In the military sense, and relating to the United States Armed Forces, the rank of Captain holds different levels of importance and seniority depending on the branch of service and in what context.

Army, Air Force, and Marines

In the US Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps an officer holding the title of Captain is an O-3 on the pay scales (the third from lowest officer in pay grade). It is thus the third highest rank in the officer rank chart. A Captain is the equivalent of a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and Coast Guard. Captain in the Army, AF, and Marines is still considered a "Company Grade Officer".

At this point in their career, a Captain will generally be given a command position of a Company Commander or a similar appointment. This is usually the highlight of the career for most 4 or 6 year officers. A Captain is above both of the Lieutenant ranks, but below a Major. The insignia for a Captain in these branches is two parellel rectangular bars (two first lieutenant bars). The official Army abbreviation for Captain is CPT, while the Air Force and Marines officially abbreviate the rank as Cpt. (the capitalization and punctuation matters).


In the United States Navy, it's slightly different. The Captain is the commander of a Naval warship. If the commanding officer of a ship is a Lieutenant Commander he is still referred to as "Captain".

The Navy also has the rank of Captain. However, the rank is much higher than the rank of Captain in the other branches. The Naval Captain is equivalent to a Colonel in the Army, Air Force or Marine Corps. The naval Captain is an O-6 on the pay scales. Generally the top ranking officer of a Naval ship will indeed be a Captain in rank and position. The rank of Captain, being equivalent to a Colonel of the other branches wears the same insignia, an Eagle with spread wings perched on a branch in certain uniforms (such as khakis), or three bold, gold stripes on the sleeves of his dress uniforms.

Etymologically, derived from the word headman (or more accurately its German equivalent, hauptmann.) So called since the word entered usage as the commander or headman of a medieval mercenary unit.

Cap"tain (?), n. [OE. capitain, captain, OF. capitain, F. capitaine (cf. Sp. capitan, It. capitano), LL. capitaneus, capitanus, fr. L. caput the head. See under Chief, and cf. Chieftain.]


A head, or chief officer

; as: (a)

The military officer who commands a company, troop, or battery, or who has the rank entitling him to do so though he may be employed on other service.


An officer in the United States navy, next above a commander and below a commodore, and ranking with a colonel in the ermy.


By courtesy, an officer actually commanding a vessel, although not having the rank of captain.


The master or commanding officer of a merchant vessel.


One in charge of a portion of a ship's company; as, a captain of a top, captain of a gun, etc.


The foreman of a body of workmen.


A person having authority over others acting in concert; as, the captain of a boat's crew; the captain of a football team.

A trainband captain eke was he. Cowper.

The Rhodian captain, relying on . . . the lightness of his vessel, passed, in open day, through all the guards. Arbuthnot.


A military leader; a warrior.

Foremost captain of his time. Tennyson.

Captain general. (a) The commander in chief of an army or armies, or of the militia. (b) The Spanish governor of Cuba and its dependent islands. -- Captain lieutenant, a lieutenant with the rank and duties of captain but with a lieutenant's pay, -- as in the first company of an English regiment.


© Webster 1913.

Cap"tain (?), v. t.

To act as captain of; to lead.


Men who captained or accompanied the exodus from existing forms.



© Webster 1913.

Cap"tain, a.

Chief; superior.


captain jewes in the carcanet. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

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