Video: Why do Ships have Prefixes before their Name?

Have you ever noticed ships commonly have abbreviations such as MT, MV, or SS before their names? 

These ship prefixes generally refer to abbreviations carved before ship names, whether naval or merchant vessels. They consist of a few letters compounded to denote a specific meaning.

These initials usually represent the type of vessel or propulsion system used in merchant vessels.

Here’s what each of these initials stands for in a merchant vessel:

  • MT stands for Motor Tanker. This type of vessel is a tanker propelled by an engine rather than a sail or steam. Nowadays, most tanker ships are fitted with internal combustion engines.
  • SS stands for Steam Ship. This type of vessel is powered by steam. In the past, all ships were propelled by steam, usually generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal or oil. Today, LNG ships are still propelled by steam but are fitted with steam turbines for propulsion power. The steam is generated by main boilers, which are fed marine fuel.
  • MV/MS stands for Motor Vessel/Motor Ship. This is a general term that can be used to refer to all types of non-tanker or dry cargo ships powered by an internal combustion engine.
  • NS stands for Nuclear Ship. Yes, ships can run on nuclear power, such as icebreaker ships.
  • RV stands for Research Vessel. ‘RV’ stands for Research Vessel. These ships explore the oceans, like underwater detectives!
  • PSV stands for Platform Support Vessel. ‘PSV’ means Platform Support Vessel. They’re like handy assistants for offshore platforms.
  • AHT stands for Anchor Handling Tug. ‘AHT’ stands for Anchor Handling Tug. These ships help out with anchors and towing ships!
  • DSV stands for Diving Support Vessel. ‘DSV’ is a Diving Support Vessel. They’re like underwater superheroes, helping divers explore the deep sea.
  • SSCV stands for Semi-submersible crane vessel.
  • SY stands for Sailing Yacht, i.e., a yacht that operates solely with wind power, and MY stands for Motor Yacht, i.e., a yacht with a motor or an engine for propulsion.

Naval Ships

Naval ship prefixes are extensively used to shorten longer titles into accessible short forms for convenient use. “His/Her Majesty’s Ship” is an example of the long headings used in the Royal Navy, and ship names such as H.M.S (or HMS) have become common.

  • USS stands for United States Ship. In the U.S., naval ships get ‘USS’ – United States Ship. It’s the American stamp of naval pride.
  • In India, for Naval Ship, ‘INS’ is used, which means Indian Naval Ship.
  • Japan’s Navy uses ‘HIJMS’ – His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Ship. It’s a nod to their rich history.

Nowadays, only an exclusive ship prefix represents all the warships of the Navy of a particular nation. It is not a compulsory rule that ship prefixes are to be attached to every vessel.

Which prefix did your last ship use? Comment below!

Watch this video to know more-

About Author

Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.


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