Captain (Royal Navy)

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Officers Promoted to the Rank of Captain in the Royal Navy
Royal Navy Captains, 1880-1884
Royal Navy Captains, 1885-1889
Royal Navy Captains, 1890-1894
Royal Navy Captains, 1895-1899
Royal Navy Captains, 1900-1904
Royal Navy Captains, 1905-1909
Royal Navy Captains, 1910-1914
Royal Navy Captains of the Great War

Captain was a rank in the Military Branch of the British Royal Navy, the most senior before promotion to Flag Rank and the rank of Rear-Admiral.

Post Captain

Under the Regulations and Instructions for the Government of the Naval Service, the Captain is ‘The officer appointed to command the ship, or upon whom the actual command may have devolved.’[1] In the Nineteenth Century officers of the rank of Commander were unofficially styled as Captain as a courtesy. To differentiate them and captains of ships from officers of the rank of captain, the latter were often called Post Captains.


By Order in Council dated 19 May, 1899, the periods on Full Pay required to qualify as a Captain were ‘two year’s Service as Commander, of which one year must have been in a “Ship of War at Sea.”’ A commander may also have been promoted to Captain for gallantry in action provided he had completed one year's service in a ship of war at sea.[2]

No Captain who shall have declined service when called upon, or against whose character there may be anything affecting him as an officer and a gentleman, shall be considered eligible for advancement to the rank of Flag Officer.[3]


Average Age of Captains,
1894 – 1911.
Year. Average Age.
1894 42 years 7 months
1895 43 years 4 months
1896 42 years 11 months
1897 43 years 7 months
1898 43 years 2 months
1899 42 years
1900 40 yrs 7 months
1901 41 yrs 1 month
1902 40 yrs 6 months
1903 40 yrs 2 months
1904 40 yrs 2 months
1905 39 yrs 5 months
1906 39 yrs 5 months
1907 39 yrs 4 months
1908 39 yrs
1909 38 yrs 3 months
1910 39 yrs 10 months
1911 39 yrs 4 months

The Order in Council of 22 February, 1870, decreased the number of Captains to 150 (of whom only 89 were employed at the time).[5] Under the Order in Council of 16 July, 1895, the number of Captains was increased to 203. By Order in Council of 29 November, 1898, the number was increased to 245, with an increase of four in 1898, ‘5 in 1899, 5 in 1900, and so on in each succeeding three years’. At some point the establishment was increased to 253, but on 1 April, 1912, 268 were actually borne, of whom 213 were employed.[6]


In 1856 a Captain was given three "bars of ½ inch Gold Lace round the cuff".[7] In March 1863 four stripes was introduced.[8]


  1. The King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions (1913). I. p. ix.
  2. The Orders-in-Council for the Regulation of the Naval Service, 1903. p. 53.
  3. Article 263, Section 3. K.R. & A.I. (1913). p. 71.
  4. ‘Report of the Conference on the Executive Lists of the Royal Navy.’ p. 21. In docket ‘Retirement & Promotion of Officers on Lists of Flag Officers, Captains & Commanders.’ The National Archives. ADM 1/8370/65.
  5. ‘Report of the Conference on the Executive Lists of the Royal Navy.’ p.15. The National Archives. ADM 1/8370/65.
  6. ‘Report of the Conference on the Executive Lists of the Royal Navy.’ p.19. The National Archives. ADM 1/8370/65.
  7. Docket dated 4 April 1856. The National Archives. ADM 1/5675.
  8. Memorandum No. 32 dated 26 March 1863. The National Archives. ADM 1/5832.


  • Black, Nicholas (2009). The British Naval Staff in the First World War. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843834427.