The flag of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz aboard the battleship USS Iowa.


  1. The highest-ranking (or a high-ranking) officer in most navies.
  2. A very large fid used by riggers.


(first definition) 12th – 13th centuries. From the Arabic word, amir-al-baka (also spelled amir-al-bahr), meaning prince of the sea. Thence via Latin and Early French. (second definition) Probably the 18th century.


Also known as FLAG RANK officers since they’ll fly a flag specific to their rank aboard their flagship. An admiral will usually serve as a fleet commander or the commander of one of a fleet’s principal divisions. Up to 1864, the British Royal Navy used a structure of Red, White, and Blue Admirals to denote what squadron they commanded in the fleet. Each squadron contained van, center, and rear divisions commanded by Admirals, Vice-Admirals, and Rear Admirals, respectively.

With the Admiral of the Fleet being the highest rank, the other admirals commanding the squadrons and divisions would be as follows (from highest to lowest):


  • Admiral of the Red
  • Admiral of the White
  • Admiral of the Blue


  • Vice-Admiral of the Red
  • Vice-Admiral of the White
  • Vice-Admiral of the Blue


  • Rear-Admiral of the Red
  • Rear-Admiral of the White
  • Rear-Admiral of the Blue

In the United States, admirals were exclusively male until 1972 when Alene Duerk became the first female flag officer in the U.S. Navy as head of the Navy Nurse Corps. In 2014, Michelle Howard became the first female four-star Admiral in the U.S. Navy. In 2022, Linda Fagan was appointed Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and became the first female to lead a U.S. military service.


Kemp, P. (1994). The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Oxford University Press.

King, D., Hattendorf, J.B, & Estes, J.W. (1997). A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (2nd Ed.). Owl Books.

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.