Wooden Naval Ship Ratings

The system of rating British Naval Ships first started in the earliest days of the formation of the British Navy around about 1660. They did this so that they could keep track of what they had and to classify all their ships. These ships formulated the basic classifications of wooden naval warships until steam ships came into prominence. Some of their masts were up to 130 feet high and they had up to 20 miles of hemp rope. A stamdard ship of the line had two foot thick timbers. George Anson revised the ship rating system in the 1740’s so that each class followed a uniform tonnage and firepower. Also first, second, and third rate ships were called battleships and fourth, fifth , sixth rates and schooners were assigned as cruisers, to go on patrol and convoy work.

First Rate Ships

First rate naval ships were the largest. They had a displacement of larger than 1200 tons and needing a crew of 700-800 men. They carried more than 80 guns up to 100 guns. These guns could fire up to a 42 pound cannonball nearly a mile in distance. Because they were hard to sink , they were used as flagships for admirals but because they were so expensive to build, they were only used in dire emergencies.

e.g.
The Naseby, later becoming the Royal Charles, was 172 foot and had 80 guns.
The Royal Sovereign had 100 guns.
In 1759 the Royal George had 100 guns with 880 men.
Nelson’s Victory in 1803 was 186 feet long. She had 32-pounders, 28 24-pounders, 38 other lighter guns and 2 66-pounder carronades in her bows. A broadside could throw out more than half a ton of metal at a rate of nearly one a minute. Nelson’s crew of 800 men are inscribed in Portsmouth Harbour.

wooden boat HMS Victory
Second Rate Naval Ships

Second Rate ships had 60 to 80 guns

e.g. Swiftsure.

Third Rate Ships

Third rates had 54-64 guns and were the bulk of the ships line ahead battle formations. i.e. “Ships of the line”. The 1667 third rates were 900 tons, had a 151 feet long gun deck, 40 feet wide in the beam and formed the backbone of the battle line for 20 years. In 1755 the Dublin class 74 gun third rates were designed and built. They had 28 guns on each side of the gun decks, with 14 guns on the quarterdeck, and 4 bow chasers in the forecastle. They had higher firing platforms, two decks instead of three and superior sailing. In 1757 the Bellona class had gun decks 168 feet long. By 1759 there were 14 74’s in active service and they would form the backbone of the british battle fleet up to Trafalgar and would allow Anson to decimate the French Navy with a number of tactical strikes. The Captain was built in 1787 and in 1796 was commanded by Nelson. It had 170 feet long gun decks, with 14 32-pounders on each side and 14 18-pounders with 2 carronades. It had a crew of 550 sailors and marines.

Fourth Rate Ships

43-54 Guns. Displaced about 500 tons.

Fifth Rate ships

Frigates with 20-30 guns which patrolled, did blockades, and chased pirates rather than being ships of the line.

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