Sailors on HMS Northumberland

Royal Navy Ranks: How Do They Work?

Sailors on HMS Northumberland

There are two distinct routes into the Royal Navy, you can either join as an officer cadet, or as a rating.

The term 'officer' refers to someone with a commission, which is a formal document of appointment signed by the monarch.

They are different and senior in rank to petty officers, chief petty officers and warrant officers.

Although the Royal Marines is part of the Royal Navy, they use a rank structure similar to that of the British Army.

What are the different ratings ranks?

Able Rate

- The rank at which all ratings start their Royal Navy career and remain on throughout Initial Naval Training and into role-specific training, according to the Navy's website.

Leading Hand

- They are role models, mentors, and managers to the Able Rates in their team.

Petty Officer 

- Will have responsibility for certain sections of their department, taking on more managerial tasks.

Chief Petty Officer 

- Increasing responsibilities, with officers relying heavily on their skills and expertise.

Warrant Officer 2

- This rank is being reintroduced across the service this year as part of Royal Navy Transformation, after being phased out in 2014. The first personnel to hold this rank have already been selected.

Warrant Officer 1

- This is the highest rank a rating can reach and they provide a crucial link between officers and the ratings in the team that they lead. Prior to the reintroduction of the WO2 rank, the Royal Navy had a single Warrant Officer Class 1 rate.

What are the different officer ranks?

According to the Royal Navy, personnel who hold a rating rank can apply to become a commissioned officer at any time during their service. Officer cadets can also begin their careers at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), where they are usually known as a 'Midshipman' for most of their time in training.


- All officers join the Royal Navy at this rank while training for a specialist role at BRNC in Dartmouth.

Sub Lieutenant

- After one year as a Midshipman, officer cadets are automatically promoted to Sub-Lieutenant. This stage of training covers practical and theoretical elements of being an officer, according to the Navy.

Anonymous Navy recruits
The Royal Navy is known as the 'senior service', having been formed in 1546 (Picture: Royal Navy)


- First promotion providing expected standards are met. This usually happens after 30 months as a Sub-Lieutenant (which was automatic after one year as a Midshipman). 

Lieutenant Commander

-An integral part of naval command; will lead a department or be Executive Officer (EO) or Commanding Officer (CO) in a smaller unit.


-May command a warship or submarine, squadron or shore establishment; could also serve in the Ministry of Defence (MOD).


- Commands a large ship or holds a more senior position on shore.

Commodore (one-star)

- Commanding officer of a large Royal Navy establishment.

Rear Admiral (two-star)

- Will have their own flag flying on a ship and be responsible for an entire capability within the Royal Navy.

Vice Admiral (three-star)

- Working at the level of Government, and will be part of implementing defence policy.

Admiral (four-star)

- The highest rank in the Royal Navy for serving, equivalent to a General in the British Army.

Admiral of the Fleet (five-star)

- This rank dates back to the 17th century, and since 1995 has been honorary. Prior to then, it was a rank mainly reserved for First Sea Lords.

Cover image: Royal Navy.

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