When researching aircraft carriers (or any other ships), it quickly becomes apparent that no single book lists "all" the information or "all" the ships, and that many books are rapidly outdated by the passage of time. It also become clear that errors do creep into books and other sources; these errors cannot be corrected once a book goes to press. As a remedy for these problems, this list seeks to consolidate information from dozens of sources into a single, easily accesible, easily updated list.
The lists seek to be both "broad" (covering a wide range of ships and data) and "deep" (providing significant detail wherever possible). There is always a tradeoff between breadth and depth, but we feel an appropriate mix has been reached for these lists. To make the information easy to find and understand, a more-or-less "standard" format has been worked out. This format is flexible enough to accomodate the peculiarities of any particular ship, but rigid enough to standardize the presentation of data.
The World Wide Web allows several unique features in these lists, such as direct links to dozens of photos (rather than one or two per ship, at best, in most works), crosslinks from one entry to another, trivially simple updates and corrections, and links to sources of additional information.
We make no claims to perfection, but we feel these lists are a considerable improvement over most other sources. This is especially true because the World Aircraft Carrier Lists are available for free, so they can be accessed by many people who could not afford (and would not need) expensive reference books.
In practice this definition includes all vessels with the open expanse of flight deck we commonly associate with aircraft carriers, plus various seaplane carriers without large flight decks, plus a number of ships that are part aircraft carrier and part conventional warship. To draw the line between ships that are aircraft carriers of some sort and ships that simply operate a few aircraft (i.e. most modern destroyers, WWII-era cruisers), we've used a "50% rule": if 50% or more of the ship is dedicated to aviation operations, it qualifies for inclusion. This often means a helicopter/seaplane facility has been installed in place of (or instead of) part of the main armament of a ship.
However, the contribution of seaplane tenders and similar vessels cannot be ignored. Although they do not qualify as aircraft carriers under the definition used above, they played a vital aviation role in the days of seaplanes. Therefore, seaplane tenders have been included in separate lists within this project. A seaplane tender has been defined as a vessel designed or modified to support, repair, and supply seaplanes in forward areas, including establishment and maintenance of forward operating bases. Excluded are ships which embarked or supported seaplanes only as an emergency measure, or without modification for seaplane duties.
Each class is listed in a separate entry. The first section of the class entry lists the techical data relevant to the entire class, followed by operational, design, historical or other notes relating to the entire class, or to several ships of the class. The data categories used in this section are generally similar to those used in many other works, but the notes are more structured and categorized than in most works. By categorizing the notes, we ensure that all relevant data is included and can be readily located.
Following the general class data and notes are the individual ship entries, one per ship, except that several cancelled ships may be combined into a single entry. The individual ship entries give individual information such as operational and technical history, changes of designation, etc. Each entry includes a listing of the vessel's previous names (if any), designations, and links to photographs of the ships. For US ships each entry also includes a link to the ship's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships entry, which gives a more detailed operational history.
US ships are listed in numerical order within each class. Non-US ships are listed in chronological order by date of commissioning, with the name ship of the class listed first.
In general each ship has only one entry. Exceptions occurr when ships are transferred from one nation to another, or when a ship undergoes a major change in role (i.e. aircraft carrier to amphibious assault ship) which requires a second listing for the new role. For US Navy ships, a second listing is only added if the ship's designation number is changed (i.e. CVS 21 to LPH 4), but not for more minor changes (i.e. CV 21 to CVS 21).