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For the fish called midshipman, see midshipman fish.

A midshipman is a subordinate officer, or alternatively a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the navies of several English-speaking countries. The word derives from the part of ship, midships, where they were usually stationed.

Royal Navy

In the Royal Navy, the rank of midshipman is one of the oldest ranks still in existence, and is the second lowest rank of officer, above that of Officer Cadet. Although not commissioned, midshipmen are officers in the Royal Navy, and rank immediately below Second Lieutenants in the British Army and Pilot Officers in the Royal Air Force and above all enlisted and warrant ranks. A midshipman's rank insignia, which has changed little since Napoleonic times, is a white rhomboid piece of cloth with a gold button and a twist of white cord on each side of the coat collar.

Midshipmen were formerly appointed by warrant or simply entered onto a ship's books, but today, like other subordinate officers, hold their ranks by Admiralty Board orders. In Napoleonic times boys could only be rated midshipmen after two years at sea, after which they were eligible to sit the examination for Lieutenant after a further four years, being at least 19 years of age. Today the rank is only held by officers under the age of 20, at which age they are appointed Sub-Lieutenants (or Acting Sub-Lieutenants where this rank still exists).

In Royal Navy slang, midshipmen are sometimes referred to as "snotties", and a somewhat dubious legend states that the three buttons formerly on the jacket cuffs of the midshipman were placed there to prevent him wiping his nose on his sleeve [1].

United States Navy

In the United States Navy, "midshipman" is the rank, whether nominal or actual, held by undergraduate students in university-level officer training programs. By tradition, regulation and even explicit acknowledgement in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, U.S. Navy midshipmen are considered officers of the line, but have no commission or warrant, and no legal military authority inherent in their rank.

Students at the U.S. Naval Academy are appointed by the President to the rank of midshipman, and serve on active duty in that rank. Unlike appointments and promotions of commissioned officers, there is no requirement that midshipman nominations be confirmed by the Senate[1]. (However, see U.S. Naval Academy for additional information about the congressional nomination process for service academy appointments.) Though the President has sole authority to appoint midshipmen, the authority is delegated to the Secretary of the Navy, who actually makes the appointments.

Midshipmen in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, including students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and at civilian colleges with ROTC programs, have a completely different legal status. They enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve for the purpose of being appointed a midshipman, and are so appointed by the Secretary of the Navy[2]. ROTC midshipmen are considered midshipmen for purposes of address, uniforms and general status, but legally are enlisted in the Navy and are not on active duty, except for the special status of "active duty for training" during extended summer training tours in the fleet.

U.S. Navy midshipman class and rank insignia

With the exception of a few specialty uniforms, midshipmen wear uniforms very closely adapted from those of Navy officers, with rank insignia according to seniority gained by class year:

  • a freshman (fourth class midshipman, or "plebe" in the case of the Naval Academy) wears no collar (working uniform) or sleeve (service dress blouse) insignia
  • a sophomore (third class, or USNA "youngster") wears a single fouled anchor on the right collar point or a single diagonal gold stripe on the right sleeve
  • a junior (second class) wears fouled anchors on each collar point or two diagonal gold stripes on the right sleeve
  • a senior (first class, or USNA "firstie") wears fouled anchors with perched eagles or a horizonal gold stripe (around the entire wrist) on each sleeve

Certain first class midshipmen hold additional "midshipman officer" rank, indicated by "bar" insignia or stripes with stars -- one stripe / bar for "midshipman ensign" ranging up to six stripes / bars for "midshipman captain." The brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy is a midshipman captain.

Midshipman shoulder boards, for all classes and midshipman officers, have stripes along the same plan as service dress blouse sleeves as described above.

U.S. Navy midshipman pay

As of fiscal year 2006, Naval Academy midshipmen were paid US$845.70 monthly[3]. This pay goes into a special account from which expenses (barber shop, tailoring, laundry, books, etc.) are deducted, a small amount is actually paid to the individual, and the rest is saved until the midshipman is paid off at graduation or separation time. Midshipmen do not receive allowances for quarters or subsistence as do other active duty service members.

Midshipman pay was linked to ensign pay (35% for budgeting purposes, though this figure is not required to be exact) by the FY 2001 National Defense Authorization Act.

NROTC midshipmen on scholarship or who have achieved advanced upperclass (second- or first-class) standing receive a $250 to $400 monthly stipend. This stipend is not federal government "pay" in a statutory sense.


  1. United States Code, Title 10, Section 6953
  2. United States Code, Title 10, Section 2107
  3. Executive Order 13393, December 22, 2005; 70 F.R. 76655 (December 27, 2005)

See also

External links