• ETC
  • Aug 22, 2014
We're introducing a new daily feature at Autoblog Military today, called "Military Terminology." As you may have guessed based on that rather obvious title, each day, we'll be posting a common military phrase, term or acronym and endeavor to explain what it means, how it was developed and if it has any other less official meanings. As always, topics will have a decided lean towards the vehicles, ships and aircraft of the armed forces.

Today, we're going to start simple, by explaining the difference between a boat and a ship, something you'll need to understand if you're chatting with a sailor, particularly one that serves aboard a submarine.

The typical rule of thumb, according to the Naval Education and Training Command, is that you can put a boat on a ship, but you can't put a ship on a boat. In other words, if there are smaller boats, like lifeboats, dinghies or runabouts that are onboard, the vessel is a ship. Things get more complicated than that – cargo vessels on the Great Lakes are commonly referred to as boats, despite their very large size – but we'll maintain our focus on the military.

In the US Navy, every commissioned surface vessel is a ship, from the hulking Nimitz-class aircraft carriers to the tiny Cyclone-class patrol ships, hence the USS (United States Ship) before each of their names (non-commissioned ships wear the "USNS" designation). Submarines, meanwhile, are boats, despite wearing the same "USS" moniker. The reasoning for this isn't entirely clear, although as is so often the case, it's naval tradition, which tends to supersede all else.

If you have any suggestions on a phrase you aren't sure about, be sure to reach out to brandon dot turkus at autoblog dot com, and we'll be sure to feature it in the coming days.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 9 Comments
      Capt Dave
      • 4 Months Ago


      Bryan Fellows
      • 4 Months Ago

      Look, if you intend to educate the public on military terminology, you should stop right now!  Your first attempt at this is isn't even close.  Actually it's pretty insulting.  You left out the most important detail.  It's based on displacement.  Larger than 500 tons displacement and it's a ship.  I didn't serve on subs so I won't comment.  I will leave that to the subsurface sailors out there.  I served in the US Navy.  I still correct many people today when I hear them call a ship a boat.

        BTippy
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Bryan Fellows

        Bryan, as a subsurface sailor I was taught there are two kinds of "ships", submarines and targets. I do know that all submarines are boats and it is an insult to call a submarine a ship.

        Old Guy
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Bryan Fellows

        In the US Navy you serve in a Ship same with Sub you serve in a Sub ether on top of the Water or below the serface

      Rolling
      • 4 Months Ago

      The book definition that i was taught is that a ship = "Any vessel capable of making independent unassisted voyages on the high seas" so as a rule of thumb a submarine is a Ship in that regard even though submariners refer to it as the boat. hence the original early WW1 and WW2 designation of U-boat or undersea boat, if anyone has a better explanation please chime in. thats what i was taught.

      Perry
      • 4 Months Ago

       

      They claim that the U.S.S. Cole is a ship, but this makes me wonder.

      peter leco
      • 4 Months Ago

      Very Intresting, According to Nathaniel Bowditch ( The Nautical Bible for Navigation), A ship leans out and a boat leans into a turn.

        Perry
        • 4 Months Ago
        @peter leco

        I had posted a picture of the U.S.S. Cole loaded on a ship to be taken back to America for repairs.  The picture didn't post.  Sort of took away the challenge.  A lot of our guys were killed and injured that day.  Hat off to them and all that serve our country.

      GunnyB
      • 4 Months Ago

      I spent over twenty years in the Marines, a good portion of that on naval vessels.  I found it was was easiest to just call them what the sailors did.