20 Important Ship Prefixes

Ship prefix is a combination of letters, usually abbreviations, used in front of the name of a civilian or naval ship that has historically served numerous purposes, such as identifying the vessel’s mode of propulsion, purpose, or ownership/nationality.

Today the common practice is to use a single prefix for all warships of a nation’s navy, and other prefixes for auxiliaries and ships of allied services, such as coast guards.

These days, general civilian prefixes are used inconsistently, and frequently not at all. In terms of abbreviations that may reflect a vessel’s purpose or function, technology has introduced a broad variety of differently named vessels onto the world’s oceans, such as “LPGC” (liquified petroleum gas carrier), or “TB” (tug-boat), or “DB” (derrick barge). In many cases though, these abbreviations are used for purely formal, legal identification and are not used colloquially or in the daily working environment. Prefixes indicating a vessel’s purpose (e.g., “RMS” (Royal Mail ship) or “RV” (Research vessel)) are also used.

List of Important Ship Prefixes

Important Ship Prefixes – Full forms
MT – Motor Tanker
MV/MS – Motor vessel/Motor Ship
LB – Lifeboat
NS – Nuclear Ship
RV – Research Vessel
LPG/C – Liquefied Petroleum Gas Carrier
LNG/C – Liquefied Natural Gas Carrier
NS – Nuclear Ship
PSV – Platform Supply Vessel
MY – Motor Yacht
AHT – Anchor Handling Tug
CS – Cable Ship
DSV – Diving Support Vessel/ Deep Submerge Vessel
FV – Fishing Vessel
GTS – Gas Turbine Ship
RMS – Royal Mail Ship
SS – Steam Ship
PSV – Platform Support Vessel
TS– Training Ship
SV – Sailing Vessel

Ship Prefix for retired ships

When a particular ship is declared out of active service, a prefix of “ex-” is attached to its name. This is done to separate the stricken vessel from any other ship bearing the same name and in service at that time. For instance, the USS Constellation vessel (CV-64) came to be known as the “ex-Constellation” vessel after it accepted retirement in 2003.

Each country has a different method for naming both naval and merchant vessels using ship prefixes. However, some ship prefixes are most commonly used and accepted worldwide.

These prefixes are generally used for merchant vessels of any nationality.

  Prefix  Meaning
AEAmmunition ship
AFSCombat stores ship
AHTAnchor handling tug
AHTSAnchor handling tug supply vessel
AOUnited States Navy oiler
AOGGasoline tanker
AORAuxiliary replenishment oiler
AOTTransport oiler
ASDSAutonomous Spaceport Drone Ship
ATBArticulated Tug Barge
CRVCoastal Research Vessel
C/FCar ferry
CSContainer ship or Cable ship
DBDerrick barge
DEPVDiesel Electric Paddle Vessel
DLBDerrick Lay Barge
DCVDeepwater Construction Vessel
DSVDiving support vessel or deep-submergence vehicle
DVDead vessel
ERRVEmergency Response Rescue Vessel
EVExploration Vessel
FPSOFloating production storage and offloading vessel
FPVFree Piston Vessel
FPVFishery Protection Vessel
FTFactory Stern Trawler
FVFishing Vessel
GTSGas Turbine Ship
HLVHeavy lift vessel
HMTHired military transport
HMHSHis(/Her) Majesty’s Hospital Ship
HSCHigh Speed Craft
HSFHigh Speed Ferry
HTVHeavy transport vessel
IRVInternational Research Vessel
ITBIntegrated Tug barge
LNG/CLiquefied natural gas carrier
LPG/CLiquefied petroleum gas carrier
MFMotor ferry
MFVMotor fishing vessel (mainly UK Royal Naval Reserve)
MS (M/S)Motor ship (interchangeable with MV)
MSVMultipurpose support/supply vessel
MSYMotor Sailing Yacht
MTMotor Tanker
MTSMarine towage and salvage/tugboat
MV (M/V)Motor Vessel (interchangeable with MS)
MY (M/Y)Motor Yacht
NRVNATO Research Vessel
NSNuclear ship
OSVOffshore supply vessel
PSPaddle steamer
PSVPlatform supply vessel
QSMVQuadruple screw motor vessel
QTEVQuadruple turbo electric vessel
RMSRoyal Mail Ship or Royal Mail Steamer
RNLBRoyal National Lifeboat
RRSRoyal Research Ship
RV / RSVResearch vessel/Research Survey Vessel
SBSailing Barge
SLSteam Launch
SS (S/S)Single-screw steamship
(also used as generic term for any steam-powered ship)
SSCVSemi-submersible crane vessel
SSSSea Scout Ship
SSVSailing School Vessel  or
Submarine and Special Warfare Support Vessel
STSteam tug or Steam trawler
STSSail training ship
STVSail Training Vessel or
Steam Turbine Vessel
SV (S/V)Sailing Vessel
SY (S/Y)sailing yacht or
steam yacht
TBTug boat
TIVTurbine Installation Vessel
TEVTurbine electric vessel
TrSSTriple-screw steamship or steamer
TSTraining Ship or
turbine steamship or turbine steam ship
Tr.SMVTriple-Screw Motor Vessel
TSMVTwin-Screw Motor Vessel
TSSTwin-screw steamship or steamer
TSTTwin-screw tug
TT (T/T)“Tender to” …, the prefix is placed on the tender followed by the name of the mother ship; or Turbine Tanker
TVTraining vessel
ULCCUltra Large Crude Carrier
VLCCVery Large Crude Carrier
YDYard derrick
YTYard Tug
YMTYard Motor Tug
YTBYard Tug Big
YTLYard Tug Little
YTMYard Tug Medium
YWWater barge, self-propelled
YWNWater barge, non-propelled
YOSConcrete vessel

References: Wikipedia

Ship prefixes generally refer to the abbreviations carved in front of the ship names, be it naval or merchant vessel, comprising of few letters compounded to denote a particular meaning. 

Ship prefixes used on merchant vessels mainly point out the propulsion technique employed in the ship, such as the abbreviation “SS”, which means “steamship”, indicating that the ship runs on steam propulsion.

It is not a compulsory rule that ship prefixes are to be attached to every vessel, and the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Kriegsmarine from Third Reich are good examples. Thus, the ship-naming process is not followed universally.

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