De Carteret joined the Royal Navy in 1747 at the age of 14 and served on the HMS Salisbury. He sailed with John Byron from 1751 to 1755. As Lieutenant on HMS Doplhin, he went with Byron on the round-world trip from 1764—1766.
As soon as he had returned from his first trip, Carteret was put in charge of HMS Swallow to go on a second circumnavigation with Samuel Wallis in HMS Dolphin. The two ships were separated sailing around Cape Horn, so Carteret continued on alone. He discovered Pitcairn Island on 2 July 2 1767 but did not land on the island. He also discovered the Carteret Islands, Mururoa, and the Duke of Gloucester Islands.
He got back to England in 1769. The Swallow was in bad condition and the success of the long trip shows Carteret's courage and skill.
Carteret's health was ruined by his voyage of exploration. He was put on half pay, and in 1773 he wrote the story of the voyage as part of a book about the voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret and Cook. The book's editor John Hawkesworth, made changes to his account and so Carteret wrote his own book which was only published in 1965. In 1779 he took the ship HMS Endymion to the West Indies. This was his last trip. He was promoted to Vice-Admiral and he retired in 1794. His personal papers are kept in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Jersey Post stamps commemorating de Carteret's voyage