The original "NCC-" designation seems to have begun in the high 1600s according to Memory Alpha, with the U.S.S. Constitution (NCC-1700) beginning the Constitution-class line, and the original Enterprise being next out of drydock.

While the ship bearing the name Enterprise has always kept the designation NCC-1701 (with one or more letters to designate "generations"), the rest of the Starfleet ships were numbered according to some regular system, such that the U.S.S. Voyager (roughly contemporary to the Enterprise-E) has the designation NCC-74656.

From this numbering, absent some system buried in the numbers, one would assume that Starfleet has commissioned nearly 73,000 starships with the NCC- numbering system, which does not seem to be used for smaller support craft like shuttles or freighters, between the original Enterprise in the early 2250s to Voyager in 2371 (only about 120 years). That is a LOT of ships to maintain in that time period, or alternately to build and then lose.

Breaking it down, to build 73,000 ships in 120 years would require sustaining a build pace of approximately 608 ships per year, and if we take into account that a starship takes up to 3 years from commencement to christening, then up to another year in and out of drydock for shakedown and outfitting, we're talking about at least 1800 ships being in the shipyards under construction at any given time.

There may be other explanations of course; the numbering system may have been advanced due to some event or rearrangement (The USAF and Navy had different airplane numbering designations for planned and produced designs, until the Joint Chiefs agreed to a shared numbering scheme involving a "reset"), and ships are commissioned and recommissioned, possibly taking on a new number for their new mission (at least two ships that became Enterprises were under construction while another Enterprise served, and thus likely had a different designation planned).

However, my original theory, that the number was some system of ship class number and ship number, seems to be incorrect. It follows for certain ship classes such as Constitutions (they're all "17"), but the Miranda-class, probably the most long-lived design in Star Trek canon, has designations beginning with 18xx (Reliant was 1864) up into the 31000s (Sisko's Saratoga was NCC-31911) with notable ship designations in the 1900s and 21000s. The Excelsior-class, probably the most successful in terms of ships produced, started with NCC-2000 and has designations in the 2500s, 14000s, 38000s, 42000s and even one up in the 62000s, contemporary to Voyager.

So, the question stands; approximately how many Federation starships were commissioned through the known Star Trek canon? Is there any rhyme or reason to ship designations in-universe?

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    @SachinShekhar - Replication technology is small-scale; starships aren't built just by setting up a replicator array. Even smaller complex machines such as photon torpedoes and PADDs are not replicatable.
    – KeithS
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 14:18
  • 2
    No.. No.. I am not saying that entire starship can be replicated. I am saying, it can speed up production of most of mechanical parts..
    – user931
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 16:56
  • 2
    You pulled up a big last-two-digit number, 1864 for Reliant. 1864 was the year that a certain Sloop-of-War sailed. Its name: Enterprise.
    – Solemnity
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 4:10
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    There is actually a good reason for a (somewhat) military organization to not use a pure counter as a designator. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_tank_problem Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 4:11
  • 4
    70000 really isn't that many for a population of minimum 600 billion. Proportionally that's a tiny fraction of the modern US navy.
    – user36551
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 15:50

14 Answers 14


First and foremost - the MST3k mantra...repeat to yourself it's just a show, etc. Having said that...

You're assuming that the registration number is a counter. There's nothing which says that that's impossible, but it may be a code. It may be that the original Enterprise was the first vessel built at shipyard 17, while the Reliant was the 64th ship built at shipyard 18.

Or it might be that the Enterprise is the first vessel built as part of Federation appropriations bill 170. It's unthinkable at that point that you would build more than ten starships in a single bill...but eventually you start this, and you have to go to five digit registries like Voyager or Defiant.

I think ultimately your "buried in the numbers" idea is the most likely one. Engineering projects are unlikely to remain that straightforward over hundreds of years.

  • 16
    Maybe the emergence of more dangerous, hostile species prompted them to randomize and increase the size of their registry numbers. For example, if you haven't met the federation and suddenly encounter a ship numbered 50,000, would you REALLY want to start a fight with a fleet that could number in the 10's of thousands?
    – erdiede
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 16:54
  • 10
    Funny you should say that - the recently famous "Seal Team Six" was so-named in an effort to confuse Soviet intelligence back in the eighties - there were actually only three Seal teams at the time. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 20:01
  • 3
    In the US Navy, the hull numbers are usually sequential but only as far as the class is concerned. For example, the Seawolf class attack submarine had a double-digit hull number (SSN 21), while its predecessor (Log Angeles class: SSN 680+) and successor (Virginia class: SSN 774+) both had triple-digit numbers. The same may be true for Starfleet, where hull numbers are grouped by class (or some other grouping).
    – Chad Levy
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 4:53
  • 1
    ... and you should really just relax. Definitely.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:22
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    I work IT, and for inventory it’s common to use a numbering schema like <building>-<floor>-<pod>-<asset> and so on. It’s possible Starfleet does the same idea. NCC-<docknumber><NameID>-<Gen> Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 21:14

It is also possible that the numbers were generated from a list of random numbers to avoid opponents from determining how many ships the Federation has launched. In WW2, the Allies needed to determine how many tanks the Germans actually were producing. The technique they developed is called "German Tank problem" (simple explanation here). Learning from this technique, and using it to make life difficult for opponents, US Air Force aircraft are not numbered sequentially.

  • You know, this is actually one of the most plausible explanations yet, especially when you get into the TNG era. TOS-era ships seem to be roughly sequential, though, and in the current US Navy, ship designations are sequential by class; the George H.W. Bush, CVN-77, is the 77th aircraft carrier built by the U.S. Navy.
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 17:27

There were actually several ships of the Constitution class with numbers lower than 1700 and which were built after the Constitution. NCC-1017, which was the Constellation and NCC-1371, which was the Republic, are two examples, so I don't think you can relate the NCC number with the it being the order that the ship was built or commissioned, except in vague terms.

UPDATE: I should also note that there is some discrepency between various sources on some of the numbers for this class. For example, the Excalibur is listed as both NCC-1664 and NCC-1705, depending on the source.

Another point is that if you look at some of the lists around the web of various starship classes, there are gaps and numbers that are well out of order. For instance, one of the Galaxy class ships is the USS Trident, NCC-31347, while most of the Galaxy class ships start with a number in the 70000 range. So there are enough examples out there that I don't think that you can say that the ships are numbered as they came off the line, even if ships given legacy numbers such as NCC-1701-D are also given "phantom" full numbers.

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    I believe the real-world explanation for the Constellation's number NCC-1017 is that they used a Revell plastic model of the Enterprise and rearranged the digits. (Might have made more sense to go with NCC-1710.) Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 22:11

I just stumbled across this, and believe I can clear up the answer.

The FASA Star Trek RPG says that NCC stands for Naval Commissioned Contract, I have a friend who was a Pen-Pal of Majel Barrett (Gene Roddenberry's wife) and was involved in creating the FASA RPG, she told me she had asked Majel about how the ship numbers were derived as part of creating the game and Majel's response was that Gene wanted the ship numbers to match the construction contract number for the ships, as stated in the FASA RPG. One of the ships in the Federation recognition manual is named after my friend, because she refused to take credit for working on the game. She was one of the original game play testors, and as she put it just getting to be one of the first people to play the game was enough recognition. She actually got mad at FASA for naming a ship after her, and wrote a letter complaining about it (she showed me a copy). She was also a stunt woman in "Swamp Thing" and "The Toxic Avenger" among other movies.

I think this is as close to a direct answer as anyone living can provide.

  • Barrett was incorrect. Matt Jefferies was the one who created "NCC-1701", and the NCC came from combining the American civilian aircraft prefix "NC" with the Soviet "CCCC" prefix. This is well established from interviews with Jefferies and his team regarding the development of the ship's design. Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 7:29
  • @KeithMorrison - Hmm... This is still one source vs one source. Not to say Matt is imaging things... We just need to decide who we trust more: Barret or Jefferies. This is a serious question, not a joke. Do we have independent confirmation of one or the other? (Matt's team doesn't count).
    – AcePL
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 7:37
  • No, it is not one source versus one source, it is one source directly involved (namely the designer of the ship itself) versus a third-hand source: someone who had a friend who claimed Barrett said that Roddenberry said something different. Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 17:32

I would imagine that star ships would be similar to the number of ships today.

To give you an idea, there is currently around 30,000 ships in the world, according to the CIA 2005 World Fact Book.

If we are limited to military vessels, let's look at some numbers. The US peaked at almost 7000 ships during World War II.

During the 120 years listed, there have been numerable wars, expeditions, increase in population, etc. Also, the Federation is composed of not only one country, but the entire human force, plus several alien species. It seems quite reasonable that there could be 7,000 ships build per year at some point of some kind of military/federal purpose.

  • That requires to give a definition of a ship. In terms of a military-style operations, US Armed forces alone have ca 7500 ships of all types. Including USACE this number goes to 10000 vessels of all types, all of which need a number. I don't believe your number is correct. Also, in WW2 US Army ALONE operated a fleet of 127 THOUSAND vessels. I know it's not "ships", but maybe this is a premise that you, incorrectly, assume? That StarFleet operated only ships?
    – AcePL
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 7:51

I don't believe the designation numbering system has so much to do with the "US NAVY" or other military designation systems we see today, but most likely is more inline with the contracts issued on the building of the ships. While "Star Fleet" IS, and always has been a political agent, its scope goes way beyond just the planet Earth. Ships within the federation are built all over the galaxy by various races at differnet locations for different reasons. I think the most logical answer would have to include this scope of galaxy wide arraingement, and therefore be forced to include much more possibilities than what's been talked about up to this point. Thousands of designers, hundreds of thousands of plans, hundreds of possible classes or specific usage for the ship in question, all coming from hundreds of planets within the aliance. NCC-74656 could very well be set based on the 6th ship built on the Star Fleet Approved Contract #65 from the 74th planet in the federation. There's really no way to tell... unless you ask the writers of the shows. NCC-1701 could be Planet 1 (Earth), 7th approved contract, ship 01. Contracts NOT approved would easily account for any gaps in numbering. Then again, I don't believe the shows put that much detailed thought into why a ship would have its specific number. Most likely, it was picked out of thin air. No rhyme or reason behind it.


It seems feasible. We're talking about 73,000 ships over a bit over a century. Keep in mind that they would only reuse the numbers for notable ships, like the Enterprises. In addition, a 'starship' can be as small as a runabout, which also make use of the numbers.

  • Well, not a few centuries: only about 120 years have passed between the commissioning of NCC-1701 and NCC-74656. I did not know that runabouts received NCC designations; the Danube-class would likely account for a few thousand, but they're relatively new to canon (2368) and their known designations begin in the 70000s. It seems a few freighters and other "non-starship"-type vessels did receive NCC designations, though many classes of these vessels did not.
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 18:28
  • The first 1701 Enterprise wasn't the first ship commissioned though. Also as time passes, Starfleet's need for more ships would increase dramatically, due to expansion of territory and population.
    – user1027
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 18:41
  • ... But I'm not counting any ship with a number before 1700; that would only bump the number closer to 74,000 ships.
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 19:28
  • I missed that detail, I've tweaked my answer.
    – user1027
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 19:34

That logic is like assuming because of the HP Pavillion DV6000, there must have been 5999 previous models.

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    That's a model number, meant to be a marketing term as much as an identifier. It IS perfectly acceptable to think that if your laptop had the SERIAL number 6000, that there were at least 4998 previous ones (if the numbering system started with 1000). Ship designations, whatever the system, have been intended to be unique like a serial number, and in the Navy's case at least have been sequential.
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 16:38
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    OK I can see your point, but sometimes a model number is mixed with a serial number. Like, maybe in "NCC-1701" it was model 17, but build 1 of that model (or 2, if there was an NCC-1700).
    – David Good
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 16:52
  • There's probably some system, but not that one; see further down in my question. Miranda-class (i.e. Reliant) and Excelsior-class ships are built and serve through the entire canon, and the known designations have no real patterns.
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 19:45
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    Or that there have now been 2,011 releases of Microsoft Office.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 11:45
  • 1
    Or that there were 12 prequels to the movie "Apollo 13". Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 22:09

I seem to recall that one of the technical books for Star Trek said that NCC stood for Naval Contract Code. I imagine the number would have something to do with contract numbers.

Of course, I believe the actual answer is "the show's writers didn't think about it and just picked numbers."


Star Trek Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS, and in the episode 'Perpetual Infinity', Control AI stated to Leland that there are 7000 active ships in Starfleet.

Given the law of accelerating returns (exponential developments), its not hard to imagine that Starfleet actually DID have tens of thousands of ships (or 70 000 ships) in active use by the time USS Voyager was launched in 2371 (obviously, some would have been destroyed and decommissioned, but most of those would be replaced).

This would indicate that from 2257 to 2371, Starfleet had 114 years to increase number of active ships to almost 75 000. Technology evolves over time, which allows you faster and more efficient methods of production and better resources to support all those ships... and the Federation is HUGE by the late 24th century.

Many SF ships were designed to be in use for 100 years at least. We've seen the Excelsior and Miranda class ships being used by Starfleet in TNG, DS9 and even Voyager which took place over 70 years into the future.

Mind you, it is likely that Starfleet would have stopped production of both Excelsior and Miranda class ship after the first 10 or 20 years (possibly 30 years) of those designs being commissioned, and what we saw in TNG, DS9 and VOY were remnants of those ships in active service which survived with all the modern upgrades (as all SF ships undergo upgrades during their active use). The USS Lakota (Excelsior class) was after all upgraded prior to the Dominion War making it as powerful as the most powerful warship made by Starfleet (USS Defiant) in the 24th century, so it stands to reason that Starfleet wouldn't bother with building those old designs, but would rather upgrade ones that are in active service (And would continue upgrading them until they are decommissioned) and focus on building NEW classes of ships such as the Galaxy, Sovereign, Nova, Steamrunner, Nebula, Intrepid, Defiant and Sabre classes.

At any rate, The Federation spans 8000 Light years according to Picard in 'First Contact' movie and has over 150 members. 8000 lightyears is a substantial amount of space, and it is rather expected that Starfleet has tens of thousands of ships to patrol and protect that kind of area. IF SF had a total of 70 000 ships in the 24th century and they had about 5000 ships spread over every 1000 lightyears of Federation space, that leaves you with just over 30 000 ships for exploration etc.

Though, even if Starfleet didn't have 70 000 ships, but had say 1000 ships spread over 1000 Ly's, that would probably still leave them with another 8000 ships for exploration, etc. (but those numbers seem low for an interstellar organisation that spans 8000 ly's and has advanced technology at its disposal), giving Starfleet in total of about 16000 capital ships, with 4000 support craft (if you want to round it up to 20 000).

Starfleet devotes a lot of resources to exploration after all, but I also doubt it would want to leave its major worlds unprotected (unless they had automated defensive systems - which they actually do, but rely more on ships to intercept potential enemies long before they reach a planet or an inhabited solar system).

  • For support, StarFleet and Federation invested heavily in starbases. I'd like to point out that this question is about StarFleet, not all ships, and 70 thousand vessels is very excessive for 120 years. Not so much for ALL ships commisioned into service, but just for SF. Because, among other things, it would require a chain of command for every larger unit, regardless of whether those units comprise of vessels operating together (i.e. division, several of divisions is a squadron, several squadrons is a task force... squadrons and TFs should have admiral in command... divison is 6-10 vessels)
    – AcePL
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 8:08
  • ... which calls for a lot of bodies, with commanders, all of which need a rank, and a superior officer, and staff... and so on.
    – AcePL
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 8:12

More people, more resources and higher technology. The ship yards could well number in the hundreds of thousands given fifty odd member systems (by 2370) in the ufp. So I think it's easily possible for nearly 80,000 starships commissioned between 2161 and 2360 onward.

  • I seriously doubt that EVERY ship commisisoned during that time was StarFleet. I agree in principle, but AFAIK merchant navy was privately owned and ran, independently from StarFleet?
    – AcePL
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 7:53

Well, it would be great if the Federation had 74 656 ships in active service when Voyager was commissioned... however, it seems more likely that Voyager was 74 656'th ship to be commissioned in 2371.

The Federation as a whole would realistically have anywhere between 10 000 and 20 000 larger/capital ships and additional smaller ships like shuttles, runabouts, workbees, etc. in the 24th century.

Considering how big the Federation actually was stated to be (encompassing over 150 member worlds spread over 8 000 Lightyears as of First Contact movie), it would have to have at least 10 000 ships in active use (probably more).

It also stands to reason that at it's foundation, the Federation would have a smaller number of actual SF ships, and main taskforce would consist of member species worlds ships that were absorbed into starfleet. Also, the speed at which ships are constructed would likely decrease over time with more advanced technologies.

For example, I can see a starship being designed for a long period of time (say a few years), but actual construction would take a much shorter period of time... anywhere between two weeks or few days when you factor in replicators, tractor beams, full scale automation, etc. in the 24th century (manual construction is really senseless under these circumstances - which might be reserved for special cases where people WANT to dedicate their time to doing that, but otherwise, automation would have to handle it for the sake of precision and not wasting time).

Even in the 22nd and 23rd centuries, they'd be using more advanced versions of extremely fast 3d printers most likely that would fabricate parts of the ship and then assemble them.

I can see the Feds having less than 1000 ships at it's foundation, with the number rising to 1701 comissioned ships by TOS (due to size of the Federation) and then suddenly rising all the way ti 74 656 ships 80 years later when Voyager was commissioned for example.

The 23rd century might have ended up with about 10 000 commissioned ships by the beginning of 24th century... and then the Federation grew rapidly, and you can easily have 74 656 commissioned ships by 2371 (especially if every Federation member world and possibly colonies) would have shipyards, etc. all working together.

All in all, given how old some Federation ships are in the 24th century (like Miranda and Excelsior classes), and the premise that the Excelsior class was upgradeable to equal the Defiant in combat prowess... I could see the Federation having anywhere between 30 000 and 45 000 ships in active use (most of which would be capital ships, and the rest being comprised of shuttles, runabouts, etc.).

But bear in mind that given the distances and the fact that most ships couldn't travel at Warp 9.9 (21 473 times LS) for better part of the 24th century (until Voyager or later), it would take them time to traverse large distances and assemble large fleets. Most ships would be out exploring anyway. It's probably why in TNG BOBW episode, the Wolf 359 battle only had 39 Federation ships.

  • Can you back any of this up with evidence from the shows or is this all just your personal opinion?
    – Valorum
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 6:06
  • There are a couple of different canon, on-screen instances where people talk about the physical assembly process including things like running cables behind particular bulkheads. There's no evidence I'm aware of that could possibly be misconstrued to support the idea of days-to-weeks build times.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 13:59
  • You can when you have the technology to just materialize things from energy with subatomic precision and simultaneously beam those in place... all in all, ships are divided into junctions... you have internal bulkheads for example... all you need to do is pull out the specs of the bulkhead, and then replicate/materialize it in place. Its actually ridiculously easy with Trek technology. Skyscrapper hotels can be fully constructed in just 14 days... 3d printers can print a whole house in less than a day (that's today... nevermind hundreds of years into the future).
    – Deks
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:31
  • Valorum, most of that is my own hypothesis from what I observed in Trek... however, during the Dominion War, the numbers grow even larger considering by how many times the Klingons were said that they were outnumbered (15 to 1 if I'm not mistaken, and that they could deploy 1500 ships in a matter of days). If the Klingons can muster up that kind of a force, there's no reason to think the Federation can't... because if it couldn't, the Klingons alone would have overrun the Federation a long time ago, nevermind the Romulans.
    – Deks
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:42

According to the original Star Trek Manual, the NCC designation stands for Naval Construction Contract and is a holdover from the old Earth Defense Forces naming conventions, which had other naming conventions for different types of ships but the military vessels were all NCC for contracts to produce a ship and NX or NCX for experimental vessels. The numbers do not designate the number of precious ships. The numbers are the contract numbers for approved ships--many don't actually ever go into production so their numbers just aren't ever used. The original batch of Constitution-class ships didn't number in the 1700s, there were just ten, with another 25 set for production, many of which did not get built but were folded into upgraded designs and produced in the hundreds in the Constitution-B-class ships which included retrofits as well as new ships with upgraded spaceframes that supposedly made them sturdier than the upgraded ships but who knows. I'm remembering the technical manuals for the original series and the Michael Okuda one that came out much later. They're in boxes in my basement somewhere, but I remember devouring those books when I was younger and, yeah, there are at any given time in Starfleet in the 24th and 25th centuries as many as 4500 major vessels of the Intrepid-class or larger and some 15000 Saber-class, Nova-class and Dominion-class sized vessels, a mix of new and old retrofitted vessels that either haul cargo or lay mines or act as battlecruisers or conduct science investigations or provide support for in-Federation work of various varieties and even things like stellar cartography and deep space assignments. Starfleet has lots and lots of ships by the 2400s, and the Federation even more, but the numbering systems aren't related to the number of ships, just to the batch of approved Naval Construction Contracts that get built in a particular run for a class of ships, and lots of ships get built under the NX designation and are later put into full service even if the ship doesn't function as originally planned, as happened with the Defiant-class, which got refitted, proved battleworthy, and went from the scrapheap to a major production run leading up to the full-scale Dominion-Alpha Quadrant War. And once a ship gets a designation, as we've seen, naval tradition has the Naval Construction Contract number (usually) follow along with the name of the ship. Apparently, the Intrepid lost its NCC number when it and Voyager and any other of the Intrepid-class were built, getting a 5-digit NCC number instead of retaining its original Constitution-class number, perhaps because it was elevated to designate a class of ship, but that's mere speculation on my part.

  • 1
    This has lots of detail but it would be much better if you could track down some of the original references to provide specifics. Also, if Starfleet has (based on your numbers) as many as 20k ships at a time, then 73k ships total constructed over the entire span of the Federation doesn't sound impossible.
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 23:48
  • 1
    The "Naval Construction Contract" thing was never official and just made up by fans. According to the people who actually made TOS, the NCC thing weren't initials for anything at all: it was just a code inspired by the Nxxxxx format code used for aircraft registered in the US (Roddenberry being a pilot). All "NCC" means is "Federation starship, Starfleet operated", as opposed to the others seen on screen such as NAR, NCIA, NSP, BDR and VS. Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 7:24
  • Well, the original manual was written and produced by Paramount, so I'm gonna say that unless somehow that was fan fiction, the NCC designation has the meaning I point out above. I'll have to look for the book--as I said it's in the basement in boxes I haven't opened since the fire. Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 22:21
  • Do you mean the "Star Fleet Technical Manual" by Franz Joseph? It appears it was at some point considered "quite official", but some of its information has meanwhile been contradicted. And given that it appeared only after the series had ended, it was never quite the "technical bible" for writers of the series, like especially the TNG technical manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 21:07

Possible. There's thousands of ships that go thru the seas on Earth every single day. Not every ship may have been Starfleet. Ships as small as runabouts have NCC registries and vessels built for civilian ownership may have NCC registries for sake of manufacturing order.

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