Royal Navy officer rank insignia

Current ranks and insignia

NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
United Kingdom
British Royal Navy OF-10-collected British Royal Navy OF-9-collected British Royal Navy OF-8-collected British Royal Navy OF-7-collected United Kingdom-Navy-OF-6-collected UK-Navy-OF-5-collected UK-Navy-OF-4-collected UK-Navy-OF-3-collected UK-Navy-OF-2-collected UK-Navy-OF-1b-collected British Royal Navy OF-1a.svgUK-Navy-OFD UK-Navy-OFStudent.svg
Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice admiral Rear admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant commander Lieutenant Sub lieutenant Midshipman Officer Cadet
Abbreviation Adm. of the Fleeta Adm. V. Adm. R. Adm. Cdre Capt. Cdr Lt Cdr Lt S. Lt or S/Lt Mid. Officer Cadet


Uniforms for naval officers were not authorised until 1748. At first the cut and style of the uniform differed considerably between ranks and specific rank insignia only sporadically used. By the 1790s, the Royal Navy's first established uniform regulations had been published.

Ranks could be indicated by embroidery on the cuffs, by arrangement of buttons or, after 1795, on epaulettes. However, there was no consistent system and insignia might differ between uniforms, and were altered several times. Sometimes there was no specific indication of rank at all.


Royal Navy epaulettes for senior and junior officers, 18th and 19th centuries


Royal Navy epaulettes for admiral officers, 18th and 19th centuries

Midshipmen received a white patch on the collar in 1758, the oldest badge still in use today.

The modern system of gold rings on the cuffs originated on 11 April 1856. For the first time these were consistently applied to all blue uniforms.

Admiral of the fleet 1 34in below four ​58in
Admiral 1 34in below three ​58in
Vice admiral 1 34in below two ​58in
Rear admiral and Commodore 1st class 1 34 in below one ​58in
Commodore 2nd class four ​58in
Captain three ​12in
Commander two ​12in
Lieutenant one ​12in
Mate one ​14in braid

On 16 April 1861 mates were commissioned as sub-lieutenants and lieutenants were divided into those of over eight years seniority and those under.

In consequence on 5 September 1861 the lower ranks' rings were changed:

Commodore 2nd class 1 34in
Captain four ​12in
Commander three ​12in
Lieutenant, over 8 years two ​12in
Lieutenant, under 8 years one ​12in

and on 25 March 1863 to:

Commodore 2nd class 1 34in
Captain four ​12in
Commander three ​12in
Lieutenant two ​12in
Sub-lieutenant one ​12in

On 30 October 1877 a lieutenant of eight years'/ seniority got an additional half-ring of ​316in, increased to ​14in in 1891, and in 1914 became the new rank of lieutenant commander.

In 1919 the admiral's narrow stripe was reduced to ​12in, but as King George V had not approved the change, the Royal Family continued to wear the wider ring.

In 1931 all the ​12in rings were all increased to ​916in.

The curl was introduced in 1856, but initially only the military (or executive) and navigating (masters) branches wore it.

Other (civil) branches had plain rings, from 1863 with coloured distinction cloth between or below them. Until 1891 officers of the 'civil' branches had single-breasted coats with different arrangements of buttons.

Branch Distinction cloth
Masters (until 1867) Light blue 9 evenly spaced
Masters (after 1867) None 3 groups of 3 (on double breasted coat)
Surgeons Red 3 groups of 3
Pursers/accounting White 4 groups of 2
Engineering (from 1853) Purple 2 groups of 4
Instructors (from 1879) & schoolmasters (from 1917) Light blue 9 evenly spaced
Shipwrights (from 1884) Silver grey
(medical assistants) (from 1918)
Maroon till 1951, then salmon-pink
Electrical (from 1918) Dark green
Ordnance (1918–1950) Dark blue
Dentists (from 1924) Orange

Engineer officers received the curl in 1915 and all other officers in 1918. At the same time they also received other things such as oak leaves on the peaked cap that had formerly been the prerogative of the military branch.

In 1955 it was announced[1] that the distinction cloth worn between the stripes of officers of the non-executive branches of the Royal Navy was to be abolished, except for those who must be clearly recognisable as non-combatant under the Geneva Convention.

The residual use of distinction cloth for non-combatants is therefore:

  • Scarlet – medical
  • Orange – dental
  • Salmon pink – wardmasters (to 1993)
  • Silver grey - civilian officers from Royal Corps of Naval Constructors (RCNC)[2]
  • Dark green – civilian officers when required to wear uniform[3] b

From 1955 to 1993 there was a rank of acting sub-lieutenant, with the same rank insignia as a sub-lieutenant.

Naval pilots in the Fleet Air Arm (and earlier the Royal Naval Air Service) have wings above the curl. Other Fleet Air Arm officers had a letter 'A' inside the curl.

From 1795 rank badges could also be shown on epaulettes. The system changed several times, but after 1864 was as follows:

Admiral of the fleet Crown, crossed batons, and four stars
Admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and three stars
Vice admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and two stars
Rear admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and one (larger) star
Commodore & captain over three years Crown, two stars, and foul anchor
Captain under 3 years Crown, one star, and foul anchor
Commander Crown and foul anchor
Lieutenant over eight years after 1914 Lieutenant commander Star and foul anchor
Lieutenant under 8 years Foul anchor

Sub-lieutenants and commissioned warrant officers wore scales (epaulettes without fringes, officially termed "shoulder straps") and the same device as a lieutenant.

Epaulettes of the military branch were gold throughout with silver devices, while those of the civil branches had a silver edging and gold devices. Instead of the baton and sword or foul anchor, civil branch epaulettes substituted a star. Navigating branch epaulettes were the same as the military branch, but with crossed plain anchors in place of the foul anchor. The epaulette stars had eight points, quite unlike the Order of the Bath stars worn by army officers.c

In 1891 the admiral of the fleet changed to a crown above two crossed batons within a wreath, similar to the badge of a field marshal.

Also in 1891 shoulder-straps were introduced for use on white uniforms and on the greatcoat, and more recently in "shirt sleeve order". For these commodores first class and above used the same badge as on their epaulettes, and commodores second class and below used their rank rings.

From 1926 only commodores had two stars, other captains one.

Epaulettes were not worn after 1939.

In 2001,d the shoulder boards on dress uniforms were changed and are currently:

Admiral of the fleet Crown, 2 crossed batons within a wreath
Admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 4 stars
Vice admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 3 stars
Rear admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 2 stars
Commodore Crown, crossed baton & sword and 1 star
Captain Crown, one star, and foul anchor
Commander Crown and foul anchor

Warrant officers

Lieut carre tupper RN
An example of a Royal Navy officer of the lieutenant rank – Lieutenant Carre Tupper, 1814

Warrant officers first received their uniforms in 1787. The navigators, surgeons and pursers were commissioned in 1843 and their insignia are described above.

In 1865 chief (later commissioned) gunners, boatswains, and carpenters were given a single ​12in ring, with the curl, though the carpenters lost the curl in 1879.

In 1891 ordinary warrant officers of 10 years' standing were given a half-ring of ​14in, with or without curl as above.

In 1918 this ring, with the curl, was extended to all non-commissioned warrant officers.

In 1949 WOs and CWOs became "commissioned branch officers" and "senior commissioned branch officers" and were admitted to the wardroom, but their insignia remained the same.

In 1956 they were integrated into the line officers as sub-lieutenants and lieutenants, and class distinctions finally disappeared from the uniform.


From 1863 officers were commissioned in the Royal Naval Reserve this was for serving merchant navy officers only. They had rings each formed from two ​14in wavy lines intersecting each other. The curl was formed into a 6-pointed star. The lieutenant commander's half-ring was straight, but only ​18in wide. The commodore had a broad straight ring, but the same star for a curl. Midshipmen had a blue collar patch.

Officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (formed 1903) for civilians, had single wavy rings ​14in wide, with the curl a squarish shape. The lieutenant commander's narrow ring was originally straight, but after 1942 was waved also. This system of rank insignia is currently worn by officers in the Sea Cadets. Midshipmen in the RNVR had a maroon collar patch.

In 1951 both reserves lost their distinctive insignia and got normal straight stripes like the regulars, but with a letter 'R' inside the curl. The two organisations were merged in 1958. In 2007 officers of the Royal Naval Reserve had the 'R' distinction from badges of rank removed. Honorary officers in the RNR however continue to wear the 'R' inside the curl.


Officers in the Women's Royal Naval Service had straight rings in light blue, with a diamond shape instead of the curl. The Women's Royal Naval Service was abolished in 1994 and female officers now have the same gold rings as male officers.

Royal Marines

Part of the RN as the Senior Service, the Royal Marines uses the same rank structure and insignia that the British Army has, save for the field marshal rank, and the RM initials for second lieutenants to lieutenant colonels to distinguish them from the Army itself. The major general rank since 1996 is the highest rank of the officer corps, but in the past, generals and lieutenant generals headed the Corps, and from 1857 to 1957 the Corps also had the unique ranks of colonel second commandant and colonel commandant. Rank insignia are on brown or dark blue shoulder boards in all dresses save for the combat and barracks duty dress uniforms. From 1911 to 1957 the officer corps even included warrant officers and commissioned warrant officers in the same way as the RN. Although the Royal Marines does not officially use the rank of field marshal, the Captain General Royal Marines, the ceremonial head of the corps, wears a field marshal's rank insignia.[4]

NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
(Royal Marines)

Field marshal General Lieutenant-general Major-general Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant-colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Second lieutenant Officer cadet No equivalent
Captain General
Royal Marines
General Lieutenant-general Major-general Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant-colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Second lieutenant Officer cadet

Full set of officer ranks of the Royal Marines, including historical ranks in italic


  1. ^a Regular appointments to this grade ended in 1995.
  2. ^b The requirement for civilian officers to wear uniform – refer BRd 81 – normally arises when deployed overseas, including periods of duty exceeding 24 hours when embarked on a UK or allied vessel operating outside UK territorial waters.
  3. ^c Order of the Bath stars worn by army officers have four points and are sometimes referred to as "pips".
  4. ^d Refer UK Defence Council Instruction (Joint Service) (DCI(JS)) 125/2001



  1. ^ Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), HC Deb 3 March 1955 vol 537 cc2247-301
  2. ^ BR3 Volume 1 - Naval Personnel Management, Chapter 46, Royal Navy, Jun 2016 (Version 6), para 4603
  3. ^ BR3 Volume 1 - Naval Personnel Management, Chapter 39, Royal Navy, Jun 2016 (Version 6), para 3912
  4. ^ "HRH Prince Philip lends support to the Royal Marines Charity with final official engagement". Royal Marines Charity. 27 July 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.


  • May, W.E.; Carman, W.Y.; Tanner, John (1974). Badges and Insignia of the British Armed Services. Adam & Charles Black. ISBN 0-7136-1344-0.
  • BRd 81 "Naval Service - Uniform Regulations". UK Ministry of Defence. May 2009 [November 2005].
  • Coleman, E C (2009). Rank and Rate - Royal Naval Officers' Insignia Since 1856. Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd.
  • Coleman, E C (2011). Rank and Rate Volume II: Insignia of Royal Naval Ratings, WRNS, Royal Marines, QARNNS and Auxiliaries. Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd.

See also

External links

Admiral (Royal Navy)

Admiral is a senior rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which equates to the NATO rank code OF-9, outranked only by the rank of admiral of the fleet. Royal Navy officers holding the ranks of rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral of the fleet are sometimes considered generically to be admirals. The rank of admiral is currently the highest rank to which a serving officer in the Royal Navy can be promoted, admiral of the fleet being in abeyance except for honorary promotions of retired officers and members of the Royal Family.

British Army officer rank insignia

Listed in the table below are the insignia—emblems of authority—of the British Army. Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810 and the insignia was moved to the epaulettes in 1880. On ceremonial or parade uniforms these ranks continue to be worn on the epaulettes, either as cloth slides or as metal clips, although on the modern 'working dress' (daily uniform) they are usually worn as a cloth slide on the chest. Although these insignia apply across the British Army there is variation in the precise design and colours used and it can take some time to become familiar with them all.

Officers in the ranks of lieutenant and second lieutenant are often referred to as subalterns and these and captains are also referred to as company officers. Brigadiers, colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors are field officers. All above these are considered to be of general officer rank.

For a short period, the British Army used the rank of sub-lieutenant, before that was changed to second lieutenant.

Canadian Armed Forces ranks and insignia

This is a table of the ranks and insignia of the Canadian Armed Forces. As the Canadian Armed Forces is officially bilingual, the French language ranks are presented following the English (in italics).

List of United Kingdom Cadet Force by Rank

The following table displays the ranks of the Community Cadet Forces (Army Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps, and the Air Training Corps), the Combined Cadet Force, the Volunteer Cadet Corps (RMVCC and RNVCC), and the Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets. This table is based on equivalent Rank Structures within the Cadet Forces as detailed in regulations of the SCC, RMC, and the Air Cadets.

List of comparative military ranks

This article is a list of various states' armed forces ranking designations. Comparisons are made between the different systems used by nations to categorize the hierarchy of an armed force compared to another. Several of these lists mention NATO reference codes. These are the NATO rank reference codes, used for easy comparison among NATO countries. Links to comparison charts can be found below.

Making Waves (TV series)

Making Waves is a British television drama series produced by Carlton Television for ITV. It was created by Ted Childs and chronicles the professional and personal lives of the crew of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Suffolk. The series remained in development hell for several years and was first broadcast on 7 July 2004. However, due to low ratings it was removed from the schedules after only three episodes, the remainder of the series going unaired on television in the United Kingdom.

The series starred Alex Ferns as Commander Martin Brooke and Emily Hamilton as Lieutenant Commander Jenny Howard. The frigate HMS Grafton stood in for Suffolk and additional filming took place around HMNB Portsmouth with the full co-operation of the Royal Navy. A limited-edition DVD of all six episodes was released in December 2004.

Maritime history of the United Kingdom

The Maritime history of the United Kingdom involves events including shipping, ports, navigation, and seamen, as well as marine sciences, exploration, trade, and maritime themes in the arts from the creation of the kingdom of Great Britain as a united, sovereign state, on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, signed on 22 July 1706. Until the advent of air transport and the creation of the Channel Tunnel, marine transport was the only way of reaching the British Isles. For this reason, maritime trade and naval power have always had great importance.

Prior to the Acts of Union, 1707, the maritime history of the British Isles was largely dominated by that of England. (See Maritime history of England for more details.)

RAF officer ranks

The officer ranks of the Royal Air Force, as they are today, were introduced in 1919. Prior to that Army ranks were used.

Royal Navy

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

From the middle decades of the 17th century, and through the 18th century, the Royal Navy vied with the Dutch Navy and later with the French Navy for maritime supremacy. From the mid 18th century, it was the world's most powerful navy until surpassed by the United States Navy during the Second World War. The Royal Navy played a key part in establishing the British Empire as the unmatched world power during the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries. Due to this historical prominence, it is common, even among non-Britons, to refer to it as "the Royal Navy" without qualification.

Following World War I, the Royal Navy was significantly reduced in size, although at the onset of World War II it was still the world's largest. By the end of the war, however, the United States Navy had emerged as the world's largest. During the Cold War, the Royal Navy transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines and mostly active in the GIUK gap. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its focus has returned to expeditionary operations around the world and remains one of the world's foremost blue-water navies. However, 21st century reductions in naval spending have led to a personnel shortage and a reduction in the number of warships.The Royal Navy maintains a fleet of technologically sophisticated ships and submarines including one aircraft carrier, two amphibious transport docks, four ballistic missile submarines (which maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent), six nuclear fleet submarines, six guided missile destroyers, 13 frigates, 13 mine-countermeasure vessels and 22 patrol vessels. As of November 2018, there are 75 commissioned ships (including submarines) in the Royal Navy, plus 13 ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA); there are also five Merchant Navy ships available to the RFA under a private finance initiative. The RFA replenishes Royal Navy warships at sea, and augments the Royal Navy's amphibious warfare capabilities through its three Bay-class landing ship vessels. It also works as a force multiplier for the Royal Navy, often doing patrols that frigates used to do. The total displacement of the Royal Navy is approximately 408,750 tonnes (743,759 tonnes including the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Marines).

The Royal Navy is part of Her Majesty's Naval Service, which also includes the Royal Marines. The professional head of the Naval Service is the First Sea Lord who is an admiral and member of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom. The Defence Council delegates management of the Naval Service to the Admiralty Board, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Royal Navy operates three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouth, Clyde and Devonport, the last being the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.

Royal Navy ratings rank insignia

This is a list of British Royal Navy ratings rank insignia.

Uniforms of the Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force uniform is the standardised military dress worn by members of the Royal Air Force. The predominant colours of Royal Air Force uniforms are blue-grey and Wedgwood blue. Many Commonwealth air forces' uniforms are also based on the RAF pattern, but with nationality shoulder flashes. Cadets of the RAFAC which includes the ATC and CCF (RAF) Sections wear similar uniforms.

Uniforms of the Royal Navy

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NATO rank code Student officer OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6
Royal Navy O Cdt Mid SLt Lt Lt Cdr Cdr Capt Cdre RAdm VAdm Adm Adm of the Fleet
Royal Marines O Cdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj Lt Col Col Brig Maj-Gen Lt-Gen Gen Capt-Gen
Army O Cdt 2Lt Lt Capt Maj Lt Col Col Brig Maj-Gen Lt-Gen Gen Fd Mshl
Royal Air Force Off Cdt / SO APO / Plt Off Fg Off Flt Lt Sqn Ldr Wg Cdr Gp Capt Air Cdre AVM Air Mshl Air Chf Mshl Mshl of the RAF
Military ranks and insignia by country
Post-Soviet states
Commonwealth of Nations

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