Certain duties were inherent with the nominal rating the Swift Boat Sailor carried.  The term “nominal” is used to indicate that the individual’s actual rating may vary.  For example, a sailor with an ordnance related rating (such as Torpedo Man) was generally expected to perform the duties of the Gunners Mate. 

Enlisted Terminology

  • Rating:  An enlisted Sailor’s job category
  • Rate:  An enlisted Sailor’s level of seniority in terms of enlisted pay grade

For example, a Sailor who is a Boatswains Mate Second Class (BM2), has a rating of Boatswains Mate and a rate of Second Class Petty Officer (enlisted pay grade E-5). 

Officer Terminology 

  • Designator:  A Navy officer’s job category
  • Rank:  A Navy officer’s level of seniority in terms of officer pay grade

For example, an Officer in Charge of a Swift Boat who holds the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) is Officer Pay grade O-2 (similar to a First Lieutenant in the US Army, Marines or Air Force).  Typically a Navy officer’s designator is not specified in day-to-day correspondence but a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Officer in Charge of a Swift Boat usually held the designator of unrestricted surface line officer: either 1100 (US Navy) or 1105 (US Naval Reserve). 

Terminology Caveat 

In the following discussion about “Nominal Rating,” we include the category of “Officer in Charge.”  Given the above summary of Enlisted & Officer Terminology, the category of “Officer in Charge” is not technically speaking a “Rating.”  We include the “Officer in Charge” in the following discussion to: 

  • Emphasize the solidarity of the men who made up a Swift Boat Crew
  • Lay the groundwork for the ensuing discussion on the role of the Senior Enlisted (aka Chief of the Boat) and how, when properly teamed, the Officer in Charge & the Chief of the Boat modeled the Command Leadership Triad in today’s Navy … the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer & the Command Master Chief.


It was common to think of Vietnam as a combat zone infiltrated with enemy snipers.  Given that mindset, most officers did not appreciate a salute.  A hand shake was preferable. 

Given the above concern, it is unfortunate that for the first half (or so) portion of Swift Boat combat operations in Vietnam, senior navy officers insisted that officers and chiefs on Swift Boats wear “aim here” khaki.