As I understand it, Warrant Officers got their name from the warrant issued by the Admiralty (depending on the applicant having the correct qualifications). From the descriptions I've read, these officers were appointed by the Admiralty itself rather than being hired by the Captain or 'encouraged' by the Impress Service.

The Admiralty Instructions provides a list of the duties of each warrant officer but offers no clue as to how they were appointed to their roles. More modern sources, seem to follow the same pattern in describing who they were and what they did but not how they got to be there.

How was this process of appointment conducted? For example, did the Admiralty maintain a list of warrant holders and allocate them in turn as posts became available? Did the Captains have any say in who was appointed to the post?

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is perhaps not strictly accurate to say warrant officers were appointed by the Board of Admiralty. In general, they actually received their warrants from the Navy Board, which was the Royal Navy's administrative body until it was merged into the Admiralty in 1832. The Navy Board kept records of candidates for a warrant. When a vacancy opens up on a ship, it would (in theory) be filled by promoting suitably qualified mates with the appropriate specialty, more or less on the basis of experience.

Captains were generally given commissioned officers by the Admiralty, and warrant officers by the Navy Board. Only the petty officers were under the Captain's authority. An exception was when the ship is away from Britain. Then, the captain was allowed to nominate a certified person to the position, but these were subject to re-examination and confirmation by the Navy Board later.


Wardroom Warrant Officers were appointed to the time a ship was in service, similar to commissioned officers. They had the privilege of access to the wardroom, where they dine with the commissioned officers.

The Master was the senior warrant officer on any ship, appointed by the Navy Board for each voyage. To qualify for the position, master candidates were examined by Trinity House for fitness in controlling specific ratings of ships. On this basis they were then appointed to take charge of an appropriate ship's navigation.

Both the Purser and the Surgeon were also appointed by the Navy Board. The Surgeon was originally examined by the Worshipful Company of Barber-Surgeons, and after 1745, the Company of Surgeons. The Purser was more of a businessman, and at least some bought their positions in order to profit from selling subpar provisions.

The Chaplains were originally nominated by individual captains on an ad hoc basis. In 1665, as an attempt at reforming, the Archbishop of Canterbury was made responsible for appointing chaplains. After 1677 this role was assumed by the Bishop of London. Nevertheless, there were usually too few chaplains to go around the whole navy, and so candidates may request postings to specific ships. Their status sort of depends on how the captain treated them.


Standing Warrant Officers differ from the rest by being appointed to a specific ship, rather than specific voyages à la commissioned officers. Even when the ship became laid up, they remain attached as a maintenance crew. Promotions come in the form of being swapped to a larger ship.

The Gunner and the Boatswain were warranted by the Navy Board. The Gunner had to be certified by veteran gunners of the navy as well as in mathematics in order to receive a warrant.

The Cook was typically a disabled serviceman appointed by the Victualling Board, a reward of sorts for his service. This organisation which was responsible for provisioning the Royal Navy ships with food, drinks, and other supplies. It was merged into the Admiralty alongside the Navy Board in 1832.

The Armourer and Gunsmith were warranted by the Board of Ordinance, an independent department that supplied artillery and munition needs of both the Army and the Royal Navy until 1855. These were not usually found on all but the biggest ships.

The Master-at-Arms and the Schoolmaster were appointed by the Admiralty itself. These were petty warrant officers.

  • 2
    Awesome sauce! Each day one learns something is a good one, and today was great! – CGCampbell Dec 12 '14 at 14:37
  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer. Was it possible for a Warrant Officer with a good reputation to pick and choose his appointment (as the best Captains, or the one's with most "interest", could)? Was there a process for a Captain to disagree with an appointment? – Steve Bird Dec 12 '14 at 18:39
  • @SteveBird AFAIK they could lobby for positions / replacements by petitioning the board, directly or through a patron. – Semaphore Dec 12 '14 at 19:32

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