How to play Shipwreck!

Today is International Talk like a Pirate Day! Why not celebrate with one of our favorite games. Teaching listening skills and awareness, this is a good readiness game. And with some favorite commands, you can get players into groups of 2, 3, or 4 in a snap! The Game of the Week is… Shipwreck!

Group Size:  Large group (10 or more)
Age Group:  Pre K – Grade 5
Length of Activity:  10 minutes or more
Developmental Goal:  To increase children’s listening skills, endurance and awareness.
Equipment:  None

Before You Start:

  • Indentify the boundaries so that all players know.
  • Make sure everyone knows the commands you will be using. Start with a few and increase the number commands you use as the players are able to remember them.

Set Up:

Have the players line up on a clearly marked line in the middle of the playing area.

How To Play:

  • The leader explains that s/he is the captain of the boat/ship and is going give commands to the players/crew to perform a specific movement or sound.
  • Explain that the crew is sailing treacherous seas and need to work together and follow the captain’s commands to survive.
  • If crew members does not follow the commands correctly or is the last to follow the command they must go to the “brig” or break-room.
  • Explain the playing area and designate which end is the “bow” of the ship and which end is the “stern.” The goal is to be the last crew member standing.
  • Commands:
    • Roll call: the crew must line up at the midline of the playing area, feet together, toes on the line, salute and say “aye-aye captain!” The crew may not lower their salute until the captain salutes and says “at ease.”
    • Crow’s nest: players act as if they’re climbing up a ladder to the crow’s nest, the top of the main mast, an area at the highest point of the ship to lookout.
    • Swab the deck: players act like they’re mopping the deck.
    • Shark attack: the captain becomes a shark and tries to tag the crew. Those tagged go to the “brig” to dance or perform an designated exercise.
    • Break time: active crew members can run to the “brig” and tag as many people as possible. Those that are tagged can come back in and play again. Make sure everyone gets let out of the “brig” during break time.
    • Sailor overboard: crew pairs up and decides which one gets on their hands and knees and which one stands a places a foot gently on the other’s back while acting like their using a spyglass to find the sailor in the water.
    • Drop anchor: crew lies on their backs with legs up and acts like an anchor.
    • Pirates: crew closes one eye, puts up a hook finger, hobbles around like they have a pegleg and say “Aaargh!”
    • Row to Shore: crew gets in lines of 4; players act as if they are rowing to safety, while singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”


  • Create and add new rules, especially ones that require students to form groups of 2, 3, 4, 5 and more!
  • Form lower skilled players, pick two or three rules to focus on.

What are your favorite Shipwreck rules?

Love implementing Game of the Week? Playworks Trainers are equipped with oodles of tools and tips to help you get a recess and play program going today. Check out our professional development programs and bring Playworks to your school or afterschool program.


Find 156 fun games in our newest Game Guide.

Includes everything from games you can play in a small space with no materials, to games you can play in a big group during recess. Search for games by age level, time/space/materials available, and by the life skills used (like problem solving or teamwork).

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