(LifeWire) -- Mary McPhail, a 47-year-old online retailer from Bexley, Ohio, will never forget her wedding to husband and business partner Geord Douglas 23 years ago in Miami.
"We had our rehearsal dinner at the restaurant where my husband and I met, and as a surprise gift, they gave us this big, beautiful tray of stone crabs," says McPhail.
"The next day, I had a very upset stomach but just attributed it to nerves."
It wasn't nerves. It was the shellfish. As the hour-long ceremony wore on, McPhail grew dizzy and eventually had to clamp a hand over her mouth to keep from throwing up all over the altar. Recognizing her predicament, the priest hastily pronounced the couple husband and wife and shoved them down the aisle.
"We got to the back of the church and I just lost it all over my gown," says McPhail. "It was a really small wedding, and everybody knew. I was mortified, but it was the highlight of everyone's day."
Even the most meticulously planned wedding can devolve into a nuptial nightmare, plagued by freak thunderstorms, fainting bridesmaids or collapsing cakes. But while a botched ceremony is every couple's nightmare, it's the weddings that go south that most people remember -- and love to retell. Watch tips on wedding invitations »
A day that will live in infamy
A good friend's wedding gone bad was the inspiration for Samantha Schoech's "Tied in Knots," an anthology of funny wedding-day stories that she co-edited with Lisa Taggart.
For starters, it was the coldest April in Las Vegas in recorded history, says the 38-year-old editor from San Francisco. "Then, the justice of the peace didn't recognize the bride because she was wearing a red dress instead of the traditional white."
It got worse. "At the reception, the brother of the bride was standing too close to a heater and caught his suit on fire. Then the electricity went out, and the septic tank overflowed onto the lawn," Schoech says. "That wedding was just one disaster after another, but it was one of the most fun weddings I'd ever been to."
Of course, disasters aren't quite so hilarious when they're happening to you.
Bebe Emerman, a 58-year-old retired TV journalist from Pasadena, California, experienced multiple mishaps when she and husband Steve Wolfe, 59, an assistant U.S. attorney, were married in Yosemite National Park 13 years ago.
First, there was a huge rainstorm, which literally blew away their plans for an outdoor ceremony. Then a road washout forced guests to drive an extra 140 miles to attend the ceremony, a wild squirrel nearly destroyed the cake and the wedding photographer was rushed to the hospital with a kidney stone.
"Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong," she says. "I even dumped the back of my dress into the toilet. But in retrospect, everybody had a great time and my marriage has been pretty happy. It's like that saying, the worse the wedding, the better the marriage."
Expect the unexpected
How often does a wedding go south?
Rita Smircich, a wedding planner and wedding coach from Westport, Connecticut, with more than 50 weddings under her belt, says wedding mishaps can range from the caterer failing to show to a bridesmaid fainting and hitting her head during the ceremony.
"With every wedding, there's a risk that something's going to go wrong -- the cake will fall down, the boutonnieres won't arrive," she says. "I tell my brides to try to keep things in perspective and try and remember the main objective."
George James, a marriage and family therapist with the Council for Relationships, a non-profit counseling, education and research center in Philadelphia, seconds that emotion.
"Most people try to control every aspect of their wedding, but when things go south you can't control it," he says. "The only thing you can work on is your reaction to the situation. You might be disappointed at the time, but the unexpected does happen, just like in a marriage. You want to be able to look back and laugh."
Laughter -- and insurance -- the best medicine
Having a sense of humor is especially important in a day and age when even bloopers you thought were private can end up being viewed by hundreds of thousands of strangers on YouTube. But while there's no insurance against common snafus like fainting bridegrooms, sobbing ring bearers or bridal bouquet brouhahas, couples can get protection from freak storms, fly-by-night vendors and other nuptial nightmares by purchasing wedding insurance.
One company, WedSafe.com, offers coverage on everything from damaged gifts to destroyed wedding gowns to canceled ceremonies due to injury, illness or natural disaster. Premiums range from $185 to $405 for coverage of up to $50,000. Want to cover all your bets? The wedding insurance offered through the National Alliance of Special Event Planners even covers cold feet. Premiums start at $170.
Keep it simple
Future brides and grooms may also want to remember that the more bells and whistles they dream up for their wedding, the more chance there is for trouble, says Samantha Schoech.
"Weddings have gotten bigger and grander these days and I think that leaves you open for more disasters," she says. "If you want white doves to fly over you right as they're saying 'I now pronounce you husband and wife,' you're asking to get pooped on."
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Diane Mapes is the author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World" and writes a column, Single Shot, for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.