It’s a widespread notion that women and children are saved first in maritime disasters. The systematic evidence of this comes primarily from the sinking of RMS Titanic. By analyzing individual level data from MS Estonia – one of the largest maritime disaster in the Northern hemisphere since World War II – a different picture emerges. Estonia sunk in the Baltic Sea with 137 survivors and 852 casualties. Despite equal gender rates on Estonia, 111 men, but only 26 women survived. This striking observation, as well as econometric analyses of survival probabilities, shows that the behavior among passengers and crew was clearly inconsistent with the norm that women should be saved before men. We show that the survival patterns from several maritime disasters, including Titanic, can be explained by the behavior of the captain. Women have a survival advantage only when the captain orders that women should be given priority and threatens disobedience with violence. Otherwise women will have lower survival chances.