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Captain is both a nautical term and a military rank, and has different meanings both at sea and in the military.

Confusion between the three types of captain (nautical, naval and army) often exists in literature, drama and real life. The customs indicated are necessary to avoid confusion at sea when the question of "Who is in charge of the ship?" may be a matter of life and death.

Nautical Captain is the legal status of the master of a ship at sea. A nautical captain may be a civilian or a naval commissioned officer of any rank. As the commander of a vessel under way, a nautical captain has enormous legal powers including the right to use deadly force to suppress piracy and mutiny and also the ability to officiate at a marriage. Mutiny is the crime of disobeying the lawful orders of a nautical captain at sea. The captain of a ship at sea is in absolute command of that vessel even if higher-ranking persons are aboard. If higher ranking persons give the nautical captain orders, they are very careful to say what they want done rather than specifiying how the orders are to be carried out -- as even exalted rank does not give the right to interfere in how a nautical captain runs his or her ship.

The officer who is ranked immediately below the Captain is designated the First Officer (also Executive Officer or First Lieutenant) who is responsible for implementing the orders of the Captain as well as confering with the Captain on matters concerning the ship.

Naval Captain is the rank of a commissioned officer between Commander and Commodore or Admiral (1 star). Naval officers below the rank of Captain who are assigned to command a ship -- while aboard that ship -- are addressed as Captain by nautical custom. A naval captain traveling aboard a vessel s/he does not command is never referred to by their rank to avoid confusion with the nautical captain, who remains in charge of the entire ship (including the passengers who outrank the nautical captain!).

Army In armies, Captain is the rank of a commissioned officer between 1st Lieutenant[?] and Major. An Army or Marine captain is ranked three steps lower than a navy Captain. If an army Captain is aboard a naval vessel, he is never referred to by his rank but instead referred to as "Major" to eliminate any possibility of confusion with the nautical captain of the vessel. An army or Marine Captain has no special authority with respect to a ship and is just another passenger or crew member. In the US Army and US Air Force, a captain's insignia consists of two silver bars.

See also military rank Comparative military ranks

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