The master, or sailing master, was a historic term for a naval officer trained in and responsible for the navigation of a sailing vessel. The rank can be equated to a professional seaman and specialist in navigation, rather than as a military commander.
When the United States Navy was formed in 1794, master was listed as one of the warrant officer ranks and ranked between midshipmen and lieutenants. The rank was also a commissioned officer rank from 1837 until it was replaced with the current rank of lieutenant, junior grade in 1883.
In the Middle Ages, when 'warships' were typically merchant vessels hired by the crown, the man in charge of the ship and its mariners, as with all ships and indeed most endeavours ashore, was termed the Master; the company of embarked soldiers was commanded by their own Captain.
From the time of the reforms of Henry VIII, the master was a warrant officer, appointed by the Council of the Marine (later the Navy Board) who also built and provisioned the Navy's ships. The master was tasked with sailing the ship as directed by the captain, who fought the ship when an enemy was engaged. The captain had a commission from (and was responsible to) the Admiralty, who were in charge of the Navy's strategy and tactics.
The master’s main duty was navigation, taking the ship’s position at least daily and setting the sails as appropriate for the required course and conditions. During combat, he was stationed on the quarterdeck, next to the captain. The master was responsible for fitting out the ship, and making sure they had all the sailing supplies necessary for the voyage. The master also was in charge of stowing the hold and ensuring the ship was not too weighted down to sail effectively. The master, through his subordinates, hoisted and lowered the anchor, docked and undocked the ship, and inspected the ship daily for problems with the anchors, sails, masts, ropes, or pulleys. Issues were brought to the attention of the master, who would notify the captain. The master was in charge of the entry of parts of the official log such as weather, position, and expenditures.
Masters were promoted from the rank of the master's mates, quartermasters, or midshipmen. Masters were also recruited from the merchant service. A prospective master had to pass an oral examination before a senior captain and three masters at Trinity House. After passing the examination, they would be eligible to receive a warrant from the Navy Board, but promotion was not automatic.
Second master 
Second master was a rating introduced in 1753 that indicated a deputy master on a first-, second- or third-rate ship-of-the-line. A second master was generally a master's mate who had passed his examination for master and was deemed worthy of being master of a vessel. Master's mates would act as second master of vessels too small to be allocated a warranted master. Second masters were paid significantly more than master's mates, £5 5s per month. Second masters were given the first opportunity for master vacancies as they occurred.
Originally, the sailing master did not have an official officer uniform, which caused problems when they were captured because they had trouble convincing their captors they should be treated as officers and not ordinary sailors. In 1787 the warrant officers of wardroom rank (master, purser and surgeon) received an official uniform, but it did not distinguish them by rank. In 1807, masters, along with pursers, received their own uniform.
Transition to commissioned officer 
By the classic Age of Sail the sailing-master in the Royal Navy had become the warrant officer trained specifically in navigation, the senior warrant officer rank, and the second most important officer aboard rated ships. In 1808, masters were given similar status to commissioned officers, as warrant officers of wardroom rank. The master ate in the wardroom with the other officers, had a large cabin in the gunroom, and had a smaller day cabin next to the captain's cabin on the quarterdeck for charts and navigation equipment.
However, the number of sailing-masters halved from 140 to 74 between the years 1840–1860: partly because the pay and privileges were less than equivalent ranks in the military branch, and also because the master's responsibilities had been largely assumed by the executive officers. In 1843 the wardroom warrant officers were given commissioned status. The Admiralty, under the First Sea Lord the Duke of Somerset, began to phase out the title of master after 1862. The ranks of staff commander and staff captain were introduced in 1863 and 1864 respectively; and in 1867 the Masters Branch was re-organised as the Navigating Branch with a new pay scale, with the following ranks:
- navigating cadet (formerly naval cadet 2nd class)
- navigating midshipman (master's assistant)
- navigating sub-lieutenant (second master)
- navigating lieutenant (formerly master)
- staff commander
- staff captain
The Royal Naval College exams for navigating lieutenant and lieutenant were the same after 1869. By 1872 the number of navigating cadets had fallen to twelve, and an Admiralty experiment in 1873 under the First Sea Lord George Goschen further merged the duties of navigating lieutenants and sailing masters with those of lieutenants and staff commanders. There were no more masters warranted after 1883, and the last one retired in 1892.
Although the actual rank of navigating lieutenant fell out of use about the same time, lieutenants who had passed their navigating exams were distinguished in the Navy List by an N in a circle by their name, and by N† for those passed for first-class ships. The last staff commander disappeared in around 1904, and the last staff captain left the Active List in 1913. See also: Warrant officer > Demise of the Royal Naval warrants
Master, originally sailing master, was a historic warrant officer rank of the United States Navy, above that of a midshipman, after 1819 passed midshipman, after 1861 ensign, and below a lieutenant.
Some masters were appointed to command ships, with the rank of master commandant. In 1837, sailing master was renamed master, master commandant was renamed commander, and some masters were commissioned as officers, formally "master in line for promotion" to distinguish them from the warrant masters who would not be promoted.
After 1855, passed midshipmen who were graduates of the Naval Academy filled the positions of master. Both the commissioned officer rank of master and warrant officer rank of master were maintained until both were merged into the current rank of lieutenant, junior grade on 3 March 1883.
In 1862 masters wore a gold bar for rank insignia, which became a silver bar in 1877. In 1881 they started wearing sleeve stripes of one 1⁄2-inch (13 mm) and one 1⁄4-inch-wide (6.4 mm) strip of gold lace, still used for the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.
See also 
- "Officer ranks in the Royal Navy". Retrieved 2009-09-16.
- "Duties of the Master". Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- Lavery 1989, p. 101
- "Officer ranks in the Royal Navy". Retrieved 2009-04-25.
- Lavery 1989, p. 326.
- Rodger 1986, p. 216.
- Blake, Lawrence 2005, p. 71.
- Lewis, Michael (1960). A Social History of the Navy. London: Ruskin House. p. 241. OCLC 2832855.
- "House of Lords debate: Royal Navy promotion and retirement-observations". Hansard 225: 862. 2 July 1875.
- Colomb, Philip Howard (1898). Memoirs of Sir Astley Cooper Key, GCB, DCL. London: Methuen and Co. pp. 319–321.
- "House of Commons reports: Masters in the Royal Navy". Hansard 181: 1317–22. 1 March 1866.
- "House of Lords debate: Staff Commanders and Navigating Lieutenants". Hansard 212: 161–165. 25 June 1872.
- Lewis 1939, pp. 212, 230.
- "Admiralty Circular, No. 32.-W". The Navy List. June 1870.
- "Admiralty Circular, No. 16.-W". The Navy List. June 1870.
- Cox, Noel (1999). "Officers' ranks and insignia (in 3 parts)". Navy Today (Wellington, NZ: Defence Communications Group) 1 (38, 39, 40).
- Webb, Richard, ed. (November 1947). "Correspondence: Post Captain". The Naval Review XXX (4). Privately published. p. 384.
- Staff Capt. John Davis Moulton, promoted staff captain 1903, seniority as navigating lieutenant 15 March 1876, Retired List September 1913.The Navy List. March 1913. p. 147L.
- United States Department of the Navy (1877). Regulations for the Government of the Navy of the United States 1876. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. pp. 5–6.
- "Proud Beginnings: History of Warrant Officers in the US Navy". Naval History and Heritage Command. 1999-03-16. Retrieved 2009-09-15.
- "Lieutenant". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 2009-09-21.
- Mallory, John A. (1914). Compiled Statutes of the United States 1913 1. St. Paul: Wast Publishing Company. p. 1062.
- Nicholas Blake, Richard Lawrence. The Illustrated Companion to Nelson's Navy (2005 ed.). Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3275-4. - Total pages: 207
- Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 326. ISBN 0-87021-258-3.
- Lewis, Michael (1939). England's Sea-Officers. W.W. Norton & Co.
- Rodger, N.A.M. (1986). The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-987-1.