Talk:Rating system of the Royal Navy

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Reason for creation of this pageEdit

Moved the rating system of the Royal Navy table from ship of the line as suggested (Talk:Ship of the line) and because many other pages (mostly sailing ships) have rating links to the previously individual rating pages. Also merged all six rating pages (which were mostly stubs) here so that readers can easily compare the six different ratings in one place. The sixth-rate page was in process of being moved to Wiktionary. Moved the pictures from the First-rate page to ship of the line to speed loading of this page Petersam 03:43, 13 Sep 2004 (UTC)

I don't think all the redirecting - what's happened is that six short but succinct articles have been made into a giant indigestible blob. Think about the reader - if the reader wants to know what a "third-rate" was, he/she wants to see "a third-rate is a type of ship of size X", not a lengthy list of types and tables. The individual articles should link to this overall discussion/table, for the benefit of those readers who are interested in the overall concept. Remember, this is a hyperlinked encyclopedia, long multi-subject articles are counterproductive. Stan 02:22, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Good points. A picture or table is worth a thousand words. I've removed all the text from the separate sections that could be easily found in the table. The table also shows the differences better than what can be stated in the sections. The ship references have been moved to their respective pages ship of the line or frigate making those articles more richer (more editing to be done later!) And I reduced the rate descriptions to the basic minimums so the reader knows how they are different. Readers can go the the 2 other articles for more information. The sixth-rate article of 26 Aug 2004 had a Move to Wiktionary template placed on it because it was so small and most of the others were also small. The first-rate article was not short or succinct so readers may not find what they wanted very fast. Also, the six rate pages were of different lengths and the first-rate and fourth-rate articles include ships that probably should have been placed in other articles instead (see all rate pages together). So, I think I now have one short, but succinct article about the rating system which does answer what the reader wants to know what a "third-rate" was and that "a third-rate is a type of ship of size X" and also can see how that third-rate ship compares with other rate ships. ..............OOPS! (in response to recent Stan message)...... I'm a newbie and perhaps was a little too bold? (Gotta to read that page again!} I saw your original comment on the ship of the line page to move the rating system to a separate page (Talk:Ship of the line) and I thought it would be also a good idea to combine all the rate pages together after checking the separate talk pages for any problems (only the first-rate page had comments). Right now it is getting much too late for me!! I need to sign off now, so I'll expect more comments later. I expect I'll be doing a lot more editing soon. (Boy, this place can sure be addicting!!!.... Petersam 07:24, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
The net effect is that you deleted a bunch of content, plus which there is more to say about each individual rate (construction particulars for instance), plus it doesn't work with the categorization system. When thinking about merging articles, one important thing to consider is whether the article is small because it's new and needs more content, or it will always be small. In the case of the RN rates, all have much to say about them - rationale, evolution, employment, plus a picture or two so we can see what they looked like. This article should be about the system as a whole (who introduced it and why? When did it go out of use? How did it compare to other nations' systems?) - once you have adequate treatment of all that, plus the two screenfuls with two representative pictures per rate, that's a pretty hefty article, no longer easy for reader to get the basic definition of "third-rate". When considering organization like this, it's worthwhile to look at history of all the articles concerned, and maybe query the editors who set it up, because what you've effectively done is to destroy article structure that I and others carefully set up some time ago. Talk pages are mostly used for debate, so lack of talk page bits combined with multiple editors in history indicates that all the editors agreed perfectly, no need to discuss. Stan 08:01, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Oops! and Great points!! I will revert the rate pages back again by tonight. I'll add a sentence at the top of each page which will tell the readers that it is one part of six parts which make up the rating system for the RN which should address the "move to wikitionary" issue on the sixth-rate page. Sorry for creating all these problems as a newbie learning the hard way. Perhaps we can get together in the virtual ship's gallery later over some virtual chow -- I have a lot of hash we can use Petersam 18:51, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Thanks for fixing up! I promise to add more content for each rate, but not until next week - right now I'm on the road and away from my library. :-( Stan 03:52, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Currently the table says 4th, 5th and 6th rate ships were all frigates. I am not sure that all 4th rate ships were frigates. But I am pretty sure not all 6th rate ships were frigates. Superficially similar, from a distance, the smaller 6th rates were ship-rigged, flush-decked sloops-of war. Frigates weren't flush-decked. They had a quarter-deck, at the stern.
4th Rates were typically the small two-deckers of 40 to 54 guns, too small to stand in the line of battle and too slow and clumsy to outsail frigates. I have edited the table entry accordingly. As for the sixth rate - it's a bit confusing actually. Small 28-gun frigates certainly belong there, as do large ship-sloops whether flush-decked or not (a lot of them had both quarterdeck and forecastle in fact). I am a bit uncertain as to whether there were any rated non-ship rigged vessels such as large brigs, will have to check references on that one.lordhoweno

Can I clarify? Certainly by definition (can I stress that - BY DEFINITION) sloops were unrated vessels of fewer than 20 guns (whether ship-sloops, brig-sloops or any other type of sloop). The Sixth Rate covered (up to February 1817, when there was a general revision of the rating system) vessels from 20 guns up to 30 guns. The smaller types (20 guns, 22 guns or 24 guns - there were no 26-gun types in the RN) were NOT officially classed as frigates, although sea officers would sometimes misleadingly use the term. These smaller Sixth Rates were officially described as post ships, because they were the smallest type of ship that required a post captain to command. The frigates were ships of 28 guns and above. The majority of Fifth Rates were frigates, but the Fifth Rate also included small two-deckers (non-frigates) of 40 or 44 guns. Very few of the Fourth Rates were frigates before the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but after that date the frigate grew into a large 50-gun ship which were certainly Fourth Rates. Rif Winfield 10:27, 10 September 2007 (UTC)


There really needs to be a page about the ranking system on a 18th century ship, the only hints about this is in the general ranking system of the royal navy. Their should be articles about officers on ship of the line and such.

First paragraph is navigational aidEdit

Please do not remove the first paragraph as it functions as a quick navigational aid to the other articles in this series. Thank you. Petersam 03:36, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Replaced navigation paragraph with better navigation template that someone did a nice job on! Petersam 05:53, 23 August 2007 (UTC)

How would the British have rated the USS Constitution?Edit

Part of the problem is that she has the manueverability of a traditional frigate, but the guns of a small ship of the line. Such information might be useful in the article for comparison given Constitution (and other vessels of her class) has such a unique niche. Will (Talk - contribs) 04:31, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

I don't think we have to guess. The USS President (1800) of the same tonnage, and number of guns, was captured by the RN, and taken into the RN, with no record she was going to be treated as a stretch-frigate. Geo Swan (talk) 22:13, 22 March 2009 (UTC)

Changes in the Rating systemEdit

I'm afraid there are a few errors in your description of the Rating system. As you (or someone) has been kind enough to cite my book on "The Fifty-Gun Ship" as a source on Fourth Rates, perhaps I might offer a few points. I won't make the changes myself (I am trying to update some of the individual ship entries for both the British and French navies as and when time permits) but should you wish to consult with me on any point (while I'm not omniscient or infallible, my knowledge on sailing warships in quite extensive) then I'm happy to try and help. Better still, you can email me on

1. It is not true that Pepys created the rating system, although he undertook a major revision in 1677 that vastly improved the system. Originally it was introduced during the early 17th century (under Charles I), although the exact date is unrecorded, and at that time it was based on the number of men carried per ton. In 1677 Pepys changed this to the number of men needed per gun, as well as the number and weight of those guns. There is a very good summary in Chapter 6 of Ted Archibald's book "The Wooden Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, AD 897-1860" which also describes the system in 1652. During the next few decades the system was periodically refined, to arrive at the classification that the Wikipedia article tabulates (roughly true, but still needing corrections in certain respects)

2. It is also untrue that all Fourth Rates were removed from the classification of "ship of the line" in 1756. This was true of the 50-gun ships, but not of those of 60 guns which continued technically to be classed as ships of the line. However the 60s were increasingly unfitted for any use and gradually died out (being superceded by the new 64-gun Third Rates), although this took time and there were still four 60s left in 1793, albeit in harbour use.

3. It is certainly true that not all Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Rates were frigates. Although the definition of what constituted a "frigate" varied over the years, what was common for the latter half of the 18th century was that it was a ship which carried all of its main battery on one deck (upper deck) and had no guns or ports on the decks below this upper deck. Clearly, this could apply irrespective of the overall number of guns. Thus you could have a ship of 40 guns or even fewer which had two complete gundecks, while true frigates could go up to more than 40 guns (i.e. there was an overlap).

4. Technically, the 20/22/24-gun Sixth Rates (and many unrated ship sloops), although they carried their main battery on the upper deck and were constructionally "frigate-type", were not classed as frigates. Having said this, this is not true of the Seven Years War era. At that time, the Admiralty referred to all ship-rigged vessels with no guns below the upper deck as "frigates", including the early ship-rigged vessels of less than 20 guns (and hence unrated). But after that War the term "frigate" was restricted to 28-gun ships and above.

5. In official parlance these smaller Sixth Rates with fewer than 28 guns were designated "post ships" (because they were the smallest ships able to be commanded by a post captain). However, this is confused because many sea officers would in practice refer to these smaller Sixth Rates as "frigates", even though the Admiralty did not approve this mis-use.

6. As regards Fourth Rates, the term covered all ships of MORE THAN 44 GUNS and up to 60 guns. So both frigates and two-deckers were included in the Fourth Rate. There were also Fifth Rates which were two-deckers (the 40-gun and 44-gun ships were a good example. In the first half of the 18th century there were also "demi-batterie" Fifth Rates (you will understand that this was a term adopted from the French) which, while not carrying a full tier of guns on the lower deck, had a number of ports on the lower deck and here carried a few relatively heavy guns, although the main battery (numerically) was on the upper deck.

May I respectfully draw your attention to my series of books "British Warships in the Age of Sail" (published by Chatham Publishing) of which the 1793-1817 volume was issued in 2005, and the 1714-1792 volume is currently printing for publication in the summer of this year (2007). The third volume, covering 1660-1714, is in preparation.

Can I also draw your attention to the fact that post-1815 frigates and other sailing warships are not covered in Wikipedia. This is true of the later sailing warships as well as the wooden-hulled "screw" warships of the mid-19th century. Again I would respectfully refer you to my "Sail and Steam Navy List, 1815-1889" (nominally co-authored with the late David Lyon, although sadly he died after conceiving the project and - to be blunt - was not able to help write the book, although his extensive records, which I now hold, were an essential contribution to the publication). This 2004 publication covers this era of transition. If someone could put is the appropriate 'stubs' for all the appropriate vessels and class names, I will happily fill out the detail as and when I can find time.

Regards to all, Rif Winfield 08:39, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for dropping by and for those very detailed comments. As often happens on Wikipedia the article started off as a simplified account and we're only gradually adding the full details in. If you have a moment, could you take a look at ship of the line and frigate? There are a number of us working on articles about important types of warship, though we made our first real efforts on battleship and I'm personally about to start doing serious work on ironclad warship, which is a bit after your period (though it does cover some of the material about transitional ships, which are going to be worth their own article at some time in the future). By the way, why not create a user account? It's very easy and will help keep track of your comments. The Land 12:44, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Thank you. I have made a few small changes in ship of the line, particularly to dispell the implication that the late 19th/early 20th century battleship was descended from the ship-of-the-line. I have added a fairly complete list of sail and pre-1887 steam frigate classes into List of frigates of the Royal Navy, but will ask for someone else to create the appropriate stubs for each of these classes. I will then insert more detail to flesh out the resultant articles. Rif Winfield 10:27, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Consider mergingEdit

The various ratings don't really seem to merit separate articles. I think it would be much better to concentrate content in this one article. If anything, it would cut down on needless repetition of information and better focus.

Peter Isotalo 19:39, 12 July 2007 (UTC)

Probably, yes. The Land 19:43, 12 July 2007 (UTC)

By the way, the combined content looks pretty decent to me. With a little bolstering of referencing and a general cleanup, I think it has potential to become a fine GA and on its way to an FA.

Peter Isotalo 20:28, 12 July 2007 (UTC)

Rating systems in other naviesEdit

The British Navy was not the only one to have a system of rating their vessels. Other naval powers - particularly France - had similar but not identical systems. Where can we provide this detail? Rif Winfield 10:27, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Possible retronym?Edit

The assertion that "first rate", "third rate" as references to quality, derives from the Royal Navy rating system, sounds like a possible retronym, and I think requires more authoritative references. Geo Swan (talk) 22:18, 22 March 2009 (UTC)

It's not a retronym, but a well-attested etymology. I've inserted an appropriate Wikionary reference. Shem (talk) 23:25, 22 June 2010 (UTC)

Smallest commissioned vessel?Edit

I worked on the article on the HMS Sultana. One of its references claimed it was the smallest commissioned vessel in the RN -- ie. commanded by a commissioned officer. Her complement, IIRC, was 25.

The section of this article on unrated vessels says their complement ranged down to a crew of five. Surely a vessle with a crew of five was not a commissioned vessel? The article may have made the claim that no vessel with a crew smaller than 25 was ever commissioned. Maybe she was the smallest during the brief period she was in commission (she was retired after just a few years as she and some slightly larger vessels had proven too small for their role enforcing customs regulations on the American coast.)

Anyhow, I would welcome clarification on this. Geo Swan (talk) 22:27, 22 March 2009 (UTC)

Hi Geo Swan, Check out the Placentia-class sloops. They were 20% smaller in terms of tons burthen than Sultana, and had crews of six to eight officers and men. Regards, Acad Ronin (talk) 17:47, 14 January 2013 (UTC)


Gun-brigs and Cutters are reported to have 6 to 14 guns and crew of 5 to 25. Are those guns swiwel guns or what? If so, I think it would be in place to mention it. Still, minimum crew of 5 men is too few to handle minimum number of 6 guns and the ship at the same time during a battle, even if it's a question of swiwel guns, even if they are divided to sides two by two with one in bow and one in aft. --Ukas (talk) 23:20, 7 August 2009 (UTC)

Great shipsEdit

Why was great ship redirected to this article? The term pre-dates the rating system by at least 200 years and has virtually nothing to do with this type of the classification system. Firstly the weapons and tactics that the ratings system relies on wasn't developed until much later. Secondly classification of ships in the modern sense barely existed even in 17th century. And just because "great ship" is an English term doesn't mean that it should automatically be associated with the Royal Navy of the early modern state of England several centuries later.

Peter Isotalo 01:05, 12 August 2009 (UTC)

End of the Rating SystemEdit

I wrote this from the ground up and, after two removals, have rewritten the section with references. I ask that, prior to any further blanking of this material, we discuss it here. The info should be sourced now, to avoid concerns of original research. -OberRanks (talk) 02:35, 18 January 2011 (UTC)

That's not the point; the class system and the type system do not rate ships by size, power or any other measurement - they just group identical designs together. Shem (talk) 21:02, 19 January 2011 (UTC)
We can certainly make changes that are warranted. On that same point, I'm surprised at the lack of an article on 18th/19th century British Naval uniforms. We should create one. -OberRanks (talk) 23:48, 19 January 2011 (UTC)

Removed per Concerns

By the 1890s, the Royal Navy was solely using the class system to determine warship size and power, although this system itself was independent of the rating system and used to group vessels of similar types together. A further extension of this came about in the 1950s with the evolution of the type system which is a somewhat analogous modern day system used by the Royal Navy to classify and rate escort vessels.[ref]"Rebuilding the Royal Navy: Warship design since 1945", D.K Brown & George Moore, Chatham Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-86176-222-4[/ref]

reason for discrepancy between guns carried and guns ratedEdit

The reason the number of guns carried varied from the number rated in the Royal Navy in the Napoleanic era was that the gun rating had become a proxy for the number of crewmen assigned to vessel (plus the captain's pay, amount of stores, etc). Since a carronade required a smaller crew than a long gun, it was possible to (for instance) replace 6 long 9-pounders with 12 carronades, without changing the required crew or the gun rating.

Unfortunately, I can't lay my hands on a reference for this (it might be in one of NAM Rodger's books), but when I find it I'll make a corresponding update. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:35, 29 June 2015 (UTC)

Return to "Rating system of the Royal Navy" page.