What is MV, MT, SS, FV Ship Prefix Meaning?

The same name can be used by different shipowners and sometimes it makes some confusion when two ships with the same names are sailing in the same waters or staying in the same port.

From the legal part, this problem has been solved a long time ago and all ships are registered and have their unique IMO number, call sign, and MMSI or Maritime Mobile Service Identity number.

Why different prefixes are used?

Nowadays, anyone can find ship details and even ship particulars online and identify the purpose of the ship if needed. Back in the early days, it was common to use prefixes to ship names as abbreviations or full transcripts.

When the telegraph was the primary communication method, the length o the message was very important and could significantly save time and money. Imagine yourself a Captain and you need to inform your owners that “Motor Vessel Anna has Estimated Time of Arrival to Port of Calais 25th October 1200 Local Time”. Looks pretty long, but could be easily shortened to “MV Anna ETA Calais 25 October 1200LT”.

Now communication is performed by e-mails, but abbreviations are in use not only because of maritime traditions, but also to simplify communication.

For merchant fleet seafarers, the practical side of the prefixes was to identify ship propulsion as it could have a direct influence on the rules applied at sea regulated by COLREG. For example, “MV” or motor vessel gives the way to “SY” a sailing yacht, and “SV” a sailing vessel.

What differs between these ships?

Modern ships are most commonly called motorized, but there are only three prefixes used, “MV” for motor vessels, “MT” for motor tankers, and “MS” for motor ships.

By learning other prefixes, you can easily notice the evolution of shipbuilding, marine engineering, and ship propulsion.

The most noticeable prefixes are such as “SS” for a screw steamship and “PS” for a paddle steamer. Both are powered by steam engines and use propellers or paddle wheelers accordingly. Nuclear power is also used as a source for propulsion and this type of ship start with the prefix “NS” or nuclear ship.

However, in real life, the list of prefixes of modern ships continues with prefixes reflecting the purpose of the vessel and extends with new types of ships.

A special place should be given to FV or fishing vessels. This type of ship has its own place in COLREG and may be involved in operations and must be given way.

The vast majority of prefixes are used by passenger ships, gas carriers, and offshore vessels. Here is a full list of prefixes used in the merchant fleet.

Ship PrefixShip Prefix Meaning
AHTAnchor handling tug
AHTSAnchor handling tug supply vessel
CFCar ferry
CSCable ship or Cable layer
DBDerrick barge
DEPVDiesel Electric Paddle Vessel
DCVDeepwater Construction Vessel
ERRVEmergency Response Rescue Vessel
EVExploration Vessel
RV / RSVResearch vessel/Research Survey Vessel
FTFactory Stern Trawler
FVFishing Vessel
HSCHigh-Speed Craft
HSFHigh-Speed Ferry
FPSOFloating production storage and offloading vessel
LNG/CLiquefied natural gas carrier
LPG/CLiquefied petroleum gas carrier
HLVHeavy lift vessel
MFMotor ferry
MSVMultipurpose support/supply vessel
MSYMotor Sailing Yacht
MTMotor Tanker
MTSMarine towage and salvage/tugboat
MVMotor Vessel
MYMotor Yacht
MSMotor Ship
RVResearch Vessel
IRVInternational Research Vessel
HTVHeavy transport vessel
NSNuclear ship
OSVOffshore supply vessel
PSPaddle steamer
PSVPlatform supply vessel
SBSailing Barge
SSScrew Steamship
SSCVSemi-submersible crane vessel
TBTug boat
SVSailing Vessel
SYSailing Yacht
TSTraining Ship
STSSail training ship
ULCCUltra Large Crude Carrier
VLCCVery Large Crude Carrier
TVTraining vessel
ULBCUltra Large Bulk Carrier
ULCVUltra Large Container Vessel
TSHDTrailing Suction Hopper Dredger
YDYard derrick
YTYard Tug