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A petty officer is a non-commissioned officer or equivalent in many navies.

The modern petty officer dates back to the Age of Sail. Petty officers rank between naval officers (both commissioned and warrant) and most enlisted sailors. These were men with some claim to officer rank, sufficient to distinguish them from ordinary ratings without raising them so high as the sea officers. Several were warrant officers, in the literal sense of being appointed by warrant, and like the warrant sea officers, their superiors, they were usually among the specialists of the ships's company.[1]

Two of the petty officer's rates, midshipman and master's mate, were a superior petty officer with a more general authority, but they remained no more than ratings. However, it was quite possible for a warrant officer, such as the armourer, to be court-martialed for striking a midshipman as his superior officer. The reason why was both were regarded as future sea officers, with the all-important social distinction of the right to walk the quarterdeck. Midshipmen wore distinctive uniforms, master's mates dressed respectably, and both behaved like officers. Master's mates evolved into the rank of sub-lieutenant, and midshipmen evolved into a naval cadet.[1]

Relative Ranks in the Royal Navy, c1810[2]


There are two Petty Officer ranks in the Canadian Navy. Petty Officer 2nd Class (PO2) (Maître de deuxième classe or m2 in French) is equivalent to a Sergeant and Petty Officer 1st Class (PO1) (Maître de première classe or m1) is equivalent to a Warrant Officer.

Petty Officers are normally addressed as "Petty Officer Bloggins" or "PO Bloggins", thereafter as "PO". The "1st Class" and "2nd Class" designations are normally only used when such a distinction needs to be made, such as on a promotion parade or to distinguish two Petty Officers with similar names but different ranks.

United Kingdom

In the Royal Navy, the rate of Petty Officer comes above that of Leading Rating and below that of Chief Petty Officer. It is the equivalent of Sergeant in the Royal Marines, British Army and Royal Air Force. Petty Officer is the lowest of the Senior Rating grades. Petty Officers, like all senior rates, wear fore and aft rig.

United States

Petty Officer 1st class insignia.

The title of Petty Officer in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard has three separate "classes" (3rd class through 1st class) and three senior grades (Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Petty Officer, Master Chief Petty Officer).

Petty Officer Third Class is equivalent to Corporal in the United States Army (or Specialist, but only in terms of pay grade), Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, and Senior Airman in the United States Air Force (but only in terms of pay grade).

Petty Officer Second Class is equivalent to Sergeant in the United States Army and Marine Corps, and Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force.

Petty Officer First Class is equivalent to Staff Sergeant in the United States Army and Marine Corps, and Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rodger, N.A.M. (1986). The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 24. ISBN 0870219871. 
  2. Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 136. ISBN 0870212583. 

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