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A ship prefix is a combination of letters, usually abbreviations, used in front of the name of a civilian or naval ship.
Prefixes for civilian vessels may either identify the type of propulsion, such as "PS" for Paddle steamer, or purpose, such as "RV" for research vessel. Civilian prefixes are often used inconsistently, and frequently not at all. Sometimes a slash is used to separate the letters, as in "M/S".
Naval prefixes came into use as abbreviations for longer titles, such as "His/Her Majesty's Ship" in the Royal Navy, abbreviated "H.M.S." and then "HMS". Earlier uses often included the type of vessel, as for instance "U.S.F." ("United States Frigate") for frigates of the United States Navy. Today the common practice is to use a single prefix for all warships of a nation's navy, and other prefixes for auxiliaries and ships of allied services, such as coast guards.
The use of ship prefixes is not universal; in particular neither the German Kriegsmarine nor the Imperial Japanese Navy used ship prefixes. Some English-language writers use prefixes like "DKM" (for "Deutsche Kriegsmarine") and "HIJMS" (for "His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship") or "IJN" (for "Imperial Japanese Navy", a translation of 大日本帝国海軍 dai-nippon teikoku kaigun) for consistency with "HMS" and "USS". Other writers follow the practice of the navy and omit any prefix.
From the 20th century onwards, most navies identify ships by hull numbers — identification codes typically painted on the side of the ship. Each navy has its own system: the United States Navy uses hull classification symbols, and the Royal Navy and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth use pennant numbers.
These tables list both current and historical prefixes known to have been used.
National or military prefixes
|Argentina||Argentine Navy||ARA||Navy of the Argentine Republic (Spanish: Armada de la Republica Argentina)|
|Argentine Coast Guard||GC||Argentine Coast Guard Ship (Spanish: Guardacostas)|
|Australia||Royal Australian Navy||HMAS||His/Her Majesty's Australian Ship|
|Australia (Victoria)||Royal Navy||HMVS||His/Her Majesty's Victorian Ship (obsolete)|
|Austria-Hungary||Austro-Hungarian Navy||SMS||Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)|
|Bahamas||Royal Bahamas Defence Force||HMBS||His/Her Majesty's Bahamian Ship|
|Bangladesh||Bangladesh Navy||BNS||Bangladesh Naval Ship|
|Barbados||Barbados Defence Force||HMBS||His/Her Majesty's Barbadian Ship|
|Belgium||Belgian Navy||BNS||Belgium Naval Ship (NATO prefix)|
|Brunei||Royal Brunei Navy||KDB||Kapal Di-Raja Brunei — Royal Brunei Ship|
|Burma||Burmese Navy||UBS||Bamar Sit Yay Yin — Union of Burma Ship|
|Canada||Canadian Forces||HMCS/NCSM||His/Her Majesty's Canadian Ship/Navire canadien de Sa Majesté (French)|
|CFAV/NAFC||Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel/Navire auxiliaire des Forces canadiennes (French)|
|Canadian Coast Guard||CCGS/NGCC||Canadian Coast Guard Ship/Navire de Garde côtière canadienne (French)|
|CCGC/CGCC||Canadian Coast Guard Cutter/Cotre de Garde côtière canadienne (French) (no longer used)|
|Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Department of Transport, and predecessor departments||CGS||Canadian Government Ship (no longer used)|
|CSS||Canadian Survey Ship (no longer used)|
|DGS||Dominion Government Ship (no longer used)|
|Royal Canadian Sea Cadets||SCTS/NECM||Sea Cadet Training Ship/Navire école des cadets de la Marine (French)|
|Colombia||Armada Nacional||ARC||Armada de la Republica de Colombia|
|Confederate States of America||Confederate States Navy||CSS||Confederate States Ship|
|Cook Islands||Cook Islands Police||CIPPB||Cook Islands Police Patrol Boat|
|Denmark||Royal Danish Navy||HDMS (Danish: KDM)||His/Her Danish Majesty's Ship (Danish: Kongelige Danske Marine)|
|Ecuador||Armada Ecuatoriana||BAE||Buque de la Armada de Ecuador|
|Egypt||Egyptian Navy||ENS||Egyptian Naval Ship|
|Estonia||Estonian Navy||ENS (Estonian: EML)||Estonian Naval Ship (NATO designation)|
|Estonian Coast Guard||ECGS||Estonian Coast Guard Ship (NATO designation)|
|Fiji||Republic of Fiji Navy||RFNS||Republic of Fiji Naval Ship|
|Finland||Finnish Navy||FNS||Finnish Navy Ship. Prefixes are not used in Finnish-language communications.|
|France||French Navy||OF||Okręt Francuski (Polish French Ship); used in 1940-41 for French destroyer Ouragan|
|FS||French Ship (NATO designation); France does not use prefixes internally|
|German Empire||Kaiserliche Marine||SM U##||Seiner Majestät Unterseeboot (English: His Majesty's Submarine)|
|SMS||Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)|
|Nazi Germany||Kriegsmarine||—||(no prefix; some authors use "DKM" for "Deutsche Kriegsmarine" and "KMS" for "Kriegsmarine Schiffe")|
|West Germany||Bundesmarine||FGS||Federal German Ship (NATO designation); West Germany did not use prefixes internally|
|Germany (reunited)||German Navy||FGS||Federal German Ship (NATO designation)|
|Kingdom of Greece||Royal Hellenic Navy||ΒΠ (VP)||Βασιλικόν Πλοίον (Vassilikón Ploíon), "Royal Ship"; RHS (Royal Hellenic Ship) or HHMS (His Hellenic Majesty's Ship) in use by English-language authors and contemporary foreign navies.|
|Greece||Hellenic Navy||HS||Hellenic Ship: NATO designation, used in international communications; internally the Hellenic Navy uses prefixes indicating ship type.|
|Guyana||Guyanese Coast Guard||GDFS||Guyanese Defence Forces Ship|
|Kingdom of Hawaii||Hawaiian Navy||HHMS||His Hawaiian Majesty's Ships; the only one being the Kaimiloa|
|Iceland||Icelandic Coast Guard||ICGV (Icelandic: VS)||Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel, (Icelandic:Varðskip)|
|India||Indian Navy (pre-Republic)||HMIS||His/Her Majesty's Indian Ship|
|India||Indian Coast Guard||ICGS||Indian Coast Guard Ship|
|Indian Navy||INS||Indian Naval Ship|
|Indonesia||Indonesian Navy||KRI||Kapal Republik Indonesia (Republic of Indonesia Ship)|
|Republic of Indonesia||KL||Kapal Layar (Sailing Ship)|
|Republic of Indonesia||KM||Kapal Motor (Motor Ship)|
|Iran||Imperial Iranian Navy||IIS||Imperial Iranian Ship (Persian: ناو شاهنشاهی ایران)|
|Iran||Islamic Republic of Iran Navy||IRIS||Islamic Republic of Iran ship (Persian: ناو جمهوری اسلامی ایران)|
|Ireland||Irish Naval Service||LÉ||Long Éireannach — Irish ship|
|Israel||Israeli Sea Corps||INS||Israeli Naval Ship (Internally Hebrew acronym אח"י (A.Ch.Y.) is used standing for אניית חיל הים (Oniyat Heyl HaYam - Sea Corps Ship)|
| Kingdom of Italy
|Regia Marina||RN||Regia Nave – Royal Ship|
|Regia Marina||R.Smg.||Regio Sommergibile – Royal Submarine|
|Italy||Marina Militare||ITS||Italian Ship (NATO designation); Italy no longer uses prefixes|
|Jamaica||Jamaica Defence Force||HMJS||His/Her Majesty's Jamaican Ship|
|Empire of Japan||Imperial Japanese Navy||—||(no prefix; some authors use "HIJMS" for "His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship" and "IJN" for "Imperial Japanese Navy")|
|Japan||Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force||JDS or JS||Japanese Defense Ship or Japanese Ship|
|Kenya||Kenyan Navy||KNS||Kenyan Naval Ship|
|Kiribati||Kiribati Police Force||RKS||Republic of Kiribati Ship|
|North Korea||Korean People's Navy||—||(currently unknown)|
|South Korea||Republic of Korea Navy||ROKS||Republic of Korea Ship|
|Latvia||Latvian Navy||LVNS||Latvian Naval Ship (NATO designation)|
|Lietuvos Karinis Laivas – Lithuanian Military Ship
Lithuanian Ship (NATO designation)
|Malaysia||Royal Malaysian Navy||KD||Kapal Di-Raja — His Majesty's Ship, literal: Royal Ship.|
|Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency||KM||Kapal Maritim — Maritime's Ship|
|Marshall Islands||Marshall Islands Police||RMIS||Republic of the Marshall Islands Ship|
|Federated States of Micronesia||FSM National Police||FSM||Federated States of Micronesia|
|Mexico||Armada de México||ARM||Armada de la República Mexicana|
|Burma||Tatmadaw Yay||UMS||Myanma Sit Yay Yin — Union of Myanmar Ship|
|Namibia||Namibian Navy||NS||Namibian Ship|
|Netherlands||Royal Netherlands Navy||HNLMS (Dutch: Zr.Ms./Hr.Ms.)||His/Her Netherlands Majesty's Ship (Dutch: Zijner/Harer Majesteits, archaic Dutch language genitive, lit. "His/Her Majesty's")|
|New Zealand||Royal New Zealand Navy||HMNZS||His/Her Majesty's New Zealand Ship|
|Nigeria||Nigerian Navy||NNS||Nigerian Naval Ship|
|Norway||Royal Norwegian Navy||HNoMS (Norwegian: KNM), in use since 1946||His Norwegian Majesty's Ship (Norwegian: Kongelige Norske Marine)|
|Norwegian Coast Guard||NoCGV (Norwegian: KV)||Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel (Norwegian: Kystvakten)|
|Oman||Royal Navy of Oman||SNV||Sultanate Naval Vessel|
|Pakistan||Pakistan Navy||PNS||Pakistani Naval Ship|
|Palau||Palau Police||PSS||Palau State Ship|
|Papua New Guinea||Papua New Guinea Defence Force||HMPNGDFS||His/Her Majesty's Papua New Guinea Defence Force Ship|
|Peru||Peruvian Navy||BAP||Peruvian Navy Ship (Spanish: Buque Armada Peruana)|
|BIC||Scientific Research Ship (Spanish: Buque de Investigación Científica)|
|Philippines||Philippine Navy||BRP||Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas; in use since 1 July 1980
(Ship of the Republic of the Philippines)
|RPS||Republic of the Philippines Ship (Obsolete); before 1 July 1980|
|Poland||Polish Navy||ORP||Ship of the Republic of Poland
(Polish: Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej)
|Portugal||Marinha Portuguesa||NRP||Navio da República Portuguesa - Ship of the Portuguese Republic|
|PNS||Portuguese Navy Ship (NATO designation, not used internally)|
|UAM||Unidade Auxiliar da Marinha - Navy Auxiliary Unit (used by the Portuguese Navy non-military ships)|
|Romania||Romanian Navy||NMS||Nava Majestăţii Sale (His/Her Majesty's Ship) - used before 1945 by the Royal Romanian Navy|
|SMR||Serviciul Maritim Român (The Romanian Sea Service) - used by transport ships|
|ROS||Romanian Ship (NATO designation, not used internally)|
|Russia||Russian Navy||RFS||Russian Federation Ship; Russia does not use prefixes internally|
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi Navy||HMS||His Majesty's Ship — the same as the Royal Navy|
|Singapore||Republic of Singapore Navy||RSS||Republic of Singapore Ship|
|Solomon Islands||Royal Solomon Islands Police||RSIPV||Royal Solomon Islands Police Vessel|
|South Africa||South African Navy||SAS||South African Ship (previously HMSAS - His/Her Majesty's South African Ship)|
|SATS||South African Training Ship|
|Spain||Armada Española||ESPS||Spanish Naval Ship (Spain does not use prefixes internally)|
|Sri Lanka||Sri Lankan Navy||SLNS||Sri Lanka Naval Ship|
|Sweden||Swedish Navy||HMS/HSwMS||Hans/Hennes Majestäts Skepp — the same as the Royal Navy but in Swedish|
|Republic of China||Republic of China Navy||ROCS (older usage: CNS)||Republic of China Ship (older usage: Chinese Navy Ship)|
|Thailand||Royal Thai Navy||HTMS||His Thai Majesty's Ship|
|Timor-Leste||Timor Leste Defense Force||NRTL||Navio da República de Timor Leste (Ship of the Timor Leste Republic)|
|Tonga||Tonga Defence Services||VOEA||Vaka O Ene Afio (His Majesty’s Vessel)|
|Turkey||Turkish Navy||TCG||Ship of the Turkish Republic (Turkish: Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Gemisi.)|
|Tuvalu||Tuvalu Police Force||HMTSS||His/Her Majesty's Tuvaluan State Ship|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force||TTS||Trinidad and Tobago Ship|
|United Kingdom||Ships carrying mail||RMS||Royal Mail Steamer/Ship|
|Fishery protection vessels||FPV||Fisheries Protection Vessel|
|Royal Air Force||HMAFV||His/Her Majesty's Air Force Vessel (not currently in use)|
|Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships||RFA||Royal Fleet Auxiliary|
|Royal Maritime Auxiliary
|RMAS||Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (now obsolete)|
|Royal Navy||HM Sloop||His/Her Majesty's Sloop (now obsolete)|
|HMS||His/Her Majesty's Ship/Submarine|
|HMSm||His/Her Majesty's Submarine (not currently in use)|
|HMT||Hired Military Transport (not currently in use)|
|HMAV||His/Her Majesty's Armed Vessel (not currently in use)|
|HMY||His/Her Majesty's Yacht (not currently in use)|
|HMMGB||His/Her Majesty's Motor Gun Boat (not currently in use)|
|HMM||His/Her Majesty's Monitor (not currently in use)|
|HMSML||His/Her Majesty's Small Motor Launch|
|HBMS||His/Her Britannic Majesty's Ship (archaic)|
|HM||His/Her Majesty's, then used with the type of ship in military use (e.g. "HM Trawler")|
|Hospital ships||HMHS||His/Her Majesty's Hospital Ship|
|Joint Services||HMSTC||His/Her Majesty's Sail Training Craft|
|Trinity House||THV||Trinity House Vessel (Lighthouse and Buoy Tender)|
|Northern Lighthouse Board||NLV||Northern Lighthouse Vessel (Lighthouse tender)|
|Commissioners of Irish Lights||ILV||Irish Lights Vessel (Lighthouse tender)|
|British Army||HMAV||Her Majesty's Army Vessel|
|RCLV||Royal Corps of Logistics Vessel (not currently in use)|
|Government research ships||RRS||Royal Research Ship|
|HM Revenue and Customs||HMCC, HMC||His/Her Majesty's Customs Cutter shortened to His/Her Majesty's Cutter after being transferred to the UK Border Agency|
|HM Customs and Excise (replaced by HMRC, above)||HMRC||His/Her Majesty's Revenue Cutter (not used since 18 April 2005)|
|United States||U.S. Air Force||USAF, USAFS||United States Air Force ship (not currently in use)|
|U.S. Army (modern)||USAS||United States Army Ship (modern)|
|USAV||United States Army Vessel (modern)|
|U.S. Army (historical)|
|USAT||United States Army Transport (large troop or cargo transports, not currently in use)|
|USAMP||U.S. Army Mine Planter (not currently in use)|
|U.S. Army||Vessels not otherwise designated: tugs, FS, Q, P etc. (not currently in use)|
|USAHS||United States Army Hospital Ship (not currently in use)|
|U.S. Navy||USF||United States Frigate (obsolete)|
|USFS||United States Flagship (obsolete)|
|PCU||Pre-Commissioning Unit, used for ships of the United States Navy that have not been commissioned into service yet|
|USS||United States Ship|
|U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command||USNS||United States Naval Ship (USN owned, civilian crews)|
|USNV||United States Naval Vessel (foreign-built, USN-leased, USN crews)|
|United States Coast Guard||USCGC||United States Coast Guard Cutter|
|USCGD||United States Coast Guard Destroyer (not currently in use)|
|United States Lighthouse Service||USLHT||United States Lighthouse Tender (obsolete)|
|United States Revenue Cutter Service||USRC||United States Revenue Cutter (obsolete)|
|National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration||NOAAS||NOAA Research Vessel|
|Uruguay||Uruguayan Navy||ROU||Republica Oriental del Uruguay|
|Vanuatu||Vanuatu Police Force||RVS||Republic of Vanuatu Ship|
|Venezuela||Venezuelan Navy||FNV||Fuerzas Navales de Venezuela Not in use since 1949|
|ARV||Armada Republica de Venezuela Not in use 1999|
|ARBV||Armada Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela|
|Kingdom of Yugoslavia||Royal Yugoslav Navy||KB||Kraljevski brod or Краљевски брод (English: Royal Ship), 1918-1941|
Notes and references
The designations for United Kingdom ships applied at the time of the British Empire, before the establishment of separate navies for the Dominions.
In the Royal Netherlands Navy, "HNLMS" is the prefix in English, a translation of the Dutch original "Hr.Ms." or "Zr.Ms.". "Hr.Ms." should preferably not be used in English-language documents; nevertheless it is often seen on the World Wide Web. Until the moment a Dutch naval ship officially enters active service in the fleet, the ship's name is used without the prefix.  Since King Willem-Alexander succeeded Queen Beatrix on 30 April 2013, "Hr.Ms." is replaced by "Zr.Ms.".
In Australia, the prefix NUSHIP is used to denote ships that have yet to be commissioned into the fleet.
In the United States Navy, all prefixes other than "USS," "USNS", "USNV", and "USRC" were made obsolete in 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law a bill fixing American naval nomenclature. USRC was replaced by USCGC when the Revenue Cutter Service became the United States Coast Guard in 1915.
A United States ship that has not yet been commissioned in the Navy does not hold the title of USS, it holds the title of PCU (Pre-commissioned unit). For example, say a shipyard is building a new aircraft carrier, the Flattop. From the date the keel is laid to the date it is commissioned, it is called the PCU Flattop. Only after it enters active service in the fleet and is commissioned will it be referred to as USS Flattop.
When it is stricken from the fleet list, a ship typically has the prefix "ex-" added to its name, to distinguish it from any active ships bearing the same name. For example, after USS Constellation (CV-64) was retired in 2003, she became referred to as ex-Constellation.
Note that while calling a US ship "the USS Flattop" may make grammatical sense, the preliminary article "the" is discouraged by nearly all style guides, and the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy uses ship names without article, except for USS The Sullivans, named for the five Sullivan brothers, all lost at sea during World War II. Its British equivalent ("the HMS Flattop") is also discouraged, since "the Her Majesty's Ship" would be grammatically incorrect.
Civilian ship naming
In 1939, the British Ministry of Shipping adopted a standard naming system whereby all merchant ships ordered to be built in Britain to Government account, except very small ship types, would be given the prefix Empire to their name. This applied to ships acquired through purchase, requisition, or taken in prize, with some exceptions. It also applied to older ships acquired from the USA, modern ships acquired on Lease/Lend arrangements, salved and refitted ships, and captured enemy ships.
In science fiction
Fictional equivalents of tri-letter prefixes frequently appear in English-language science fiction works, applied to seafaring and spaceborne ships alike. See also Space navy for similar adoption of naval customs for fictional spacefaring military organizations.
- Star Trek – the United Federation of Planets uses the prefix "USS" for its starships. While Gene Roddenberry never defined what the abbreviation stood for, some speculate that it means "United Space Ship" or "United Star Ship".
- Halo – United Nations Space Command spacecraft use the prefix "UNSC".
- Mass Effect – features several prefixes, primarily "SSV" for "Systems Alliance space vehicle" and "MSV" for numerous human commercial ships, as well as "PFS" for a Turian Hierarchy naval craft, and a freighter AML Demeter of unknown affiliation.
- Dead Space – "USG", standing for "United Spacefaring Guild", which oversees civilian spacecraft operation, including the planet-cracker class leader USG Ishimura of the Concordance Extraction Corporation; "USM" for the Earth Defense Force of EarthGov; and "CMS" for its former opponents, the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - The Federated Nations use "FNS", presumably meaning "Federated Nations Ship".
- "December 2009". Colton Company. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
- "Submarine and Special Warfare Support Vessel". Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
- "About the Coast Guard". 4 September 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
- "List of Acronyms Preceding the Name of a Ship". 22 March 2010. Retrieved 22 March 2010.
- Habesch, The Army's Navy, p. 154
- Lt. Cdr. Phillip Pournelle, USN (9 September 2005). "And now another report from Lt. Cdr. Phillip Pournelle:". Jerrypournelle.com. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
- Circulaire Zeemacht 1569cc (1988)
- Dasgupta, Soumyajit. "What are Ship Prefixes for Naval and Merchant Vessels?". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- Lasco, Dominique. "Navy Christens Guided-Missile Destroyer Michael Murphy". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "USN Ship Naming". Naval History & Heritage Command. 29 September 1997. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- In-Game Codex, entry for SSV Normandy