Ship prefix

Ship prefix

A ship prefix is a combination of letters, usually abbreviations, used in front of the name of a civilian or naval ship.

Prefixes for civilian vessels may either identify the type of propulsion, such as "SS" for steamship, or purpose, such as "RV" for research vessel. Civilian prefixes are often used inconsistently, and frequently not at all. Sometimes a slash is used to separate the letters, as in "M/S".

Naval prefixes came into use as abbreviations for longer titles, such as "His/Her Majesty's Ship" in the Royal Navy, abbreviated "H.M.S." and then "HMS". Earlier uses often included the type of vessel, as for instance "U.S.F." ("United States Frigate") for frigates of the United States Navy. Today the common practice is to use a single prefix for all warships of a nation's navy, and other prefixes for auxiliaries and ships of allied services, such as coast guards.

The use of ship prefixes is not universal; in particular neither the Third Reich's Kriegsmarine nor the Imperial Japanese Navy used ship prefixes. Some English-language writers use prefixes like "DKM" (for "Deutsche Kriegsmarine") and "HIJMS" (for "His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship") or "IJN" (for "Imperial Japanese Navy", a translation of 大日本帝国海軍 dai-nippon teikoku kaigun) for consistency with "HMS" and "USS". Other writers follow the practice of the navy and omit any prefix.

From the 20th century onwards, most navies identify ships by hull numbers — identification codes typically painted on the side of the ship. Each navy has its own system: the United States Navy uses hull classification symbols, and the Royal Navy and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth use pennant numbers.

These tables list both current and historical prefixes known to have been used.


Generic (Merchant Navy) prefixes

AHTS Balder Viking
FPSO Seillean
  Prefix   Meaning
AHT Anchor Handling Tug
AHTS Anchor Handling Tug Supply vessel
CRV Coastal Research Vessel
C/F Car Ferry
CS Cable Ship
DB Derrick Barge
DEPV Diesel Electric Paddle Vessel
DLB Derrick Lay Barge
DCV Deepwater Construction Vessel
DSV Diving Support Vessel/ Deep Submergence Vehicle
DV Dead vessel[1]
ERRV Emergency Response Rescue Vessel[citation needed]
FPSO Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Vessel
FPV Free Piston Vessel
FPV Fishery Patrol Vessel
FV Fishing Vessel
GTS Gas Turbine Ship
HLV Heavy lift vessel
HSC High Speed Craft
HSF High Speed Ferry
HTV Heavy Transport Vessel
LB Liftboat
LNG/C Liquefied natural gas carrier
LPG/C Liquefied petroleum gas carrier
MF Motor Ferry
MS (M/S) Motor Ship (interchangeable[citation needed] with MV)
MSV Multipurpose support/supply vessel
MSY Motor Sailing Yacht
MT Motor Tanker
MV (M/V) Motor Vessel (interchangeable[citation needed] with MS)[citation needed]
MY Motor Yacht
nb Narrowboat
NRV NATO Research Vessel
NS Nuclear Ship
OSV Offshore Support Vessel
PS Paddle Steamer
PSV Platform Supply Vessel
RV Research Vessel
RMS Royal Mail Ship or Royal Mail Steamer
SB Sailing Barge
SS (S/S) Steamship (with screw propellers, can be either coal- or oil-fired)
SSCV Semi-Submersible Crane Vessel
SSV Sailing School Vessel, Submarine and Special Warfare Support Vessel[2]
ST Steam Tug
STS Sail Training Ship
STV Sail Training Vessel or Steam Turbine Vessel
SV Sailing Vessel
SY Sailing Yacht or Steam Yacht
TEV Turbine Electric Vessel
TIV Turbine Installation Vessel
TS Training Ship
TSS Turbine Steam Ship or Twin Screw Steamer
TV Training vessel

National or military prefixes

Country Service Prefix Meaning
 Argentina Argentine Navy ARA Navy of the Argentine Republic (Spanish: Armada de la Republica Argentina)
Argentinian Coast Guard GC Argentinian Coast Guard Ship (Spanish: Guardacostas)
 Australia Royal Australian Navy HMAS His/Her Majesty's Australian Ship
 Australia (Victoria) Royal Navy HMVS His/Her Majesty's Victorian Ship (obsolete)
 Austria-Hungary Austro-Hungarian Navy SMS Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)
 Bahamas Royal Bahamas Defence Force HMBS His/Her Majesty's Bahamian Ship
 Bangladesh Bangladesh Navy BNS Bangladesh Naval Ship
 Barbados Barbados Defence Force HMBS His/Her Majesty's Barbadian Ship
 Belgium Belgian Navy BNS Belgium Naval Ship (NATO prefix)
 Brunei Royal Brunei Navy KDB Kapal Di-Raja Brunei — Royal Brunei Ship
 Burma Burmese Navy UBS Bamar Sit Yay Yin — Union of Burma Ship
 Canada Royal Canadian Navy HMCS/NCSM His/Her Majesty's Canadian Ship/Navire Canadien de Sa Majesté (French)
CFAV/NAFC Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel/Navire auxiliaire des Forces canadiennes (French)
Canadian Coast Guard CCGS/NGCC Canadian Coast Guard Ship/Navire de Garde côtière canadienne (French)
CCGC/CGCC Canadian Coast Guard Cutter/Cotre de Garde côtière canadienne (French)
Department of Fisheries and Oceans CGS Canadian Government Ship (no longer used)
DGS Dominion Government Ship (no longer used)
Royal Canadian Sea Cadets/Cadets de la Marine royale du Canada SCTS/NECM Sea Cadet Training Ship/Navire école des cadets de la Marine (French)
 Colombia Armada Nacional ARC Armada de la Republica de Colombia
 Confederate States of America Confederate States Navy CSS Confederate States Ship (obsolete)
 Cook Islands Cook Islands Police CIPPB Cook Islands Police Patrol Boat
 Denmark Royal Danish Navy HDMS (Danish: KDM) His/Her Danish Majesty's Ship (Danish: Kongelige Danske Marine)
 Ecuador Armada Ecuatoriana BAE Buque de la Armada de Ecuador
 Estonia Estonian Navy ENS (Estonian: EML) Estonian Naval Ship (NATO designation)
Estonian Coast Guard ECGS Estonian Coast Guard Ship (NATO designation)
 Fiji Republic of Fiji Navy RFNS Republic of Fiji Naval Ship
 Finland Finnish Navy FNS Finnish Navy Ship. Prefixes are not used in Finnish-language communications.
 France French Navy FS French Ship (NATO designation); France does not use prefixes internally
 German Empire Kaiserliche Marine SM U## Seiner Majestät Unterseeboot (English: His Majesty's Submarine)
SMS Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)
 Nazi Germany Kriegsmarine (no prefix; some authors use "DKM" for "Deutsche Kriegsmarine" and "KMS" for "Kriegsmarine Schiffe")
 West Germany Bundesmarine FGS Federal German Ship (NATO designation); West Germany did not use prefixes internally
 Germany (reunited) Deutsche Marine FGS Federal German Ship (NATO designation); Germany does not use prefixes internally
 Kingdom of Greece Royal Hellenic Navy ΒΠ (VP) Βασιλικόν Πλοίον (Vassilikón Ploíon), "Royal Ship"; RHS (Royal Hellenic Ship) or HHMS (His Hellenic Majesty's Ship) in use by English-language authors and contemporary foreign navies.
 Greece Hellenic Navy HS Hellenic Ship: NATO designation, used in international communications; internally the Hellenic Navy uses prefixes indicating ship type.
 Guyana Guyanese Coast Guard[3] GDFS Guyanese Defence Forces Ship
 Kingdom of Hawaii Hawaiian Navy HHMS His Hawaiian Majesty's Ships; the only one being the Kaimiloa
 Iceland Icelandic Coast Guard ICGV (Icelandic: VS) Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel, (Icelandic:Varðskip)
 India Indian Navy (pre-Republic) HMIS His/Her Majesty's Indian Ship
 India Indian Coast Guard ICGS Indian Coast Guard Ship
Indian Navy INS Indian Naval Ship
 Indonesia Indonesian Navy KRI Kapal Republik Indonesia (Republic of Indonesia Ship)
 Ireland Irish Naval Service Long Éireannach — Irish ship
 Israel Israeli Sea Corps INS Israeli Naval Ship (Internally Hebrew acronym אח"י (A.Ch.Y.) is used standing for אניית חיל הים (Oniyat Heyl HaYam - Sea Corps Ship)
 Kingdom of Italy
(until 1946)
Regia Marina RN Regia Nave – Royal Ship
Regia Marina R.Smg. Regio Sommergibile – Royal Submarine
 Italy Marina Militare ITS Italian Ship (NATO designation); Italy no longer uses prefixes
 Jamaica Jamaica Defence Force HMJS His/Her Majesty's Jamaican Ship
 Empire of Japan Imperial Japanese Navy (no prefix; some authors use "HIJMS" for "His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship" and "IJN" for "Imperial Japanese Navy")
 Japan Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JDS or JS Japanese Defense Ship or Japanese Ship
 Kenya Kenyan Navy KNS Kenyan Naval Ship
 Kiribati Kiribati Police Force RKS Republic of Kiribati Ship
 South Korea Republic of Korea Navy ROKS Republic of Korea Ship
 Latvia Latvian Navy LVNS Latvian Naval Ship (NATO designation)
 Lithuania Lithuanian Navy LKL


Lietuvos Karinis Laivas – Lithuanian Military Ship

Lithuanian Ship (NATO designation)

 Malaysia Royal Malaysian Navy KD Kapal Di-Raja — His Majesty's Ship, literal: Royal Ship
 Marshall Islands Marshall Islands Police RMIS Republic of the Marshall Islands Ship
 Federated States of Micronesia FSM National Police FSS Federated States Ship
 Mexico Armada de México ARM Armada de la República Mexicana
 Myanmar Tatmadaw Yay UMS Myanma Sit Yay Yin — Union of Myanmar Ship
 Netherlands Royal Netherlands Navy Hr.Ms./Zr.Ms. (English: HNLMS) Harer/Zijner Majesteits (English: His/Her Netherlands Majesty's Ship)
 New Zealand Royal New Zealand Navy HMNZS His/Her Majesty's New Zealand Ship
 Nigeria Nigerian Navy NNS Nigerian Naval Ship
 Norway Royal Norwegian Navy HNoMS (Norwegian: KNM) His Norwegian Majesty's Ship (Norwegian: Kongelige Norske Marine)
Norwegian Coast Guard NoCGV (Norwegian: KV) Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel (Norwegian: Kystvakten)
 Oman Royal Navy of Oman SNV Sultanate Naval Vessel
 Pakistan Pakistan Navy PNS Pakistani Naval Ship
 Palau Palau Police PSS Palau State Ship
 Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea Defence Force HMPNGDFS His/Her Majesty's Papua New Guinea Defence Force Ship
 Peru Peruvian Navy BAP Peruvian Navy Ship (Spanish: Buque Armada Peruana)
BIC Scientific Research Ship (Spanish: Buque de Investigación Científica)
 Philippines Philippine Navy BRP Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas; in use since 1 July 1980
(Ship of the Republic of the Philippines)
RPS Republic of the Philippines Ship (Obsolete); before 1 July 1980
 Poland Polish Navy ORP Ship of the Republic of Poland
(Polish: Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej)
 Portugal Marinha Portuguesa NRP Navio da República Portuguesa - Portuguese Republic Ship
PNS Portuguese Navy Ship (NATO designation, not used internally)
UAM Unidade Auxiliar da Marinha - Navy Auxiliary Unit (used by the Portuguese Navy non-military ships)
 Romania Romanian Navy NMS Nava Majestatii Sale (His/Her majesty's Ship) - used before 1945 by the Royal Romanian Navy
SMR Serviciul Maritim Roman (The Romanian Sea Service) - used by transport ships
ROS Romanian Ship (NATO designation, not used internally)
 Russia Russian Navy RFS[citation needed] Russian Federation Ship; Russia does not use prefixes internally
 Saudi Arabia Saudi Navy HMS His Majesty's Ship — the same as the Royal Navy
 Singapore Republic of Singapore Navy RSS Republic of Singapore Ship
 Solomon Islands Royal Solomon Islands Police RSIPV Royal Solomon Islands Police Vessel
 South Africa South African Navy SAS South African Ship (previously HMSAS - His/Her Majesty's South African Ship)
SATS South African Training Ship
 Spain Armada Española SPS Spanish Naval Ship (Spain does not use prefixes internally)
 Sri Lanka Sri Lankan Navy SLNS Sri Lanka Naval Ship
 Sweden Swedish Navy HMS Hans/Hennes Majestäts Skepp — the same as the Royal Navy but in Swedish
 Republic of China Republic of China Navy ROCS (older usage: CNS) Republic of China Ship (older usage: Chinese Navy Ship)
 Thailand Royal Thai Navy HTMS His Thai Majesty's Ship
 Tonga Tonga Defence Services VOEA Vaka O Ene Afio (His Majesty’s Vessel)
 Turkey Turkish Navy TCG Ship of the Turkish Republic (Turkish: Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Gemisi.)
 Tuvalu Tuvalu Police Force HMTSS His/Her Majesty's Tuvaluan State Ship
 Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force TTS Trinidad and Tobago Ship
 United Kingdom Ships carrying mail RMS Royal Mail Steamer/Ship
Fishery protection vessels FPV Fisheries Protection Vessel
Royal Air Force HMAFV His/Her Majesty's Air Force Vessel (not currently in use)
Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships RFA Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Royal Maritime Auxiliary
RMAS Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (now obsolete)
Serco Denholm ships SD Vessels previously operated under RMAS prefix that are now operated under contract by Serco Denholm
Royal Navy HM Sloop His/Her Majesty's Sloop (now obsolete)
HMS His/Her Majesty's Ship/Submarine
HMSm His/Her Majesty's Submarine
HMT Hired Military Transport (not currently in use)
HMAV His/Her Majesty's Armed Vessel[4] (not contemporaneously used)
HMY His/Her Majesty's Yacht (not currently in use)
HMMGB His/Her Majesty's Motor Gun Boat (not currently in use)
HMM His/Her Majesty's Monitor (not currently in use)
HMSML His/Her Majesty's Small Motor Launch
HBMS His/Her Britannic Majesty's Ship (archaic)
HM His/Her Majesty's, then used with the type of ship in military use (e.g. "HM Trawler")
Hospital ships HMHS His/Her Majesty's Hospital Ship
Joint Services HMSTC His/Her Majesty's Sail Training Craft
Trinity House THV Trinity House Vessel (Lighthouse and Buoy Tender)
Northern Lighthouse Board NLV Northern Lighthouse Vessel (Lighthouse tender)
British Army HMAV Her Majesty's Army Vessel[5]
RCLV Royal Corps of Logistics Vessel (not currently in use)
Government research ships RRS Royal Research Ship
HM Revenue and Customs HMCC, HMC His/Her Majesty's Customs Cutter shortened to His/Her Majesty's Cutter after being transferred to the UK Border Agency
HM Customs and Excise (replaced by HMRC, above) HMRC His/Her Majesty's Revenue Cutter (not used since 18 April 2005)
 United States U.S. Air Force USAF, USAFS United States Air Force ship (not currently in use)
U.S. Army USAS United States Army Ship
USAV United States Army Vessel
USAT United States Army Transport (not currently in use)
USAHS United States Army Hospital Ship (not currently in use)
U.S. Navy USF United States Frigate (obsolete)
USFS United States Flagship (obsolete)
USS United States Ship
U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command USNS United States Naval Ship (USN owned, civilian crews)
USNV United States Naval Vessel (foreign-built, USN-leased, USN crews)[6]
United States Coast Guard USCGC United States Coast Guard Cutter
USCGD United States Coast Guard Destroyer (not currently in use)
United States Lighthouse Service USLHT United States Lighthouse Tender (obsolete)
United States Revenue Cutter Service USRC United States Revenue Cutter (obsolete)
National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration NOAAS NOAA Research Vessel
 Uruguay Uruguayan Navy ROU Republica Oriental del Uruguay
 Vanuatu Vanuatu Police Force RVS Republic of Vanuatu Ship
 Venezuela Venezuelan Navy FNV Fuerzas Navales de Venezuela Not in use since 1949
ARV Armada Republica de Venezuela Not in use 1999
ARBV Armada Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela

Notes and references

The designations for United Kingdom ships applied at the time of the British Empire, before the establishment of separate navies for the Dominions.

In the Royal Netherlands Navy, "HNLMS" is the prefix in English, a translation of the Dutch original "Hr.Ms." or "Zr.Ms.". "Hr.Ms." should preferably not be used in English-language documents; nevertheless it is often seen on the World Wide Web. Until the moment a Dutch naval ship officially enters active service in the fleet, the ship's name is used without the prefix.[citation needed]

In Australia, the prefix NUSHIP is used to denote ships that have yet to be commissioned into the fleet.[citation needed]

In the United States Navy, all prefixes other than "USS," "USNS", "USNV", and "USRC" were made obsolete in 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law a bill fixing American naval nomenclature. USRC was replaced by USCGC when the Revenue Cutter Service became the United States Coast Guard in 1915.[citation needed]

A United States ship that has not yet been commissioned in the Navy does not hold the title of USS, it holds the title of PCU (Pre-commissioned unit). For example, say a shipyard is building a new aircraft carrier, the Flattop. From the date the keel is laid to the date it is commissioned, it is called the PCU Flattop.[7] Only after it enters active service in the fleet and is commissioned will it be referred to as USS Flattop.[8]

By law, the U.S. Navy may not purchase foreign-built ships, but it may lease them as United States Naval Vessels.[6]

When it is stricken from the fleet list, a ship typically has the prefix "ex-" added to its name, to distinguish it from any active ships bearing the same name. For example, after USS Constellation (CV-64) was retired in 2003, she became referred to as ex-Constellation.[citation needed]

Note that while calling a US ship "the USS Flattop" may make grammatical sense, the preliminary article "the" is discouraged by nearly all style guides, and the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy uses ship names without article, except for USS The Sullivans, named for the five Sullivan brothers, all lost at sea during World War II.[citation needed] Its British equivalent ("the HMS Flattop") is also discouraged, since "the Her Majesty's Ship" would be grammatically incorrect.

Civilian ships naming

In 1939, the British Ministry of Shipping adopted a standard naming system whereby all merchant ships ordered to be built in Britain to Government account, except very small ship types, would be given the prefix Empire to their name. This applied to ships acquired through purchase, requisition, or taken in prize, with some exceptions. It also applied to older ships acquired from the USA, modern ships acquired on Lease/Lend arrangements, salved and refitted ships, and captured enemy ships.[citation needed]


External links

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