Naval Marine Archive - The Canadian Collection
Library Catalogue Ships database Research Collections Bibliography About us Donate

Ship type nomenclature and classification

For detailed documentation, see also:

Royal Canadian Navy full nomenclature, including ships and air squadrons - CFAO 36-7, Annex B, issued 25 August 1972 (low resolution .pdf file)
Royal Canadian Navy do. including ships, CF auxiliary vessels, yardcraft and naval divisions - CFAO 36-7, Annex B, revised 27 September 1991 (.pdf file)
NATO Standardization Agreement STANAG 1166 MT - Standard Ship Designator System 6th edition, 2 October 2000 (.pdf file)
NATO Standardization Agreement STANAG 1166 MT - Standard Ship Designator System 8th edition, 21 November/novembre 2013 (.pdf file)
Some Royal Canadian Navy specific uses current 2023

Historically, the sailing and early powered navies used linguistic descriptions; a "first-rate" bigger than a "fifth-rate'; "a 64 gun ship"; a "frigate" faster and nimbler than a "ship-of-the-line" (line-of-battle); and commonly used "classes" (still used today) based on the name of the first ship of a series of very similar ships – the Ajax class, the Queen Elizabeth class.

In 1898, Fred T. Jane, in his first edition of All the World's fighting ships introduced a new System of Classification:

"(I.) First Class. All large modern ironclads", through (II.)... to "(V.) Coast Defence ironclads unable to keep the sea for any period".
"(1.) Heavily armed proteced cruisers", through (2.)... to "(6.) Other ships of very slight fighting value".
plus "(X..) Rams" and "(T.) Torpedo depôt ships, catchers, destroyers, etc."

From 1909 to 1914, Jane proposed the use of a uniform system of identification of war­ships. He suggested that users of his book, which was already of inter­national significance, should use a sequence of two alphabetic characters for this purpose. The first was to show the type of warship and the second to indicate the number of masts and funnels for the Type quoted. [1]

By 1922, Jane had introduced, for the US Navy, today's [2] system of e.g. "BB - Battleships, first line", "OCM - Minelayers, second line", etc. (note the traditional "line-of-battle" terminology).

The following data – to be refined and expanded – lists various acronyms, abbreviations and variations for ship types by "Hull Classification" (HC) that are in use today; however, progress over two world wars, the advent of nuclear propulsion, and other changes have prompted us to include older, "retired" classifications commonly found in published data.

       Click on column headers to sort up/down.

[ Back ] Footnote 1: The entry included instructions under an entry 'Fighting Ships Identification of Warships Signal System' describing the method of use. The primary purpose suggested was for use by merchant ships employed as 'war-scouts' and which did not carry any naval personnel embarked. Details of various hoists using the International Code of Signals together with standard 'shapes' were provided with examples of the sequence in which these were to be hoisted. Large merchant ships belonging to various countries were also included in this system. It is not clear whether this proposal ever had any official recognition but it might be conjectured that the use of class letters on the structure of destroyers before 1914 was influenced by this philosophy.

[ Back ] Footnote 2: At the very least this can be seen as the "beginnings" of USN classifications, which Jane applied to non-US navies (perhaps without consultation) starting in the mid to late 1930s. Such application became a norm after WWII, with NATO "normalization" starting for member navies. However the terminology requires in-depth understanding. Hull classifications and types, may overlap with nuances. Pennant numbers and ships names, often reflecting these nuances, may be used.


Naval Marine ArchiveThe Canadian Collection
205 Main Street, Picton, Ontario, K0K2T0, Canada
Telephone: 1 613 476 1177
E-mail: for comments, queries and suggestions.

Copyright © 2024
Naval Marine Archive
The Canadian Collection

Revised: 21 June 2023