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This article is about Royal Navy ships of the line. For the adjective meaning that something is of inferior quality, see wikt:third-rate.
A model of a third-rate ship of the line of the Order of Saint John from the late 18th century.

In the British Royal Navy, a third rate was a ship of the line which from the 1720s mounted between 64 and 80 guns, typically built with two gun decks (thus the related term two-decker). Years of experience proved that the third rate ships embodied the best compromise between sailing ability (speed, handling), firepower, and cost. So, while first rates and second rates were both larger and more powerful, the third-rate ships were in a real sense the optimal configuration.


When the rating system was first established in the 1620s, the third rate was defined as those ships having at least 200 but not more than 300 men; previous to this, the type had been classified as "middling ships". By the 1660s, the means of classification had shifted from the number of men to the number of carriage-mounted guns, and third rates at that time mounted between 48 and 60 guns. By the turn of the century, the criteria had grown and third rate carried more than 60 guns, with second rates having between 90 and 98 guns, while first rates had 100 guns or more, and fourth rates between 48 and 60 guns. By the latter half of the 18th century, they carried between 500 and 720 men.

This designation became especially common because it included the seventy-four gun ship, which eventually came to be the most popular size of large ship for navies of several different nations. It was an easier ship to handle than a first- or second-rate ship, but still possessed enough firepower to potentially destroy any single opponent other than a three-decker. It was also cheaper to operate.

Although this rating system was only used by the Royal Navy, British authors might still use "third rate" to speak of a French 74 (although the French Navy had its own system of five rates or rangs). By the end of the 18th century, ships of the line were usually characterized directly by their number of guns, the numbers even being used as the name of the type, as in "a squadron of three 74s". However, the rating system, although modified in 1817, continued until the end of the Age of Sail.


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Classic Tom Jones from The Midnight Special. Dec, 1976.

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562 news items


U.S. News & World Report
Thu, 07 Aug 2014 21:03:12 -0700

Watergate and the White House: The 'Third-Rate Burglary' That Toppled a President. U.S. News summarized key Watergate dates and details and its impact on President Richard Nixon. President Richard Nixon says an emotional farewell to his staff and ...
NJ Spotlight
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 20:56:15 -0700

Does the Jersey Shore still live up to its reputation, or have overcrowding and overdevelopment taken their toll? New Jersey's weather this summer has been glorious, and it has encouraged tourists to return to what many residents think of as the state ...
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 03:30:00 -0700

The nicknamed "Grasshopper" will compete for the first time on this track. "I am excited because the last time I shot here was a test I did for Ganassi for 500 miles. Always been a dream run there," said Mexican who has scored podiums in Laguna Seca ...

Toledo Blade

Toledo Blade
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:07:30 -0700

It's thematic, yet pure — not the third-rate stuff Kid Rock or any modern day country artist attempts to channel. Disc one of Atlanta kicks off with “I Can Get Us Out of Here,” which introduces the band for what it does best: turning around a bad ...
Athens NEWS
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:15:00 -0700

It's been 41 years since I came to Athens as a freshman, and I still remember the jubilant excitement of plopping down in this glorious college town. It seems like just yesterday, even though the span of time between my freshman year at OU - 1973-74 ...

Spectator.co.uk (blog)

Spectator.co.uk (blog)
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 10:51:14 -0700

I doubt George Galloway will be standing next time; last time Labour under-estimated him and fielded a third-rate candidate and refused to attend various hustings'. However, saying that, I do think he is thinking seriously about it. The recent ...

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:17:24 -0700

President Obama on Wednesday condemned the made-for-YouTube murder of American James Foley with as much passion as we've seen from the cool Commander in Chief. He said that Foley's killers in the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, ...

Columbus Dispatch

Columbus Dispatch
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:15:00 -0700

“Arena football seems to get pegged as second-rate or third-rate players,” Stanley said. “The fact is, they are the upper 1 percent of players available. There are only so many places on the rosters of the NFL, and then you have other great players ...

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