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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 German 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) prefixesEdit

Balder Viking in Aberdeen

AHTS Balder Viking

Mighty Seillean FPSO in Brazil

FPSO Noble 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
FT Factory Stern Trawler
FV Fishing Vessel
GTS Gas Turbine Ship
HLV Heavy lift vessel
HSC High Speed Craft
HSF High Speed Ferry
HTV Heavy Transport Vessel
IRV International Research Vessel
LB Liftboat
LNG/C Liquefied natural gas carrier
LPG/C Liquefied petroleum gas carrier
MF Motor Ferry
MS (M/S) Motor Ship (interchangeable with MV)
MSV Multipurpose support/supply vessel
MSY Motor Sailing Yacht
MT Motor Tanker
MV (M/V) Motor Vessel (interchangeable with MS)
MY Motor Yacht
NB Narrowboat
NRV NATO Research Vessel
NS Nuclear Ship
OSV Offshore Supply Vessel
PS Paddle Steamer
PSV Platform Supply Vessel
QTEV Quadruple Turbo Electric Vessel (see Queen of Bermuda)
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 prefixesEdit

Country Service Prefix Meaning
Flag of Argentina.svg Argentina Argentine Navy ARA Navy of the Argentine Republic (Spanish: Armada de la Republica Argentina)
Argentine Coast Guard GC Argentine Coast Guard Ship (Spanish: Guardacostas)
Flag of Australia.svg Australia Royal Australian Navy HMAS His/Her Majesty's Australian Ship
Flag of Australia.svg Australia (Victoria) Royal Navy HMVS His/Her Majesty's Victorian Ship (obsolete)
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg Austria-Hungary Austro-Hungarian Navy SMS Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)
Flag of the Bahamas.svg Bahamas Royal Bahamas Defence Force HMBS His/Her Majesty's Bahamian Ship
Flag of Bangladesh.svg Bangladesh Bangladesh Navy BNS Bangladesh Naval Ship
Flag of Barbados.svg Barbados Barbados Defence Force HMBS His/Her Majesty's Barbadian Ship
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Belgium Belgian Navy BNS Belgium Naval Ship (NATO prefix)
Flag of Brunei.svg Brunei Royal Brunei Navy KDB Kapal Di-Raja Brunei — Royal Brunei Ship
Flag of Myanmar.svg Burma Burmese Navy UBS Bamar Sit Yay Yin — Union of Burma Ship
Flag of Canada.svg 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) (no longer used)
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Department of Transport, and predecessor departments CGS Canadian Government Ship (no longer used)
CSS Canadian Survey Ship (no longer used)
DGS Dominion Government Ship (no longer used)
Royal Canadian Sea Cadets SCTS/NECM Sea Cadet Training Ship/Navire école des cadets de la Marine (French)
Flag of Colombia.svg Colombia Armada Nacional ARC Armada de la Republica de Colombia
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1865).svg Confederate States of America Confederate States Navy CSS Confederate States Ship (obsolete)
Flag of the Cook Islands.svg Cook Islands Cook Islands Police CIPPB Cook Islands Police Patrol Boat
Flag of Denmark Denmark Royal Danish Navy HDMS (Danish: KDM) His/Her Danish Majesty's Ship (Danish: Kongelige Danske Marine)
Flag of Ecuador.svg Ecuador Armada Ecuatoriana BAE Buque de la Armada de Ecuador
Flag of Estonia.svg Estonia Estonian Navy ENS (Estonian: EML) Estonian Naval Ship (NATO designation)
Estonian Coast Guard ECGS Estonian Coast Guard Ship (NATO designation)
Flag of Fiji.svg Fiji Republic of Fiji Navy RFNS Republic of Fiji Naval Ship
Flag of Finland.svg Finland Finnish Navy FNS Finnish Navy Ship. Prefixes are not used in Finnish-language communications.
Flag of France.svg France French Navy OF Okręt Francuski (pl. French Ship); used in 1940-41 for French destroyer Ouragan
FS French Ship (NATO designation); France does not use prefixes internally
Flag of the German Empire.svg German Empire Kaiserliche Marine SM U## Seiner Majestät Unterseeboot (English: His Majesty's Submarine)
SMS Seiner Majestät Schiff (English: His Majesty's Ship)
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Nazi Germany Kriegsmarine (no prefix; some authors use "DKM" for "Deutsche Kriegsmarine" and "KMS" for "Kriegsmarine Schiffe")
Flag of Germany.png West Germany Bundesmarine FGS Federal German Ship (NATO designation); West Germany did not use prefixes internally
Flag of Germany.png Germany (reunited) Deutsche Marine FGS Federal German Ship (NATO designation); Germany does not use prefixes internally
State Flag of Greece (1863-1924 and 1935-1973).svg 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.
Flag of Greece.svg Greece Hellenic Navy HS Hellenic Ship: NATO designation, used in international communications; internally the Hellenic Navy uses prefixes indicating ship type.
Flag of Guyana.svg Guyana Guyanese Coast Guard[3] GDFS Guyanese Defence Forces Ship
Flag of Hawaii.svg Kingdom of Hawaii Hawaiian Navy HHMS His Hawaiian Majesty's Ships; the only one being the Kaimiloa
Flag of Iceland.svg Iceland Icelandic Coast Guard ICGV (Icelandic: VS) Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel, (Icelandic:Varðskip)
British Raj Red Ensign.svg British Raj Indian Navy (pre-Republic) HMIS His/Her Majesty's Indian Ship
Flag of India.svg India Indian Coast Guard ICGS Indian Coast Guard Ship
Indian Navy INS Indian Naval Ship
Flag of Indonesia.svg Indonesia Indonesian Navy KRI Kapal Republik Indonesia (Republic of Indonesia Ship)
Iran Iran Imperial Iranian Navy IIS Imperial Iranian Ship (Persian: شناور شاهنشاهی ایران)
Flag of Iran.svg Iran Islamic Republic of Iran Navy IRIS Islamic Republic of Iran ship (Persian: شناور جمهوری اسلامی ایران)
Flag of Ireland.svg Ireland Irish Naval Service Long Éireannach — Irish ship
Flag of Israel.svg 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)
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Kingdom of Italy
(until 1946)
Regia Marina RN Regia Nave – Royal Ship
Regia Marina R.Smg. Regio Sommergibile – Royal Submarine
Flag of Italy.svg Italy Marina Militare ITS Italian Ship (NATO designation); Italy no longer uses prefixes
Flag of Jamaica.svg Jamaica Jamaica Defence Force HMJS His/Her Majesty's Jamaican Ship
Flag of Japan (1870–1999).svg 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")
Flag of Japan.svg Japan Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JDS or JS Japanese Defense Ship or Japanese Ship
Flag of Kenya.svg Kenya Kenyan Navy KNS Kenyan Naval Ship
Flag of Kiribati.svg Kiribati Kiribati Police Force RKS Republic of Kiribati Ship
Flag of North Korea.svg North Korea Korean People's Navy (currently unknown)
Flag of South Korea.svg South Korea Republic of Korea Navy ROKS Republic of Korea Ship
Flag of Latvia.svg Latvia Latvian Navy LVNS Latvian Naval Ship (NATO designation)
Flag of Lithuania.svg Lithuania Lithuanian Navy LKL


Lietuvos Karinis Laivas – Lithuanian Military Ship

Lithuanian Ship (NATO designation)

Flag of Malaysia.svg Malaysia Royal Malaysian Navy KD Kapal Di-Raja — His Majesty's Ship, literal: Royal Ship
Flag of the Marshall Islands.svg Marshall Islands Marshall Islands Police RMIS Republic of the Marshall Islands Ship
Flag of the Federated States of Micronesia.svg Federated States of Micronesia FSM National Police FSM Federated States of Micronesia
Flag of Mexico.svg Mexico Armada de México ARM Armada de la República Mexicana
Flag of Myanmar.svg Burma Tatmadaw Yay UMS Myanma Sit Yay Yin — Union of Myanmar Ship
Flag of Namibia.svg Namibia Namibian Navy NS Namibian Ship
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS (Dutch: Zr.Ms./Hr.Ms.) His/Her Netherlands Majesty's Ship (Dutch: Zijner/Harer Majesteits, archaic Dutch language genitive, lit. "His/Her Majesty's")
Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand Royal New Zealand Navy HMNZS His/Her Majesty's New Zealand Ship
Flag of Nigeria.svg Nigeria Nigerian Navy NNS Nigerian Naval Ship
Flag of Norway.svg Norway Royal Norwegian Navy HNoMS (Norwegian: KNM), in use since 1946 His Norwegian Majesty's Ship (Norwegian: Kongelige Norske Marine)
Norwegian Coast Guard NoCGV (Norwegian: KV) Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel (Norwegian: Kystvakten)
Flag of Oman.svg Oman Royal Navy of Oman SNV Sultanate Naval Vessel
Flag of Pakistan.svg Pakistan Pakistan Navy PNS Pakistani Naval Ship
Flag of Palau.svg Palau Palau Police PSS Palau State Ship
Flag of Papua New Guinea.svg Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea Defence Force HMPNGDFS His/Her Majesty's Papua New Guinea Defence Force Ship
Flag of Peru.svg Peru Peruvian Navy BAP Peruvian Navy Ship (Spanish: Buque Armada Peruana)
BIC Scientific Research Ship (Spanish: Buque de Investigación Científica)
Flag of the Philippines.svg 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
Flag of Poland.svg Poland Polish Navy ORP Ship of the Republic of Poland
(Polish: Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej)
Flag of Portugal.svg Portugal Marinha Portuguesa NRP Navio da República Portuguesa - Ship of the Portuguese Republic
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)
Flag of Romania.svg Romania Romanian Navy NMS Nava Majestăţii Sale (His/Her Majesty's Ship) - used before 1945 by the Royal Romanian Navy
SMR Serviciul Maritim Român (The Romanian Sea Service) - used by transport ships
ROS Romanian Ship (NATO designation, not used internally)
Flag of Russia.svg Russia Russian Navy RFS[citation needed] Russian Federation Ship; Russia does not use prefixes internally
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Saudi Arabia Saudi Navy HMS His Majesty's Ship — the same as the Royal Navy
Flag of Singapore.svg Singapore Republic of Singapore Navy RSS Republic of Singapore Ship
Flag of the Solomon Islands.svg Solomon Islands Royal Solomon Islands Police RSIPV Royal Solomon Islands Police Vessel
Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa South African Navy SAS South African Ship (previously HMSAS - His/Her Majesty's South African Ship)
SATS South African Training Ship
Flag of Spain.svg Spain Armada Española ESPS Spanish Naval Ship (Spain does not use prefixes internally)
Flag of Sri Lanka.svg Sri Lanka Sri Lankan Navy SLNS Sri Lanka Naval Ship
Flag of Sweden.svg Sweden Swedish Navy HMS/HSwMS Hans/Hennes Majestäts Skepp — the same as the Royal Navy but in Swedish
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Republic of China Republic of China Navy ROCS (older usage: CNS) Republic of China Ship (older usage: Chinese Navy Ship)
Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand Royal Thai Navy HTMS His Thai Majesty's Ship
Flag of East Timor.svg Timor-Leste Timor Leste Defense Force NRTL Navio da República de Timor Leste (Ship of the Timor Leste Republic)
Flag of Tonga.svg Tonga Tonga Defence Services VOEA Vaka O Ene Afio (His Majesty’s Vessel)
Flag of Turkey.svg Turkey Turkish Navy TCG Ship of the Turkish Republic (Turkish: Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Gemisi.)
Flag of Tuvalu.svg Tuvalu Tuvalu Police Force HMTSS His/Her Majesty's Tuvaluan State Ship
Flag of Trinidad and Tobago.svg Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force TTS Trinidad and Tobago Ship
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg 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)
Royal Navy HM Sloop His/Her Majesty's Sloop (now obsolete)
HMS His/Her Majesty's Ship/Submarine
HMSm His/Her Majesty's Submarine (not currently in use)
HMT Hired Military Transport (not currently in use)
HMAV His/Her Majesty's Armed Vessel[4] (not currently in use)
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)
Commissioners of Irish Lights ILV Irish Lights 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 (modern) USAS United States Army Ship (modern)
USAV United States Army Vessel (modern)
U.S. Army (historical)
USAT United States Army Transport (large troop or cargo transports, not currently in use)
USAMP U.S. Army Mine Planter (not currently in use)
U.S. Army Vessels not otherwise designated: tugs, FS, Q, P etc. (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)
PCU Pre-Commissioning Unit, used for ships of the United States Navy that have not been commissioned into service yet
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 Atmospheric Administration NOAAS NOAA Research Vessel
Flag of Uruguay.svg Uruguay Uruguayan Navy ROU Republica Oriental del Uruguay
Flag of Vanuatu.svg Vanuatu Vanuatu Police Force RVS Republic of Vanuatu Ship
Flag of Venezuela.svg 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 referencesEdit

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.[7] Since King Willem-Alexander succeeded Queen Beatrix on 30 April 2013, "Hr.Ms." is replaced by "Zr.Ms.".

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.[8] Only after it enters active service in the fleet and is commissioned will it be referred to as USS Flattop.[9]

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.[10] Its British equivalent ("the HMS Flattop") is also discouraged, since "the Her Majesty's Ship" would be grammatically incorrect.

Civilian ships namingEdit

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]

In science fictionEdit

In the fictional Star Trek universe, the United Federation of Planets uses the prefix "USS" for its starships. It stands for "United Space Ship" or "United Star Ship".


External linksEdit

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