Captain (naval)


Royal Navy captain's rank insignia during Divisions conducted at HMNB Clyde, 2013
Captain from US Navy (at left) and Senior Captain from PLA Navy, 2015

Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships.[1][2][3] The rank is equal to the army rank of colonel and airforce rank of group captain.

Equivalent ranks worldwide include ship-of-the-line captain (e.g. France, Argentina, Spain), captain of sea and war (e.g. Brazil, Portugal), captain at sea (e.g. Germany, Netherlands) and "captain of the first rank" (Russia).

The NATO rank code is OF-5, although the United States of America uses the code O-6 for the equivalent rank (as they do for all OF-5 ranks).


Any naval officer who commands a ship is addressed by naval custom as "captain" while aboard in command, regardless of their actual rank, even though technically an officer of below the rank of captain is more correctly titled the commanding officer, or C.O. Officers with the rank of captain travelling aboard a vessel they do not command should be addressed by their rank and name (e.g., "Captain Smith"), but they should not be referred to as "the captain" to avoid confusion with the vessel's captain.[4] The naval rank should not be confused with the army, air force, or marine ranks of captain, which all have the NATO code of OF-2.[Note 1]

US Navy traditions

On large US ships (e.g., aircraft carriers), the executive officer (XO) may hold the rank of captain; in this case, it is proper to address the XO by rank. Often the XO prefers to be called "XO" to avoid confusion with the CO, who is also a captain in rank and the captain of the ship.[5] The same applies to senior commanders on board US aircraft carriers, where the commander and deputy commander of the embarked carrier air wing both hold the rank of captain but are addressed by the titles of "CAG" and "DCAG", respectively.


Captains with sea commands generally command ships of cruiser size or larger; the more senior the officer, the larger the ship, but ship commanders do not normally hold a higher rank than captain. In the Royal Navy, a captain might command an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship, or the Ice Patrol Ship, while naval aviator and naval flight officer captains in the U.S. Navy command aircraft carriers, large-deck amphibious assault ships, carrier air wings, maritime patrol air wings, and functional and specialized air wings and air groups.

Maritime battlestaff commanders of one-star rank (commodores or rear admirals lower half) will normally embark on large capital ships such as aircraft carriers, which will function as the flagship for their strike group or battle group, but a captain will retain command of the actual ship, and assume the title of "flag captain". Even when a senior officer who is in the ship's captain's chain of command is present, all orders are given through the captain.

By country

Austro-Hungarian Empire

Linienschiffskapitän (Ship-of-the-line-captain) was an officer rank in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, equivalent to Oberst in the land forces or Kapitän zur See in the Kaiserliche Marine. It is still partly used by the navies of the Empire's successor states, such as Yugoslavia and Croatia.

In descending order, the other officer ranks below Linienschiffskapitän were


In the Belgian Navy the rank of capitaine de vaisseau or kapitein-ter-zee is the third grade of superior officer, equivalent to colonel in the land forces. Its insignia is made up of four bands. He or she commands a capital ship (cruiser, battleship or aircraft carrier) or a shore establishment. Smaller vessels such as destroyers and frigates are commanded by a kapitein-luitenant.


Canadian Navy captain insignia

In the Royal Canadian Navy, Captain(N) (abbreviated Capt(N); French: capitaine de vaisseau, abbreviated capv) is a senior officer rank, equal to an army or air force colonel. A captain(N) is senior to a commander, and junior to a commodore.[6]

Typical appointments for captains(N) include:[citation needed]

The rank insignia for a captain(N) is four 12-inch (1.3 cm) stripes, worn on the cuffs of the service dress jacket, and on slip-ons on other uniforms. On the visor of the service cap is one row of gold oak leaves along the edge. Captains(N) wear the officers' pattern branch cap badge.[citation needed]

The "(N)" is a part of the rank descriptor, and is used in official publications and documents to distinguish a captain(N) from a captain in the army or air force. It is also important to distinguish between the rank of captain(N) and the appointment of captain, meaning the commanding officer of a ship, regardless of his or her rank.

A captain(N) is addressed initially as "Captain Bloggins", thereafter by superiors and peers as "Captain" and by subordinates as "Sir" or "Ma'am". The "(N)" is not part of the spoken address.

Prior to the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, rank structure and insignia followed the British pattern.[citation needed]



Insignia in the French Navy

Capitaine de vaisseau is a rank in the French Navy, corresponding to that of colonel in the French Army. They usually command the navy's most important ships.

He has five stripes and is addressed as "commandant". In naval slang, he is also known as a "cap' de veau".


Kapitän zur See (abbreviated KptzS, KZS, or KzS) ("Captain at sea") is the highest senior officer rank in the German Navy.[7]


The official manner, according to ZDv 10/8, of formal addressing of military people with the rank Kapitän zur See is "Herr/Frau Kapitän zur See". However, in German naval tradition a Kapitän zur See will be addressed as "Herr/Frau Kapitän", or, often, in seamen's language "Herr/Frau Kap'tän".

Rank insignia and rating

Naval Ensign of Germany.svg
Kapitän zur See
MDS 53 Kapitän zur See Trp.svg MDJA 53 Kapitän zur See Trp Lu.svg MA OG5 53 Kapitän zur See.svg

The rank insignia of a Kapitän zur See (Captain at sea), worn on the sleeves and shoulders, is a five-pointed star above four stripes when worn on the sleeve. When worn as rank loops, typically on the shoulder, the star is omitted.

The rank is rated OF-5a[8] in NATO, and is equivalent to Oberst in the Heer and Luftwaffe. It is grade A16 or B3 in the pay rules of the Federal Ministry of Defence and is senior to the OF-4 rank of Fregattenkapitän.


Shoulder strap
Sleeve lace
Kapitän zur See

Kapitän zur See in the Volksmarine of the GDR was the highest grade of the senior officer's rank group, comparable to NATO-rank code OF-5. The rank insignia consisted of shoulder strap and sleeve stripes. Shoulder straps had to be worn on uniform jackets and consisted of twisted silver braids with three gold pips on padding in a navy blue colour.

Cuff insignia consisted of one big stripe, and a five-point naval star above. In contradiction of Imperial German Navy tradition, where sleeve rings encircled the lower cuffs, the Volksmarine cuff strips formed 40% rings.

Imperial German Navy and Kriegsmarine

Nazi Kriegsmarine
Shoulder board
Kapitän zur See

In the Imperial German Navy and Kriegsmarine, Kapitän zur See was the highest officer rank of the senior officer´s rank group. The rank insignia consisted of shoulder strap and sleeve stripes. Shoulder straps had to be worn on uniform jackets and consisted of twisted silver braids with two gold pips (stars) on padding in navy blue colour. Cuff insignia consisted of four stripes, and a five-point naval star above. The sleeve rings encircled the lower cuffs.

junior rank
War Ensign of Germany 1938-1945.svg
(Ranks Kriegsmarine)
Kapitän zur See
senior rank



Insignia in the Italian Navy

The rank of Captain (Italian: capitano di vascello, lit. "naval vessel captain") also exists in the Italian Navy. He is addressed as "comandante".


In the Royal Netherlands Navy, the rank of kapitein-ter-zee is the third grade of superior officer, equivalent to colonel in the land-forces. His insignia is made up of four bands and he commands a capital ship or a shore establishment (until recently, a kapitein-ter-zee commanded the Onderzeedienst and Mijnendienst, the Netherlands Navy's submarine and mine-laying training establishments).

Smaller vessels such as destroyers and frigates are commanded by a kapitein-luitenant ter zee. Until recently flagships such as Tromp-class frigates were also commanded by a kapitein-ter-zee. Currently, De Zeven Provinciën-class frigates are commanded by a kapitein-luitenant-ter-zee.

Russia and Ukraine

(Russia:Капитан первого ранга)(Ukraine:Капітан I рангу)

United Kingdom

United States



Captain at sea

Captain at sea is a naval rank corresponding to command of a ship-of-the-line or capital ship.

Captain lieutenant

Portuguese-speaking navies

Front page of the Breve Compendio do que pertence à obrigação de hum Capitão de Mar, & Guerra, or "Brief compendium of what pertains to the obligation of a captain of sea and war" (1676)

Captain of sea and war (Portuguese: capitão de mar e guerra) is a rank in a small number of Portuguese-speaking navies, notably those of Portugal and Brazil.

The term captain of sea and war, like the modern rank of ship-of-the-line captain in the navies of France, Italy, and Spain, has deep historic roots. Although the rank was first formally established in the 17th century, the expression had been sometimes been used in the Portuguese and Spanish (as Capitán de Mar y Guerra) armadas of the 16th century. But generally, in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the captain of a Portuguese man-of-war was simply called a capitão, while the commander of a fleet was termed capitão-mor, literally "captain-major".

During the 16th century, the term almirante was used in Portugal to designate the second in command of a fleet. Only during the 18th century would it come to designate the fleet commander - an admiral in the more modern sense. But during the latter half of the 17th century, the term "captain of sea and war" came to designate the commander of a larger man-of-war - the ship of the line that began evolving at that time. When that happened, the Portuguese Navy, as other navies, came to use the term capitão de fragata and capitão-tenente, literally "frigate captain" and "captain-lieutenant", to designate the commanders of smaller warships. When Brazil gained her independence from Portugal in 1822, its navy adopted the Portuguese rank denominations, which both countries still use.

Corvette captain

Frigate captain

Rank captain

Captain of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class are ranks used by the Russian Navy and a number of former communist state. Within NATO forces, the ranks are rated as OF-5, 4 and 3, respectively.[38]

NATO code[38] OF-5 OF-4 OF-3
Captain 1st rank Captain 2nd rank Captain 3rd rank
English equivalent Captain Commander Lieutenant commander

Ship-of-the-line captain

Ship-of-the-line-captain (French: capitaine de vaisseau; German: linienschiffskapitän; Italian: capitano di vascello; Spanish: capitán de navío; Croatian: kapetan bojnog broda) is a rank that appears in several navies. The name of the rank derives from the fact the rank corresponded to command of a warship of the largest class, the ship-of-the-line, as opposed to smaller types (corvettes and frigates). It is normally above the rank of frigate captain.

See also


  1. ^ The Polish Navy is, however, a notable exception with "naval captain" (Polish - kapitan marynarki) in the OF-2 rank of lieutenant or captain lieutenant and the OF-5 rank being a "Commodore" (Polish - komandor).


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