The Royal Navy forms a constituent part of the naval service, which also comprises Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve.
The head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral, a position that has been held by the Sovereign since 1964.
The professional head of the naval service is the First Sea Lord, and the upper echelons of naval command are members of the Navy Board, which includes the First Sea Lord, Fleet Commander, Second Sea Lord (Chief of Naval Home Personnel and Training), Chief of Fleet Support, Commander NATO Maritime Command, Controller of the Navy, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, Commandant General Royal Marines.
The Admiralty Board has command over officers, ratings and marines and is charged with the adminsitration of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. It is chaired by the Defence Secretary.
The naval hierarchy is arranged in distinct groups:
- Flag rank officers: Admiral of the Fleet, admiral (also referred to as a ‘full-admiral’), vice-admiral, rear-admiral, commodore
- Commissioned officers: captain, commander, lieutenant-commander, lieutenant, sub-lieutenant, midshipman
- Warrant officers: non-commissioned officers holding a Royal Warrant. They are addressed as ‘Mr (surname)’ or ‘Warrant’.
Full title includes their specialism, for example: ‘Warrant Officer (Catering Services) Jones’; abbreviated to WO.
- Senior rates: comprising chief petty officers and petty officers (CPO and PO). They are addressed as ‘Chief’ and ‘PO’ (surname). Similarly, their full title includes their specialism.
- Junior rates: comprising leading hands and able seamen. They are addressed as ‘Leader’ (or the slang term ‘Killick’) and ‘AB’, respectively, followed by their specialism and surname.
Note: throughout the Royal Navy, a more junior officer would address a superior as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’.
'Royal Navy' or 'RN'
All officers of the Royal Navy below the rank of Rear Admiral, whether on the active or retired lists, are entitled to the words 'Royal Navy' or 'RN' after their name, preceded by decorations, etc. 'RN' is generally used where the rank is abbreviated, 'Royal Navy' is used when the rank is written in full.