The Norwegian seaman Daland and his crew find themselves in a storm. Thrown off course shortly before they make it home, they seek refuge in a cove. The steersman, assigned to the night watch by Daland, is overcome by exhaustion and falls asleep along with the remainder of the crew.
The Flying Dutchman’s ship approaches. There’s a curse upon its captain: he is doomed to roam the seas for all eternity. Once every seven years, however, he is allowed to come ashore to seek a woman who will swear to be true to him forever and thus release him from the curse. Daland and his crew wake up. Deeply impressed by the Dutchman’s abundant treasure, Daland promises him his daughter Senta.
At the Norwegians’ harbour the women await the sailors. They tease Senta for her infatuation with the legendary figure of the Flying Dutchman. She dreams of redeeming the dark mariner from his curse. Erik, Senta’s lover, enters and announces the arrival of the ships. He tries to get an assurance of love from her and warns her against living in a fantasy. Daland enters accompanied by the Dutchman. Senta falls for him instantly and swears to be true to him until death.
The sailors celebrate their homecoming. Erik again reminds Senta that they once pledged their love for one another. The Dutchman overhears their conversation and loses all hope of salvation. He says he will release Senta from her vow, and leaves with his crew. Senta however reaffirms her constancy, which breaks the Flying Dutchman’s curse.