Prize crew

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Prize crew is a term used to indicate a number of crew members of a ship chosen to take over the operations of a captured ship.

In the early days of sailing and up into the American Civil War, capturing enemy ships was quite common. As a result, warships optimistically carried extra crew members for use as prize crews.

Prize crews were required to take their prize to appropriate prize courts, which would determine whether the prize crew had sufficient cause to have the title of the prize awarded to them.

Today, as evidenced by results of sea battles during World War I and World War II, ships generally were sunk, not captured. Therefore, prize crews were no longer an integral part of a ship's complement. If, however, a ship was captured, a prize crew would be selected from the winning ship’s complement.


  • See USS Nightingale (1851) for prize crew and prize court example.
  • in 1939, the SS City of Flint was captured by a German warship in the Atlantic and sailed to Norway. As Norway was neutral, the German prize crew were eventually interned and the vessel returned to her American owners.
  • In 1941, a Royal Navy prize crew sailed the captured German U-boat U-570 from Iceland to the United Kingdom.
  • At the end of World War II, Bangust (DE-739) selected a prize crew to board Japanese submarine I-14.
  • Hanna (DE-449) placed a prize crew on the Japanese Tachibana Maru at the end of World War II.
  • U.S. Coast Guard cutters capture vessels during drug interdiction operations, and then bring them to port using prize crews.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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