Star Trek Crew

Star Trek’s Starfleet Ranks and Character Survivability Explained

There are plenty of reasons for Trekkies, the hardcore fans of vintage sci-fi series “Star Trek,” to get excited. CBS has announced a new series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,  which will feature the return of episodic adventures rather than serialized stories. The internet can expect a flurry of new Star Trek memes as people once again explore the cosmos with the Starfleet.

If you’re late to the “Star Trek” wagon to the stars, you may have a lot of questions about the show. Is it like Farscape? What are Starfleet ranks? What does the term “Star Trek red shirt” mean? And how immersive is the show’s universe?

Today, explore the different ranks of Starfleet officers and learn how their uniforms can indicate survivability.

Red Shirts

men in red shirts
Pop culture says red shirts indicates the deadliest of Starfleet ranks.

There are over 400 Starfleet officers aboard the USS Enterprise, and a vast majority of them wear distinctive red uniforms. Unlike what some people believe, wearing a red shirt doesn’t mean someone is at the bottom run of Starfleet ranks. It just means they’re in charge of the running of the ship. The two main types of officers who wear red shirts in “Star Trek” are the ship’s security forces and those who oversee its engineering and communications.

Security Forces

“Star Trek” was a very revolutionary television show, envisioning people of color and women all holding prestigious Starfleet ranks. It also pioneered a new trope in television: the Star Trek red shirt. These poor souls often die in the cold open of an episode. These seemingly disposable members of the Enterprise mostly belong to the ship’s security forces.

The writers of the show realized that they needed a way to show how dangerous a creature or situation is without endangering the main characters. Hence the creation of red shirts, which have become a recurring Star Trek meme. The concept has gained so much popularity, it’s now a recognized trope in television.

Within the show’s universe, the high casualty rate of the ship’s security forces is understandable. As security providers, they’re the first to respond to dangerous situations and expected to accompany Kirk during missions. The mortality rate of security forces are actually not as high as you may believe, with pop culture inflating the death toll considerably.

Engineering and Communications

The other type of crewmen to wear red shirts are the engineering and communications officers. These people are a lot safer than their counterparts in security. Some of them are even main characters.

Scotsman in space Scotty is the ship’s go-to guy when they need to boost their fictional dilithium crystals. He and his equally red-shirted team putter about engineering, usually out of harm’s way.

Communications officers also wear red, and the most recognizable of them is Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. Although there are other communications officers aboard, none of them get as much screen time as Uhura. She has gotten into several dangerous situations but has escaped unscathed through most of them (except that time she had her memories wiped).

Blue Shirts

men in blue shirts
Star Trek’s science officers and medical technicians wear calming sky blue shirts.

Blue is a cool color and it’s appropriately worn by Starfleet science officers and the ship’s medical crews. The blue frocks of these Starfleet ranks don’t only symbolize the triumph of logic but also the passion for knowledge and healing. The people of wear blue shirts present an interesting dichotomy in terms of characterization.


The crew’s medical officers rarely get into any serious danger, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been imperiled. Doctor Bones often accompanies Captain Kirk to planetary expeditions as their primary field physician and he has been in a ton of scrapes. Despite his rashness and his routine placement on the vanguard of the Enterprise’s landing parties, Bones is guaranteed to walk away from events unscathed as a main character.

The only other major medical officer in the original show is Nurse Chapel. A passionate and caring woman, earlier seasons depict her as having a romantic attraction to Spock. She is a dedicated and capable woman worthy of her Starfleet rank.

Science Officers

The most recognizable wearers of blue shirts aboard the Enterprise are the ship’s science officers. Although the ship is enormous, the show only featured a handful of science officers. Spock, half-Vulcan and half-human, is the ship’s chief science officer. As a main character, you probably already know that any scrapes of danger he is put into won’t be permanent. In the show’s universe, Spock is also incredibly resilient and dangerous in his own right. These make him perfect for the hazardous job of routinely traipsing down to alien worlds for science.

Gold Shirts

Men in gold shirts
The uniforms of Starfleet ranks culminate with gold shirts.

The command and bridge crew wear the coveted gold shirts, the rarest uniform among Starfleet ranks. What makes it truly rare is that there are no gold shirts. The original uniforms for command and bridge crew were a virulent lime green. Studio lights and broadcast limitations made the green uniforms look gold and the color has stuck.

Bridge Crew

Officers in charge of maneuvering the ship wear gold shirts. Aside form the captain of the vessel, the other officers aboard who wear gold were navigator Pavel Chekov and helmsman Hikaru Sulu. Similar to the other main characters, Chekov and Sulu get into dangerous situations but always make it through. Other bridge crew, however, are just as nameless and prone to death as red shirts.

Starfleet Command

Finally, the captain of the ship itself, James Kirk, wears a gold uniform. Other Starfleet ranks in the upper echelons of the organization also wear gold, such as commodores and admirals. However, by the time the next generation of Starfleet officers came around, the uniform had changed to red, as worn by Captain Piccard, the star of many famous Starfleet memes. Although captains and commodores are supposed to run whole vessels and fleets, they are still in danger when they show up on screen. Aside from Kirk, plenty of other captains and other high-ranking officials have met their ends due to alien chicanery or their own hubris.

“Star Trek” is set in an impressively detailed universe. The meaning behind the costumes and their relation to Starfleet ranks help viewers immerse themselves into the lore of the show through visual cues. It’s not too late to watch the show and catch up on 50 years of great sci-fi television.