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British Rating Systems

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 3 months ago

Royal Navy Ship Rating Systems


There are six rating levels in the rating system of the Royal Navy, seven if you include unrated vessels.



Rating system by date

1st RateShip of the line90-10094-100100100100100100-120
2nd RateShip of the line64-9090-9690909090&9890&98
3rd RateShip of the line56-7064-8070&8070&8064-8064-8064-84
4th RateShip of the Line38-6244-6450&6050&6050&6050&6250&60
5th RateFrigate28-3826-4430&4030&4030-4430-4430-44
6th RateFrigate/Post Ship4-1810-2410&2020&2420-3020-2820-28

Note: After 1756, fourth rates with less than 60 guns were not considered Ships of the Line.


The system was originally based upon crew size and was used to formulate the rate of pay of teh crew and officers, the higher the rate (First rate being the highest) the better the pay. This system was formalised and expanded upon in 1677 by Samuel Pepys, then Secretary to the Admiralty, who laid it down as a 'solemn, universal and unalterable' classification. The Rating of a ship was of administrative and military use. The number of guns determined the size of crew needed, and hence the amount of pay and rations needed. It also indicated whether a ship was powerful enough to stand in the line of battle. Pepys's original classification was updated by further definitions in 1685, 1697, 1714, 1721, 1760, 1782 and 1801. On the whole the trend was for each rate to have a greater number of guns. For instance, Pepys allowed a First Rate 90-100 guns, but on the 1801 scheme a First Rate had 100-120. A Sixth Rate's range went from 4 to 18 to 20-28.


A First to Third Rate ship was regarded as a 'ship-of-the-line'. The Fourth Rate, of about 50 guns on two decks, was a ship-of-the-line until 1756, when it was felt that such ships were now too small for pitched battles.


The rated number of guns often differed from the number actually carried. Cannon (large, smooth-bored, muzzle-loading guns) were counted towards the rating, but not carronades (short guns which were half the weight of equivalent long guns), although rated vessels could carry up to twelve 24- or 32-pounder carronades. During the Napoleonic Wars the correlation between formal gun rating and actual number of long guns or carronades carried by any individual vessel was theoretical at best.


Rating was not the only system of- classification used. Early definitions required a "ship" to have three square-rigged masts. Vessels with less than three masts were sloops or brigs. Vessels were also sometimes classified by her captain. For instance, if a brig were assigned a post-captain as her commander, she would instantly become a frigate as this was the smallest vessel considered acceptable.


Although the rating system was only used by the Royal Navy, British authors might still use "first-rate" when referring to the largest ships of other nations or "third-rate" to speak of a French seventy-four. By the end of the 18th century, the rating system had mostly fallen out of common use, ships of the line usually being characterized directly by their nominal number of guns, the numbers even being used as the name of the type, as in "a squadron of three seventy-fours".


The rating system did not handle vessels smaller than the sixth rate, the remainder simply being "unrated". The larger of the unrated vessels were generally called sloops (but be warned that nomenclature is quite confusing for unrated vessels, especially when dealing with the finer points of "brig", "sloop-of-war", "corvette" and "post-ship" and whether any particular vessel is one, the other, or several of these at once). Sixth-rate ships were generally useful as convoy escorts, for blockade duties and the carrying of dispatches; their small size made them a bit unsuited for the general cruising tasks the fifth-rate frigates did so well.


In 1817, the Royal Navy introduced a new rating system which included carronades in the count.


The rating system was again modified later based more on the size of the crew.


By the time of the French Revolutionary wars all rated ships (1st to 6th) were commanded by a POST CAPTAIN. Sloops, bombs, fire ships and ships armed en flute, (a rated warship with some or all of its guns removed), were commanded by COMMANDERS. Smaller vessels like schooners and cutters were commanded by LIEUTENANTS. Sometimes a MASTER or a MIDSHIPMAN would command a very small vessel or a sloop used to carry stores. A LIEUTENANT, a MIDSHIPMAN or a MASTER`S MATE could be put in temporary command of a captured prize.


SHIPS-OF-THE-LINE were those which were powerful enough to take their place in the line of battle.




Notes on Naval History

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