United States Navy officer rank insignia

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In the United States Navy, officers have various ranks. Equivalency between services is by pay grade. USN commissioned officer ranks have two distinct sets of rank insignia; on dress uniform a series of stripes similar to Commonwealth naval ranks are worn while on service khaki, working uniforms (NWU and coveralls), and special uniform situations (combat utilities, flight suits, and USMC uniforms when worn by navy officers attached to USMC units) the rank insignia are similar (there are subtle differences in the size, shape, and design of naval services insignia) to the equivalent rank in the US Army or US Air Force.

Commissioned officer ranks[edit]

Commissioned officer rank structure of the United States Navy[1]
US DoD Pay Grade O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6 O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10 Special Special
NATO Code OF-1 OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6 OF-7 OF-8 OF-9 OF-10 Special Grade
Insignia US-O1 insignia.svg US-O2 insignia.svg US-O3 insignia.svg US-O4 insignia.svg US-O5 insignia.svg US-O6 insignia.svg US-O7 insignia.svg US-O8 insignia.svg US-O9 insignia.svg US-O10 insignia.svg US-O11 insignia.svg 6 Star.svg
Service Dress Blue Insignia/
Service Dress White Insignia/
Service Khaki Insignia
US Navy O1 insignia.svg US Navy O2 insignia.svg US Navy O3 insignia.svg US Navy O4 insignia.svg US Navy O5 insignia.svg US Navy O6 insignia.svg US Navy O7 insignia.svg US Navy O8 insignia.svg US Navy O9 insignia.svg US Navy O10 insignia.svg US Navy O11 insignia.svg US Admiral of Navy insignia.svg
Title Ensign Lieutenant
(junior grade)
Lieutenant Lieutenant Commander Commander Captain Rear Admiral (lower half) Rear Admiral [2][3] Vice Admiral Admiral Fleet Admiral1 Admiral of the Navy2
1 Rank Inactive (awarded to four officers during World War II, but not established as a permanent rank).
2 Rank Inactive (awarded to Admiral George Dewey in 1903 [d. 1917], but not established as a permanent rank). The six star insignia is conjectural, as no Fleet Admirals were appointed while Admiral Dewey was alive.

Commissioned warrant officer ranks[edit]

Commissioned warrant officer
US DoD Pay Grade W-2 W-3 W-4 W-5
NATO Code WO-2 WO-3 WO-4 WO-5
Insignia US Navy CW2 insignia.svg US Navy CW3 insignia.svg US Navy CW4 insignia.svg US Navy CW5 insignia.svg
Title Chief Warrant Officer Two Chief Warrant Officer Three Chief Warrant Officer Four Chief Warrant Officer Five
Abbreviation CWO-2 CWO-3 CWO-4 CWO-5

Rank categories[edit]

In the U.S. Navy, pay grades for officers are:

Rank and promotion system[edit]

In the event that officers demonstrate superior performance and prove themselves capable of performing at the next higher pay grade, they are given an increase in pay grade. The official term for this process is a promotion.

Commissioned naval officers originate from the United States Naval Academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), the since-disestablished Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS), and a host of other commissioning programs such as the "Seaman to Admiral-21" program and the limited duty officer/chief warrant officer (LDO/CWO) selection program. There are also a small number of direct commissioned officers, primarily staff corps officers in the medical, dental, nurse, chaplain and judge advocate general career fields.

Commissioned officers can generally be divided into line officers and staff corps:

  • Line officers (or officers of the line) derive their name from the 18th-century tactic of employing warships in a line of battle to take advantage of cannon on each side of the ship. These vessels were dubbed ships of the line and those who commanded them were likewise called "line officers." Today, all United States Navy unrestricted line and restricted line officers denote their status with a star located above their rank devices on the sleeves of their blue uniforms and shoulder boards of their white uniforms; metal rank insignia on both collarpoints of khaki shirts/blouses; and cloth equivalents on both collarpoints of navy working uniforms. Officers of the staff corps replace the star (or the left collarpoint on applicable shirts/blouses) with different insignias to indicate their field of specialty.[6] Line officers can be categorized into unrestricted and restricted communities.
    • Unrestricted line officers (URL) the most visible and well-known, due to their role as the navy's war-fighting command element. They receive training in tactics, strategy, command and control, and actual combat and are considered unrestricted because they are authorized to command ships, aviation squadrons, and special operations units at sea or combat aviation squadrons or special operations units deployed ashore.
    • Restricted line officers (RL) concentrate on non-combat related fields, which include marine engineering, aeronautical engineering, ship and aircraft maintenance, meteorology and oceanography, and naval intelligence. They are not qualified to command combat units, but can command organizations in their respective specialized career fields. In certain shipboard environments, many unrestricted line officers fill what might be considered restricted line duties, such as the officers in a ship's engineering department. Because they maintain their general shipboard duties, instead of completely specializing in one career area, they maintain their unrestricted line command career path.
  • Staff corps officers are specialists in fields that are themselves professional careers and not exclusive to the military, for example health care, law, civil engineering and religion. There are eight staff corps: Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Nurse Corps, Medical Service Corps, Chaplain Corps, Navy Supply Corps, Judge Advocate General's Corps, and Civil Engineer Corps. They exist to augment the line communities and are able to be assigned to both line and staff commands. (The exception to this is the case of Civil Engineer Corps officers, who serve as the officers for Seabee units. This requires them to serve in a command capacity for ground combatants when the Seabees are deployed to combat areas.)

See also commodore (United States)—today a title for selected URL captains (O-6) in major command of multiple subordinate operational units, and formerly a rank (O-7).

"Tombstone promotions"[edit]

The Act of Congress of March 4, 1925, allowed officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to be promoted one grade upon retirement if they had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat. Combat citation promotions were sometimes called "tombstone promotions" by disgruntled officers who did not qualify for them but the term was not used by the recipients. They conferred all the perks and prestige of the higher rank including the loftier title but no additional retirement pay. The Act of Congress of February 23, 1942, enabled promotions to three- and four-star grades. Tombstone promotions were subsequently restricted to citations issued before January 1, 1947, and finally eliminated altogether effective November 1, 1959. The practice was terminated in what was called an effort to encourage senior officer retirements prior to the effective date of the change to relieve an overstrength in the senior ranks.

Any officer who served in a grade while on active duty receives precedence on the retirement list over any tombstone officer holding the same retired grade. Tombstone officers rank among each other according to the dates of their highest active duty grade.[7]

Officer specialty devices[edit]

Navy officers serve either as a line officer or as a staff corps officer. Unrestricted Line (URL) and Restricted Line (RL) officers wear an embroidered gold star above their rank of the naval service dress uniform while staff corps officers, and chief warrant officers wear unique specialty devices.[8][9]

Type Line officer Medical Corps Dental Corps Nurse Corps Medical Service Corps Judge Advocate General's Corps
Insignia USN Line Officer.png USN Med-corp.gif USN Dental.gif USN Nurse.gif USN Msc.gif USN Jag-corp.gif
Designator1 1XXX 210X 220X 290X 230X 250X
Chaplain Corps
(Christian Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Jewish Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Muslim Faith)
Chaplain Corps
(Buddhist Faith)
Supply Corps Civil Engineer Corps Law Community
(Limited Duty Officer)
USN Chapchr.gif USN Chap-jew.gif USN Chap-mus.gif USN - Chaplian Insignia - Buddhist 2.jpg United States Navy Supply Corps insignia.gif USN Ce-corp.gif USN Law Community.png
410X 410X 410X 410X 310X 510X 655X

USN Chief Warrant Officer Specialty Devices.png

1 An officer designator describes their general community or profession. The final (fourth) digit (X) denotes whether the officer has a regular (0), reserve (5), or full-time support (7) commission.

The chief warrant officer and staff corps devices are also worn on the left collar of uniforms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rank Insignia of Navy commissioned and warrant officers
  2. ^ a b 10 USC 5501 Navy: grades above chief warrant officer, W–5
  3. ^ a b 37 USC 201 Pay grades: assignment to; general rules
  4. ^ Defenselink.mil
  5. ^ Defenselink.mil
  6. ^ "Specialty Insignia - Staff Corps".
  7. ^ United States Navy Regulations, 1920 with changes up to and including No. 19 1938 Article 1668(3)
  8. ^ U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations, 4102 - Sleeve Designs for Line and Staff Corps, updated 28 January 11, accessed 22 January 12
  9. ^ U.S. Navy Personnel Command, Officer, Community Managers, LDO/CWO OCM, References, LDO/CWO Designators, rout page updated 4 October 11, accessed 22 January 12

External links[edit]