Ship Type Designations–“Combat Fleets of the World,” 16th Edition

Earlier we talked about Ship Designations. I recently received my new US Naval Institute “Combat Fleets or the World,” and found that it had its own set of ship designations (pp. xx-xxii) that generally follow the Navy’s conventions, so I thought I would throw out those that relate to the Coast Guard for comment.

First, they use the “W” prefix to identify ships “..not subordinated to a navy, such as coast guards, customs services, border guards, or government-owned scientific ships.” In fact they used it for the Army’s vessels as well. They also adhere to the use of “A” for all auxiliaries and “Y” for yard or service craft. Here, as in the Navy’s system, “G” (when not used at the end of the designation to indicate guided missile) frequently means miscellaneous.

To illustrate how they classify Coast Guard vessels, I will give the designation they use, its definition (as listed without the “W” prefix), and list the Coast Guard vessel classes that they include in each category.

WPS–Large Patrol Ship “Ships intended for offshore patrol duties and fitted with lesser armament than major combatants, often trading speed for seaworthiness and endurance. In size, they are normally greater than 1,000 tons full load displacement.”

WMSLs (NSC), WMSMs (OPC), 378′ WHECs, and all WMECs

WPC–Coastal Patrol Craft. “Gun and antisubmarine warfare weapon-equipped craft between 100 and 500 tons, not equipped to carry antiship missiles.”

154′ Webber class WPCs, 110′ Island class WPBs

WPB–Patrol Boat. “Any craft of less than 100 tons equipped primarily to carry out patrol duties in relatively sheltered waters, harbors, or rivers.”

87′ Marine Protector class WPBs

WAGB–Ice Breakers (No definition provided)

Mackinaw (WLBB 30), Healy, Polar Class

WAGL–Buoy Tender. “Vessels intended to transport, lay, retrieve, and often repair navigational and mooring buoys.  They usually also have a significant  salvage capability.”

225′ Juniper (WLB 201) class, 175′ Keeper (WLM 551) class

WATA–Ocean Tug. “Auxiliaries configured primarily for oceangoing towing, but usually also capable of secondary rescue, salvage, and firefighting missions.”

140′ Katmai Bay (WTGB 101) class icebreaking tugs

WAXT–Training Ship. “Auxiliaries equipped primarily for the training of cadets and /or enlisted personnel. Also applies to large sail training vessels in naval service.”


WYAG–Miscellaneous Service Craft. “Service craft whose function is not covered by other definitions or that has several equally significant functions.”

32′ oil-spill control launches

WYFDM–Medium Floating Dry Dock. “Open-ended floating dry docks with a lift capacity between 5,000 and 20,000 metric tons.”

Floating Dry Dock-Medium (CG Yard) (Oak Ridge, ex-ARDM 1, ex-ARD 19)

WYFL–Launch. Small self-propelled craft for local transportation of personnel.

41′ utility boats, Hurricane RHIBs

WYGL–Small Navigational Aids Tender. “Self propelled service craft intended to service navigational aids, buoys, and other navigational markers, they may or may not be equipped to lay, recover, and service navigational aids buoys.”

Buckthorn (WLI-642), Bayberry 65′ WLIs, Bluebell 100′ WLI, Kankakee 75′ WLRs, Gasconade class 75′ WLRs, Ouachita class 65′ WLRs, Pamlico 160′ WLICs, Anvil class 75′ WLICs, Smilax (WLIC 315), 64′ AtoN boats, 55′ AtoN boats, 49’BUSL AtoN boats, 26′ trailerable AtoN boats, 20′ AtoN boats, 16′ AtoN skiffs

WYH–Ambulance Craft. “Self-propelled local service craft intend for the transport of ill or injured personnel and, in some cases, to provide emergency medical services in remote, sheltered areas.”

47’MLBs, 22′ Multiterrain airboat rescue launches, 42′ Near shore life boats, 52’MLB, 24′ Shallow-water boats, 26′ Motor Surf Boat,

WYTM–Medium Harbor Tug. “Tugs intended primarily for harbor service but capable of limited coastal operations and having a total horsepower between 400 and 1,200 bhp.”

65′ harbor tugs

WYXT–Training Craft. “Smaller, self-propelled craft intended to provide seamanship, navigational, and maneuvering training and generally not intended for sustained seagoing operations.”

38′ Special purpose craft–training boats

While I will stand by my own earlier recommendations, I at least find their system more consistent and understandable than the designations we use now, and it does provide an integrated system including vessels from the largest to the smallest.

There are some questionable calls.

  • WATA may not be the best description for the 140s since it emphasizes towing instead of icebreaking.
  • WYH, “ambulance craft” is probably not how we want to describe motor life boats, but if the designation were expanded to mean “lifesaving craft” it might serve.
  • A number of smaller craft are not assigned one of their designations even though they are closely related to craft that were given a designation. This seemed more oversight than a problem in the system.

The “G” in WAGB, WAGL, and WYGL appears superfluous since there is no meaning already assigned to AB, AL, or YL. The “F” in WYFL also appears to serve no useful purpose.

It might benefit from a little tweaking, but generally, this appears to be a good system.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s