Acting (rank)
An Acting rank
Military rank
Military rank is a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces or civil institutions organized along military lines. Usually, uniforms denote the bearer's rank by particular insignia affixed to the uniforms...

, is a military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 designation allowing an commissioned
Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

- or non-commissioned officer
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

 to assume a rank—usually higher and usually temporary—with the pay and allowances appropriate to that grade. As such, an officer may be ordered back to the previous grade. This situation may arise when a lower-ranking officer is called upon to replace a senior officer, or fill a position higher than the current rank held.


When addressing an individual with an acting rank, the person should be addressed as if the full rank was held. For example, a member who is an acting master seaman
Master Seaman
Master seaman , or matelot-chef in French, is a non-commissioned member rank of the Canadian Navy, which is between leading seaman and petty officer 2nd class . Technically, the rank is actually an appointment, with appointees holding the rank of leading seaman...

 would be addressed as "Master Seaman Smith", and not "Acting Master Seaman Smith" since the "acting" is a designation, regardless of the individual's actual rank and clerical designation. It should also be noted that an exception is the rank of acting sub-lieutenant: they should be addressed verbally as mentioned ("sub lieutenant), but in written documents should have their full, unedited title of "acting sub lieutenant."

United States Navy

In the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, acting appointments were common during the 19th century. The number of commissioned naval officers at each rank in the Navy was fixed by Congress, so it was difficult to fill vacancies if the number of ships exceeded the number of officers needed to man those ships. Acting appointments were also common with warrant officers and ratings, although neither were subject to congressional approval and were simply temporary assignments.

The regulations stated that in the United States, acting appointments were not allowed unless specifically authorized by the Department of the Navy. In most other cases, only the Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 of a fleet or squadron would be authorized to appoint an officer to fill a vacancy, and this order would be subject to approval of the Department of the Navy. In this way, the Department of the Navy was able to fill vacancies while the Navy grew before Congress took action to permanently increase the number of officers. Outside of the United States and not part of a fleet or squadron, the commanding officer of the ship was allowed to appoint officers to a higher rank in the case of death on board the ship.

The officer was temporarily appointed to the higher rank, appended acting to his new rank, wore the uniform of the higher rank, and was addressed and paid at the higher rank. When the ship returned to the United States, or joined a fleet or squadron, the appointment was subject to review by the commander-in-chief of the fleet or squadron or the Department of the Navy.

Another type of temporary appointment was an order to perform. This was issued in a similar manner to an acting appointment for a lower grade officer to perform the duties of a higher grade officer, except that their pay, rank and uniform remained at the lower grade.

Similar to the many brevet ranks in the Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

, acting appointments were extremely common during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Congress authorized the Department of the Navy to purchase vessels and appoint acting or volunteer officers to man them until the end of the conflict. By the end of the War, most officers were appointed to a higher acting rank, and their appointments lasted until the end of the war at which point many were discharged from the Navy.

See also

  • Sub-lieutenant
    Sub-lieutenant is a military rank. It is normally a junior officer rank.In many navies, a sub-lieutenant is a naval commissioned or subordinate officer, ranking below a lieutenant. In the Royal Navy the rank of sub-lieutenant is equivalent to the rank of lieutenant in the British Army and of...

  • Brevet (military)
    Brevet (military)
    In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

  • Frocking
    Frocking is a United States military term for a commissioned or non-commissioned officer selected for promotion wearing the insignia of the higher grade before the official date of promotion . An officer or NCO who has been selected for promotion may be authorized to "frock" to the next grade...

  • Operation Mincemeat
    Operation Mincemeat
    Operation Mincemeat was a successful British deception plan during World War II. As part of the widespread deception plan Operation Barclay to cover the intended invasion of Italy from North Africa, Mincemeat helped to convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and...

    used this designation to make a younger man a plausible candidate as a carrier of secret documents.
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