Suppose that Ensign Fancypants impresses Captain Picard, or a visiting admiral especially appreciates Mr. Worf's work. Can the ensign be promoted to lieutenant, or Worf to full commander (during TNG days; he was promoted to lieutenant commander later)?

Surely, ranks can be skipped for demotions, though I'm not sure if it's possible during promotions also.

  • 4
    I would say that Kirk was promoted directly from Cadet to Captain in Star Trek (2009), was he not? Let me make an answer.
    – Adamant
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:42
  • 6
    Q promoted himself from nothing to Captain all the time. :-)
    – iMerchant
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:44
  • 1
    I was more interested in Classic Trek, Obie. But I appreciate your participation. Jun 28, 2016 at 2:48
  • Given that it is still the same organization, I think the answer is relevant nonetheless, right?
    – Adamant
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:49
  • 2
    New Trek just isn't the same. It's weird. Jun 28, 2016 at 2:50

3 Answers 3



As perhaps the most obvious demonstration of that fact, James Tiberius Kirk was promoted directly from Lieutenant to Captain in 2258, following his pivotal role in the defeat of the rogue Romulan Nero. In doing so, he skipped over the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Kirk initially referred to in Star Trek (2009) as a cadet:

SPOCK: Cadet Kirk, you somehow managed to install and activate a subroutine to the programming code, thereby changing the conditions of the test.

KIRK: Your point being?

While serving on the Enterprise, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

“Lieutenant Kirk,” Spock declared in the no-nonsense tones of command, “I gave you a direct order. Failure to comply is a court-martial offense!”

Star Trek (novelization)

After helping defeat Nero, he was promoted to Captain of the Enterprise, apparently by special order.

BARNETT: This assembly calls Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Your inspirational valor and supreme dedication to your comrades is in keeping with the highest traditions of service, and to reflect utmost credit to yourself, your crew, and the Federation, it is my honor to award you with this commendation. By Starfleet Order two-eight four five five, you are hereby directed to report to Admiral Pike, USS Enterprise, for duty as his relief.

(Kirk walks over to wheelchaired Pike)

KIRK: I relieve you, sir.

PIKE: I am relieved.

KIRK: Thank you, sir.

PIKE: Congratulations, Captain. Your father would be proud.

SPOCK PRIME: (watching overhead) Thrusters on full.

This shows the sort of circumstance in which skipping a rank would be likely to occur: Starfleet has been seriously damaged by Nero (so they need more officers), and Kirk has shown extraordinary competence, both in the academy and as a commander in the field. Plus he saved Earth.

  • How do you know he wasn't promoted five times between those two quotes rather than all at once? </s> Jun 28, 2016 at 19:37
  • 1
    I always had a sort of feeling that Kirk was at a supplementary Command school in Trek'09, already graduated from the Academy with some rank, and him being referred to as "cadet" was simply recognition of his current duties. Not sure /why/ I thought that.
    – Xantec
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:13
  • @Xantec - Maybe so. I'm sure he was in some kind of special program, but I doubt there's any program that lets one go straight to commander as a matter of course.
    – Adamant
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:14
  • It is possible that he was promoted to Captain of the Enterprise by Pike but not to the rank of captain. For instance, USN submarines are often captained by a commander. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commanding_officer#Navy_2 Jun 28, 2016 at 23:26
  • According to the novelisation, Kirk wasn't a cadet when he boarded the Enterprise, he was a Lieutenant; “We have a crisis situation. We have received a distress call from Vulcan. Further details will be forthcoming, but as of this moment you are no longer cadets, you are Starfleet officers. I’m afraid that for this year’s class the usual graduation ceremonies will have to be postponed. Your official certifications will be placed in your files, which may be inspected at your leisure—once you are in space.
    – Valorum
    Jul 30, 2016 at 22:32


Starship Captains (and in some instances Commanders) often gave Provisional ranks when needed. These ranks could be temporary commissions, field commissions, or even field promotions. These promotions could sometimes skip several ranks, such as when Lt. Richard Castillo was promoted to acting Captain in the TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", or even can be applied to Wesley Crusher who was given the rank of "acting Ensign" (and then later full Ensign) in TNG without ever being a cadet in Starfleet Academy.

Additionally, Captain Janeway gave several Maquis provisional starfleet ranks in Voyager. There are more examples of this in Star Trek canon such as Sequoiad and Obie have pointed out. So Starfleet has always given their Captains leeway to field promote at their will.

  • 1
    Starfleet captains cannot promote at will. They can give an officer a brevet promotion, subject to confirmation by Starfleet Command.
    – Valorum
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:22
  • Outside of the command structure a captain can give their crew any rank they want to, thus the term "provisional". As soon as the ship is back in touch with Star Fleet, those ranks would need to be validated and affirmed. The best example would probably still be Voyager, but rather than at the start when the Maquis first join it would have been later, either once Voyager made contact with Star Fleet again or ever later, when Voyager returned to Earth, assuming that Chakotey, B'Elanna et al weren't all demoted to ensign.
    – Xantec
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:22
  • @Xantec within the extended universe of the books, Chakotay et al were given the chioce to retain their acting ranks upon return to Starfleet, with Chakotay being given command of the USS Voyager. Although, it has to be pointed out, Chakotay had already graduated from the Academy and held the rank of Lieutenant Commander before resigning to join the Marquis. It's also interesting to consider the case of Seven of Nine, who never held a formal rank yet was considered part of the senior staff.
    – sequoiad
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:19
  • @sequoiad - Harry (an Ensign), Seven (a civilian advisor) and Neelix (same) all attend senior staff meetings.
    – Valorum
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:27
  • @Valorum That's true, but Seven is often seen giving orders to ensigns and being treated more as an officer than an advisor, whereas Neelix's power seems to be limited to the mess hall and (in the early days) providing local knowledge. I just assume that the command chain on Voyager (before returning) is more malleable than a regular ship, after all the Marquis crew integrated the rigid starfleet structure would be bound to change.
    – sequoiad
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:47

Although this can be considered "Special Circumstances", an example from the prime Trek canon of such a promotion would be:

In the episode Valiant (DS9) and referenced here:

On stardate 51825.4, Ensign Nog was en route to Ferenginar with Jake when they were attacked by Jem'Hadar. Suddenly they were beamed aboard the USS Valiant, a Defiant-class starship. Nog recognized the crew operating the Valiant as Red Squad, an elite group of cadets from Starfleet Academy. Their twenty-year-old captain, Tim Watters, told him that the rest of the crew had been killed and that he intended to complete the Valiant's mission, gathering data on a new Dominion battleship. Nog, a long time admirer of Red Squad ever since his Academy days, was enthusiastic and joined the crew. He was given a field promotion to lieutenant commander and made chief engineer

Although this was not a formal promotion and was not kept after the episode, the fact that it was done at all suggests that, at least under some circumstances, it is possible within Starfleet's structure to skip ranks.

  • 5
    My problem with this is that his promotion was illegal and decidedly off-the-reservation as far as normal Starfleet practice is concerned.
    – Valorum
    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:01
  • Technically Nog, as an officer, would have out ranked all the cadets on the ship and could have taken command of the Valiant. Doing so probably would have landed him in the brig next to Jake, but it would have been more within regulation than the promotion that Tim gave him.
    – Xantec
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:17
  • @Valorum I agree, although with the Red Squad being involved (who probably know the rules inside out as the academy's ultimate swots and would likely stick to them despite the insistence on finishing the mission) It seemed worth pointing out.
    – sequoiad
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:22

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