact, he may spend more time off the ship than on it. It’s actually a running joke between Picard and Riker about him going on an away mission when he feels like it.
At this point, it’s part of Star Trek’s DNA that the captains will be the most adventurous person on the ship. Archer, Sisko, Janeway, Georgiou, they all go on away missions when they see fit. This rule isn’t worth the tablet it’s processed on.
If there’s one thing that’s become clear about Star Trek over the years, it’s that human and alien interpersonal relationships are going to happen. As a matter of fact, they seem to happen quite often. It’s basically like any other workplace, romances are going to happen. In this case, they sometimes involve aliens.
It may seem a bit invasive that members of Starfleet have to get permission from their commanding officer and medical officer if they want to have a relationship with an alien.
Starfleet has prepared for this and has a health regulation requiring officers to get permission from their commanding and medical officers before having a relationship with an alien. We really want to see how that awkward conversation played out between Riker, Picard and Dr. Crusher. Do you think they said, “Seriously Will, again?” Maybe they just gave him a stock form to fill out every time.
It’s shocking to find out that the evolved and enlightened Federation has a standing order for the destruction of all life on a planet. It’s only to be used if it’s deemed to be a clear and present danger, but come on, why is this even a thing?
Isn’t the whole point of the Federation supposed to be that we’ve all grown beyond this kind of thing. Also, who decides if a planet is a clear and present danger because that sounds like way too much power for any one person to have. Plus, with the exception of a few dangerous and vicious species, we all know that none of our captains would follow that order.
Starfleet’s correspondence code of conduct says that any correspondence to a senior officer must be responded to by said officer. We understand this is just standard protocol in most militaries, but when you’re in the middle of a space battle or your ship is caught in a time loop, there’s no time to worry about proper rules of correspondence.
Responding to a formal correspondence call immediately can become a hassle to captains. What if they're on an important call with another alien race?
This would have been a hilarious moment in an episode. What if Picard put the Cardassians on hold so he could return some Admiral’s check-in message. While we can imagine Picard and possibly Janeway were fairly prompt with their responses, you just know Kirk, Archer, and Sisko were always too busy to worry about returning messages.
One of the greatest additions The Next Generation made to the Star Trek franchise was the idea of a holodeck. We all wish we had a magic room in our house, where we could go and live out our best fantasies. For the most part, everyone seems to use the holodeck responsibly, with Lt. Barclay being the exception of course.
However, we’re kind of shocked that there’s no rule preparing for the inevitable officer who goes crazy. Yes, there are safety protocols in place, but no regulations against unauthorized recreation. We all saw what happened in the Black Mirror episode "USS Callister".
We’ve all seen that moment in every police show, where the cop stops someone, flashes their badge, and says “I need to commandeer your car for police business.” Apparently, that’s something that could also happen in space. There’s a little-known regulation that allows senior officers to take command of a private ship during an emergency.
The only place where we could see this being possible is with Voyager in the somewhat lawless Delta Quadrant. We’ve met some pretty disreputable pirates and smugglers in the Star Trek universe, so we would advise officers to use this one at their own peril. We can’t imagine it’s a rule that gets called upon very often.
In The Original Series, we often see Kirk taking a lot of liberties with Starfleet rules and orders. Sometimes it’s because the situation has changed and warrants a new approach, while other times it’s just Kirk being Kirk. Well, it turns out there’s a regulation called personal authority as captain, where they can instruct their crew that captain’s orders override others.
Kirk must have enjoyed using the personal authority as captain rule, as he'd be able to override any rules set in place by the Federation.
It’s a rarely used rule, as most captains prefer to follow orders. It was really only supposed to be used during emergencies, after which the captain’s conduct would be investigated. However, Kirk took advantage of it a lot more than his counterparts.
It’s fairly common for militaries to have some measure of influence over businesses that operate on bases, so it’s no surprise that Starfleet has a similar rule. This is a regulation that must specifically apply to Quark’s Bar on Deep Space Nine. Run by Ferengi Quark, it was the social center of the station.
Quark was constantly in trouble for his get rich quick schemes, but he also seemed to know there was a limit to how much Sisko would let him get away with. In his case, the rule could have been applied much stricter than it was, but luckily Sisko understood that the benefits of having Quark's in business, outweighed following the law and probably closing it down.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all the Star Trek we’ve watched, it's that there’s always something happening in space. Yes, some missions are more action-packed than others, but there’s always a new planet to explore or race to meet. With everything moving at warp speed all the time, no one has time to worry about if they’ve put the proper punctuation in their reports.
Even Starfleet has guidelines to write reports. They can't have reports written all willy-nilly.
Besides, how long does a report need to be that says “we encountered unstoppable robots and they want to assimilate us all. Resistance is futile.” It’s short and to the point. We appreciate using proper grammar, but how bad were the reports that they had to make this an actual regulation?
In the heat of battle, there’s no time to look up the regs and figure out who’s in charge, so it made perfect sense when Captain Janeway said that the ship with tactical superiority was in command. She was a fan of quoting rules, as she saw them as the one thing Voyager’s crew could cling to during their dire situation.
Captains have to know when to back down from a battle and let a ship with tactical superiority take over.
Of course, this may have turned out to be one of the captain’s clever gambits to turn the battle back in her favor. If it’s not an actual rule and just something she made up on the spot, we think it probably should be an idea Starfleet seriously considers.
This is another one of those common sense regulations, that we have to wonder what happened that someone felt the need to put it down in the rulebook. Of course, senior officers need armed escorts into hazardous areas. As the security officer for the Enterprise, Worf would have had Picard escorted at all times.
We can’t argue with the validity of this one, but it seems like it didn’t work out very often as the officers ended up in trouble anyway. In those new movies, Kirk is constantly running straight into danger. We get it, keeping everyone safe all the time would make for boring TV and short movies.
When Star Trek premiered it was billed as taking place in a future where we’ve solved all the problems of race, class, and sex. Groundbreaking ideas in the turbulent ‘60s. Apparently, forming the United Federation of Planets led to some sort of societal enlightenment. Even with all that new thinking, there’s still a regulation on the books that allows the Federation to enact martial law when it deems it necessary.
While the Federation can be forward thinking, they hold a lot of power that could effect the lives of many.
That seems like a very primitive concept for such an advanced society. Sure, if the Klingons or Borg attack we need to be protected, but taking away rights is never the answer, not even on Star Trek. This sounds like something from the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire.
In The Next Generation and later on the big screen, producers would occasionally come up with some crazy storyline to get one of the original cast members to appear. Not included in this is Deep Space Nine’s brilliant The Trouble With Tribbles crossover. They could have skipped all the writing hoops and just activated the Starfleet Reserve Reactivation.
This allows for retired officers to be reinstated to active duty during emergencies. We always enjoyed seeing Scotty, Spock, and Kirk interact with The Next Generation crew, so we’re not complaining. But, sometimes the road to get there was a little convoluted. It will be interesting to see what Discovery does when it introduces the Enterprise.
Time travel is pretty common in the Star Trek universe. All the crews we’ve met have gone back and forth in time by various means. For the most part it works out, with the damage being minimal. Just to make sure, Starfleet has the Temporal Prime Directive stating that history must not be changed and the timeline must be protected.
The Temporal Prime Directive ensures that timelines are left unchanged, if members of Starfleet are required to go back, or forward, in time.
If you make it back from the future, you need to keep your mouth shut, so you don’t cause a paradox. Out of all the Star Trek rules, this might be the only one we actually see get followed on a consistent basis. The one constant across all the movies and TV shows is that the timeline must not be altered.
The one regulation we hear about the most is the Prime Directive. It’s General Order 1 and states that “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” Here’s the thing, the whole premise of seeking out new life and new civilizations violates the Prime Directive.
On a weekly basis, every series starts out talking about how important the Prime Directive is, then 10 minutes in throws everything out the window. Yes, they’re careful about first contact and interactions, but the minute you meet new people and show them your giant starship, you’ve interfered with their lives.
What Starfleet rule did you find the most interesting? Tell us in the comments below!