Seaman is a naval rank and is either the lowest or one of the lowest ranks in most navies around the world. In the Commonwealth, it is the lowest rank in the navy. The next rank up is able seaman, followed by leading seaman, which is followed by the petty officer ranks.
In the United States, it means the lowest three enlisted rates of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, followed by the higher petty officer ranks. The equivalent of the seaman is the matelot in French-speaking countries, and Matrose in German-speaking countries.
The term "seaman" is also a general-purpose for a man or a woman who works anywhere on board a modern ship, including in the engine spaces, which is the very opposite of sailing. This is untrue in the US Navy where a sailor might be a seaman but not all US Navy sailors are a 'Seaman' as they might be an Airman, Fireman, Constructionman, or Hospital Corpsman. Furthermore, "seaman" is a short form for the status of an "able-bodied seaman," either in the navies or in the merchant marines. An able-bodied seaman is one who is fully trained and qualified to work on the decks and superstructure of modern ships, even during foul weather, whereas less-qualified sailors are restricted to remaining within the ship during times of foul weather — lest they be swept overboard by the stormy seas or by the high winds.
The Royal Australian Navy features one Seaman rank.
There are 4 grades of seaman/matelot in the Royal Canadian Navy:
The rank of master seaman is unique because it was created only for the Canadian Navy. It does not follow the British tradition of other Canadian ranks. It corresponds to the rank of master corporal/caporal-chef.
Matelot 2e classe (seaman 2nd class), or apprentice seaman, and matelot breveté (able seaman) are designations of the French Navy. Matelots are colloquially known as "mousses".
There is one grade of seaman in the Hellenic Navy.
In the Indonesian Navy this rank is referred to as "Kelasi" (read: Kelasee). There are three levels of this rank in the Indonesian Navy which are:
The Soviet Union and Russia
Much Russian military vocabulary was imported, along with military advisers, from Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Russian word for "seaman" or "sailor" (Russian: матрос; matros) was borrowed from the German "matrose". In Imperial Russia the most junior naval rank was "seaman 2nd class" (матрос 2-й статьи; matros vtoroi stati). The 1917 Revolution led to the term "Red Fleet man" (краснофлотец; krasnoflotets) until 1943, when the Soviet Navy reintroduced the term "seaman" (матрос; matros), along with badges of rank. The Russian federation inherited the term in 1991, as did several other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus, with Bulgaria using the same word and the same Cyrillic orthography. Estonia (Estonian: mаtrus) and Latvia (Latvian: mаtrozis) use closely related loanwords.
In the Royal Navy the rate is split into two divisions: AB1 and AB2. The AB2 rating is used for those who have not yet completed their professional taskbooks. The rate of ordinary seaman has been discontinued.
Seaman is the third enlisted rank from the bottom in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, ranking above seaman apprentice and below petty officer third class. This naval rank was formerly called "seaman first class". The rank is also used in United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a naval-themed uniformed youth program under the sponsorship of the Navy League of the United States.
The actual title for an E-3 in the U.S. Navy varies based on the subset of the Navy or Coast Guard, also known as a group rate, to which the member will ultimately be assigned. Likewise, the color of their group rate mark also depends on that subset of the Navy or Coast Guard in which they are serving and which technical rating they will eventually pursue.
- Those in the general deck, technical, weapons and administrative groups (with the exception of the aviation administration men) are called "seamen" and they represent the largest group of Navy and Coast Guard personnel in pay grades E-3 and below. They wear white stripes on their blue uniforms (USN and USCG), and navy blue (black) stripes on their white uniforms (USN only).
- Those in the medical group are now called "hospitalmen." In October 2005, the USN dental technician (DT) rating was merged into the hospital corpsman (HM) rating, eliminating the "dentalman" title for E-3 and below. Those who once held the rank of "dentalman" have become "hospitalmen". They wear white stripes on their blue uniforms, and navy blue stripes on their white uniforms. After the completion of their "A" school, they wear a caduceus of the same color as the stripes on their uniforms. On their combat uniforms, a hospitalman wears their caduceus on the tab of their left collar tab. This rating was previously called pharmacist's mate (PHM) and HMs are colloquially referred to as "corpsman" in the naval service. Hospitalmen exist only in the U.S. Navy; their equivalent in the U.S. Coast Guard is the health services technician (HS), which is sourced from seamen in that service's administrative and scientific group.
- Those in the shipboard engineering and hull group, comprising conventional (USN + USCG) and nuclear (USN only) powerplants and propulsion, as well as the hull maintenance area, are called "firemen." They wear red stripes on both their USN and USCG blue uniforms and, in the case of the Navy, white uniforms.
- Those in the aviation group of the Navy and Coast Guard are called "airmen", and they wear green stripes on blue uniforms (USN + USCG) and white uniforms (USN only).
- Enlisted personnel in the construction group, which primarily populates the U.S. Navy's civil engineering construction battalions (i.e., Seabees), are called "constructionmen" and they wear light blue stripes on both their blue and white uniforms. Constructionmen are unique to the U.S. Navy; there is no U.S. Coast Guard equivalent.
No such stripes for E-1, E-2 or E-3 are authorized to be worn on working uniforms, e.g., navy work uniform, USCG operational dress uniform, coveralls, utility wear, flight suits, hospital and clinic garb, diving suits, etc. However, sailors with the pay grade of E-2 or E-3 are permitted to wear silver-anodized collar devices on their service uniforms.
Some sailors and Coast Guardsmen receive a rating following completion of a military technical training course for that particular rating known as an "A" school. Other sailors and Coast Guardsmen who have completed the requirements to be assigned a rating and have been accepted by the Navy Personnel Command/Bureau of Naval Personnel (USN) or the Coast Guard Personnel Service Center Command (USCG) as holding that rating (a process called "striking") are called "designated strikers", and are referred to by their full rate and rating in formal communications (i.e., machinist's mate fireman (MMFN), as opposed to simply fireman (FN)), though the rating is often left off in informal communications. Those who have not officially been assigned to a rating are officially referred to as "undesignated" or "non-rates." Once selected for a particular rating of their choice they become eligible for advancement in that community.
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