Captain (naval)

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Not to be confused with Sea captain. ‹See Tfd›
A Royal Navy captain's rank insignia during Divisions conducted at HMNB Clyde in January 2013.
Hierarchy of naval officer ranks
Flag officers:

Admiral of the navy
Admiral of the fleetFleet admiralGrand admiral
AdmiralGeneral admiral
Lieutenant admiralVice admiral
Counter admiralRear admiralSchout-bij-nacht
Commodore admiralFlotilla admiral
Admiral-superintendentPort admiral

Senior officers:

CommodoreFleet captain
Post captainCaptainCaptain at sea
Captain of sea and warShip-of-the-line captain
CommanderFrigate captain
Captain of the port

Junior officers:

Corvette captainLieutenant commander
Captain lieutenantLieutenantShip-of-the-line lieutenant
Frigate lieutenantLieutenant (junior grade)Sub-lieutenant
Corvette lieutenantEnsign
Flag lieutenant

Officers in training:

Passed midshipmanMidshipman
Naval cadet

Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The NATO rank code is OF-5 and the U.S. rank code is O-6, equivalent to an army full colonel.

The equivalent rank in some navies translates as "ship captain" (e.g. French capitaine de vaisseau, Italian capitano di vascello and Spanish capitán de navío), "captain of sea and war" (e.g. Portuguese capitão de mar e guerra), "captain at sea" (e.g. German Kapitän zur See, Dutch kapitein-ter-zee) or "captain of the first rank" (e.g.- Russian капитан 1-го ранга).


Any naval officer who commands a ship (titled commanding officer, or C.O.) is addressed by naval custom as "captain" while aboard in command, regardless of their actual rank. Officers with the rank of captain travelling aboard a vessel they do not command should be addressed by their rank and name (e.g., "Captain Smith"), but they should not be referred to as "the captain" to avoid confusion with the vessel's captain.[1] According to U.S. Navy wardroom etiquette, an embarked Navy captain is normally addressed in that setting as "Commodore," since, if a line officer, he will or she will typically be the next senior officer in the chain of command, such as the commodore of a Destroyer Squadron (DESRON), Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) or Submarine Squadron (SUBRON).

On large ships (e.g., aircraft carriers), the executive officer (XO) may be a captain in rank, in which case it would be proper to address him by rank. Often the XO prefers to be called "XO" to avoid confusion with the CO, who is also a captain in rank and the captain of the ship.[2] The same applies to aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy, where the commander and deputy commander of the embarked carrier air wing are also captains in rank, but are addressed by the titles of "CAG" and DCAG," respectively.


The command of a ship is often given to the naval rank equivalent to a commissioned officer between commander (OF-4) and commodore or rear admiral (OF-6).[Note 1] The naval rank should not be confused with the army, air force or marine rank of captain, which has a NATO code of OF-2.


Captains with sea commands generally command ships of cruiser size or larger, the more senior the officer, the larger the ship, but ship commanders do not normally hold a higher rank than captain. In the Royal Navy, a captain might command a destroyer flotilla with the appointment (not rank) of captain (D), while naval aviator and naval flight officer captains in the U.S. Navy command aircraft carriers, large-deck amphibious assault ships, carrier air wings, maritime patrol air wings and functional and specialized air wings and air groups.

Rear admirals will normally embark on large capital ships such as aircraft carriers, which will function as the flagship for their strike group or battle group, but a captain will retain command of the actual ship. Even when a senior officer who is in the ship's captain's chain of command is present, all orders are given through the captain as a courtesy. Many captains hold shore commands and staff positions afloat and ashore.

Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant Flying officer
Ensign Second
Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant officer Sergeant major
Warrant officer
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

Captains in national navies[edit]

The following articles deal with the rank of captain as it is used in various navies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Polish Navy is, however, a notable exception with "naval captain" (Polish - kapitan marynarki) in the OF-2 rank of lieutenant or captain lieutenant and the OF-5 rank being a "commodore" (Polish - komandor).


  1. ^ William P. Mack, Harry A. Seymour, Lesa A. McComas (1998). The naval officer's guide. U.S. Navy: Naval Institute Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-55750-645-0. 
  2. ^ J. D. Fontana, R. M. Hillyer (1990). General Guide to NOSC Civilians Boarding Navy Ships. San Diego: Naval Oceans System Center. p. 9.