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NATO Code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student Officer
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United Kingdom
UK-Navy-OF6 Generic-Navy-O7 Generic-Navy-O5 Generic-Navy-O4 Generic-Navy-O3 Generic-Navy-O1 UK-Navy-OFD UK-Navy-OFStudent
Admiral of the
Admiral Vice admiral Rear admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant
Lieutenant Sub
Midshipman Officer
Abbreviation Adm of the Fleet Adm VAdm RAdm Cdre Capt Cdr Lt Cdr Lt SLt or S/Lt Mid OCdt

1 Rank in abeyance - appointments no longer made to this rank in peacetime.


Uniforms for naval officers were not authorized until 1748. At first the cut and style of the uniform differed considerably between ranks and specific rank insignia only sporadically used. By the 1790s, the Royal Navy's first established uniform regulations had been published.

Ranks could be indicated by embroidery on the cuffs, by arrangement of buttons or, after 1795, on epaulettes. However there was no consistent system and insignia might differ between uniforms, and were altered several times. Sometimes there was no specific indication of rank at all.

Midshipmen received a white patch on the collar in 1758, the oldest badge still in use today.

The modern system of gold rings on the cuffs originated on 11 April 1856. For the first time these were consistently applied to all blue uniforms.

Admiral of the fleet 1 34in below four 58in
Admiral 1 34in below three 58in
Vice admiral 1 34in below two 58in
Rear admiral and Commodore 1st class 1 34 in below one 58in
Commodore 2nd class four 58in
Captain three 12in
Commander two 12in
Lieutenant one 12in
Mate one 14in braid

On 16 April 1861 mates were commissioned as sub-lieutenants and lieutenants were divided into those of over 8 years seniority and those under.

In consequence on 5 September 1861 the lower ranks' rings were changed:

Commodore 2nd class 1 34in
Captain four 12in
Commander three 12in
Lieutenant, over 8 years two 12in
Lieutenant, under 8 years one 12in

and on 25 March 1863 to:

Commodore 2nd class 1 34in
Captain four 12in
Commander three 12in
Lieutenant two 12in
Sub-lieutenant one 12in

On 30 October 1877 a lieutenant of 8 years seniority got an additional half-ring of 316in, increased to 14in in 1891, and in 1914 became the new rank of lieutenant commander.

In 1919 the admiral's narrow stripe was reduced to 12in, but as King George V had not approved the change, the Royal Family continued to wear the wider ring.

In 1931 all the 12in rings were all increased to 916in.

The curl was introduced in 1856, but initially only the military (or executive) and navigating (masters) branches wore it.

Other (civil) branches had plain rings, from 1863 with coloured distinction cloth between or below them. Until 1891 officers of the 'civil' branches had single-breasted coats with different arrangements of buttons.

Branch Distinction Cloth
Masters (until 1867) Light blue 9 evenly spaced
Masters (after 1867) None 3 groups of 3 (on double breasted coat)
Surgeons Red 3 groups of 3
Pursers/accounting White 4 groups of 2
Engineering (from 1853) Purple 2 groups of 4
Instructors (from 1879) & schoolmasters (from 1917) Light Blue 9 evenly spaced
Shipwrights (from 1884) Silver grey
(medical assistants) (from 1918)
Maroon till 1951, then salmon-pink
Electrical (from 1918) Dark green
Ordnance (1918–1950) Dark blue
Dentists (from 1924) Orange

Engineer officers received the curl in 1915 and all other officers in 1918. At the same time they also received other things such as oak leaves on the peaked cap that had formerly been the prerogative of the military branch.

In 1955 it was announced[1] that the distinction cloth worn between the stripes of officers of the non-executive branches of the Royal Navy was to be abolished, except for those who must be clearly recognisable as non-combatant under the Geneva Convention.

The residual use of distinction cloth for non-combatants is therefore:

  • Scarlet - medical
  • Orange - dental
  • Salmon pink - wardmasters (to 1993)
  • Silver grey - civilian officers from Royal Corps of Naval Constructors (RCNC) [2]
  • Dark green - civilian officers when required to wear uniforma

From 1955 to 1993 there was a rank of acting sub-lieutenant, with the same rank insignia as a sub-lieutenant.

Naval pilots in the Fleet Air Arm (and earlier the Royal Naval Air Service) have wings above the curl. Other Fleet Air Arm officers had a letter 'A' inside the curl.

From 1795 rank badges could also be shown on epaulettes. The system changed several times, but after 1864 was as follows:

Admiral of the fleet Crown, crossed batons, and four stars
Admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and three stars
Vice admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and two stars
Rear admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword, and one (larger) star
Commodore & captain over three years Crown, two stars, and foul anchor
Captain under 3 years Crown, one star, and foul anchor
Commander Crown and foul anchor
Lieutenant over eight years after 1914 Lieutenant commander Star and foul anchor
Lieutenant under 8 years Foul anchor

Sub-lieutenants and commissioned warrant officers wore scales (epaulettes without fringes, officially termed "shoulder straps") and the same device as a lieutenant.

Epaulettes of the military branch were gold throughout with silver devices, while those of the civil branches had a silver edging and gold devices. Instead of the baton and sword or foul anchor, civil branch epaulettes substituted a star. Navigating branch epaulettes were the same as the military branch, but with crossed plain anchors in place of the foul anchor. The epaulette stars had eight points, quite unlike the Order of the Bath stars worn by army officers.b

In 1891 the admiral of the fleet changed to a crown above two crossed batons within a wreath, similar to the badge of a field marshal.

Also in 1891 shoulder-straps were introduced for use on white uniforms and on the greatcoat, and more recently in "shirt sleeve order". For these commodores first class and above used the same badge as on their epaulettes, and commodores second class and below used their rank rings.

From 1926 only commodores had 2 stars, other captains one.

Epaulettes were not worn after 1939.

In 2001,c the shoulder boards on dress uniforms were changed and are currently:

Admiral of the fleet Crown, 2 crossed batons within a wreath
Admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 4 stars
Vice admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 3 stars
Rear admiral Crown, crossed baton & sword and 2 stars

Warrant officers[]

File:Lieut carre tupper RN.JPG

An example of a Royal Navy officer of the lieutenant rank - Lieutenant Carre Tupper, 1814

Warrant officers first received their uniforms in 1787. The navigators, surgeons and pursers were commissioned in 1843 and their insignia are described above.

In 1865 chief (later commissioned) gunners, boatswains, and carpenters were given a single 12in ring, with the curl, though the carpenters lost the curl in 1879.

In 1891 ordinary warrant officers of 10 years' standing were given a half-ring of 14in, with or without curl as above.

In 1918 this ring, with the curl, was extended to all non-commissioned warrant officers.

In 1949 WOs and CWOs became "commissioned branch officers" and "senior commissioned branch officers" and were admitted to the wardroom, but their insignia remained the same.

In 1956 they were integrated into the line officers as sub-lieutenants and lieutenants, and class distinctions finally disappeared from the uniform.


From 1863 officers were commissioned in the Royal Naval Reserve this was for serving merchant navy officers only. They had rings each formed from two 14in wavy lines intersecting each other. The curl was formed into a 6-pointed star. The lieutenant commander's half-ring was straight, but only 18in wide. The commodore had a broad straight ring, but the same star for a curl. Midshipmen had a blue collar patch.

Officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (formed 1903) for civilians, had single wavy rings 14in wide, with the curl a squarish shape. The lieutenant commander's narrow ring was originally straight, but after 1942 was waved also. Midshipmen had a maroon collar patch.

In 1951 both reserves lost their distinctive insignia and got normal straight stripes like the regulars, but with a letter 'R' inside the curl. The 2 organisations were merged in 1958. In 2007 Officers of the Royal Naval Reserve removed the 'R' distinction from badges of rank.


Officers in the Women's Royal Naval Service had straight rings in light blue, with a diamond shape instead of the curl. The Women's Royal Naval Service was abolished in 1994 and female officers now have the same gold rings as male officers.

Royal Marines[]

Part of the RN as the Senior Service, the Royal Marines uses the same rank structure and insignia that the British Army has save for the field marshal rank, and the RM initials for second lieutenants to lieutenant colonels to distinguish them from the Army itself. The major general rank since 1996 is the highest rank of the officer corps, but in the past, generals and lieutenant generals headed the Corps, and from 1857 to 1957 the Corps also had the ranks of colonel second commandant and colonel commandant. Rank insignia are on brown or dark blue shoulder boards in all dresses save for the combat and barracks duty dress uniforms. From 1911 to 1957 the officer corps even included warrant officers and commissioned warrant officer in the same way as the RN.

Full set of officer ranks of the Royal Marines, including historical ranks in italic[]


  1. ^a The requirement for civilian officers to wear uniform -- refer BRd 81 -- normally arises when deployed overseas, including periods of duty exceeding 24 hours when embarked on a UK or allied vessel operating outside UK territorial waters.
  2. ^b Order of the Bath stars worn by army officers have 4 points and are sometimes referred to as "pips".
  3. ^c Refer UK Defence Council Instruction (Joint Service) (DCI(JS)) 125/2001


  • May, W.E.; Carman, W.Y.; Tanner, John (1974). Badges and Insignia of the British Armed Services. Adam & Charles Black. ISBN 0-7136-1344-0. 
  • BRd 81 "Naval Service - Uniform Regulations". UK Ministry of Defence. May 2009 [November 2005]. 
  • Coleman, E C (2009). Rank and Rate - Royal Naval Officers' Insignia Since 1856. Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd. 
  • Coleman, E C (2011). Rank and Rate Volume II: Insignia of Royal Naval Ratings, WRNS, Royal Marines, QARNNS and Auxiliaries. Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd. 

See also[]

External links[]

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The original article can be found at Royal Navy officer rank insignia and the edit history here.