Navy OOD (Officer of the Deck) qualifications and experience

In the wake of the recent collision, there has been much debate about experience and training in regards to the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community. Many Merchant Marine officers are commissioned in the USN Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) program, some have gone SWO, and many prior USN sailors now sail in the merchant fleet as both officers and ratings (unlicensed), so there is experience on both sides, but I believe the vast majority of us really don’t have a practical understanding of sea time and training of the SWO community, and vice versa.

OOD (OICNW equivalent) qualification, general training, and actual time spent throughout a career standing that specific watch can vary by a wide margin. The ship itself, and how they train their SWOs is what has the most impact. Keep in mind that others may have had different experiences, and things change.

First first thing to understand is a typical naval ship schedule, and thus actually underway days. A typical naval ship has a 2 year work up and deployment cycle, where everything is based from. This includes the following generic cycle:

  • 1 to 1.5 years training, qualifying, certifying, and material management of the ship to get it and the crew ready to deploy.
  • Aprx 7 month deployment afterwords.

Before deployment, the ship is getting underway approximately 1 week per 2 months or so (unless in the ship yard), and obviously has port time when deployed.
Doing a little Math, my best estimate is approximately 60 (17months / 2 = 8.5 weeks = 60 days) underway days before deployment, and 190 (7months = 210 days - port time and maintenance) underway days deployed, equaling 250 (generous) total days underway out of two years, which is a typical 1st and 2nd division officer tour, as shown below.

Another thing to keep in mind is that underway, a naval ship will typically have 4 duty sections (watch sections).

SWOs in training (1160 designators) will be standing not only OOD, but precursor watch stations as CONN and JOOD (junior officer of the deck). Conn is self explanatory, and JOOD will be managing check list for different evolutions and helping out the OOD as needed. Other UI (under instruction) officers will be up there training, and getting signatures on their PQS (Personal Qualification Standards) towards a watch station (such as OOD).

Generally takes about 8 to 15 months. Faster if they are deployed, longer if they don’t. In its simplest form, it involves getting signatures (PQS) in a booklet for either performing something, or talking about it. Once one achieves all signatures, they will sit before a board. If they pass, they are qualified. Simple as that.

Other training related to OOD include the following schools:
B-DOC (Basic Division Officer Course): 2 months long, right after commissioning. Include 1 week of bridge simulator time, some power points over basic seamanship and rules of the road tests (that must be passed).
A-DOC (Advanced Division Officer Course: 2 months long, between first and second division officer tour. Similar training as above.

General timeline for a SWO:

  • Commissioned
  • 2 year Division Officer (DIVO) tour <-- Standing OOD
  • 2 year 2nd Division Officer tour <-- Possibly Standing OOD.
  • 2 year shore tour
  • 3 year (two 1.5 year) Department head tour
  • Several year shore tour
  • 2 year XO tour
  • 2 year CO tour

In summery, you can see that OOD experience can be quiet limited in some circumstances. After 10months of being on a ship, an Ensign can be standing OOD after qualifying, considering the above. At best a second tour LTjg will be standing watch. There are good watch standers, and the Navy makes learning quick a priority, but it really is up to the individual on how much they take to heart, and the training the ship provides. How much experience does this translate to a Department Head (DH), Executive Officer (XO) or Commanding Officer (CO)?

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Actually the first time a newly minted 3rd Mate in the Merchant Marine stand a watch on his own he probably hasn’t got too much practical bridge time either.

When I stood my first watch I had none, other then as lookout and helmsman. Even though I had spent 3 years at sea and 2 years at school I was not yet 21, thus not able to hold a license as a watchstanding officer.
I was granted a dispensation by the grace of the Master of a small ship in short sea trade who accepted the responsibility of taking me on as 3rd. Mate standing the 8-12 watch.

On my first evening watch we had just left port in Norway, bound for Denmark in a dense fog, when the Master told me that he had some urgent paperwork to attend to and left the bridge with the encouraging words; “remember that you are sailing on my license and keep full speed”.

I later found out that he had nerve problems from being torpedoed twice during WWII. It was much better that he left when things got difficult, since he made everybody nervous if not.

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So if the people on the bridge of the warship were all qualified by the current standards, will the navy will figure out the current qualification setup is inadequate?

If what was mentioned from the informal ‘update’ out of the navy is true, no, these people were not good watchstanders.

Are they learning to pass the test or learning to retain knowledge and be competent watch-standers.

Really, from the AIS tracks shown, while the area was not absent from traffic it certainly did not look like it was a high-density traffic area. For those familiar with the area, feel free to enlighten me. My point here is that this should have been a relatively simple collision avoidance situation, no special circumstances according to COLREGS, decent weather, nothing that would hinder identification of the hazard. Yet there was still a collision.

No, not high density, it is mega density with rush hours

While congested with a rush hour, I’m looking primarily at the AIS feed of the Crystal (and other vessels around it actively transmitting AIS data) and comparing it to other places in the world and it’s not anything special in regards to traffic density just because a news company says it is. Looking at data a few years old, it does not even make the top 30 when looking and TEU’s going through it (3 year old data mind you). Sure this does not completely relate to shipping congestion, but it is an indication of the number of large vessels in the area.

If the area in question is known for high currents and has had a significant amount of collisions as mentioned in the dailymail report, it just points out that something is lacking when considering what standards the destroyer’s bridge team was being held to.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand it’s a congested area, but based on what I’ve seen with my limited resources it does not appear to be overloaded with traffic in an area that would have impacted the collision.

I did this rotation every 14 days:

Mon Tokyo 0600 Dep 1200

Tue Kobe 0600 Dep 1200

Wed Hakata 0800 Dep 1600

Sat Incheon 0600 Dep 1600

The American Port TEU rankings are fallacious when it comes to traffic.

Japan is a mountainous country with the main cities situated on the little remaining coastal plains.

The same topography also gives rise to the inland sea and the large Wans.

Coastal shipping is integral to the Japanese economy, car parts, raw materials, food stuffs, ro-ro traffic are the freeways of Japan.

In the inland sea everyone doe 12 knots with 1/3 of a mile between vessels in each lane.

The same applies to Tokyo Wan where the speed limit is also 12 knots.

Factor in the funneling effect of deep sea shipping and you have major congestion.

Also Tokyo Wan has several ports:


All of international standing.

IMHO the bridge team on the Fitz were completely out of their depth and had no idea what was going on.


USN are not professional watchstanders. They are professionals but standing watch is not their profession. They stand, what, a deployment or two on navigational watch and that’s it? Then next time they’re WEPS or OPS or OHO (or something else) or they go ashore.

Contrast to merchant shipping where mates spend entire careers spanning decades standing underway watches.

We keep trying to compare apples to oranges.

This applies to other areas. A USN CHENG might have almost no engineering knowledge. Ive known WEPS without much knowledge about weapons. The system of general officers is the fault.

I don’t blame the sailors. I do blame the system that puts those sailors into positions they shouldn’t be in.


You nailed it. Exactly why I’m a big supporter of the European Navy’s training and standards, such as STCW requirements and field specialization in engineering or combat and operations (deck).

The Navy is circumventing this with LDOs for engineering and the new WTI (Warfare tactics instructor). This is directly related to the higher number of incompetency in the SWO program. A SWO can masterfully handle their way around some paperwork and bureaucracy, but that just doesn’t cut it.

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okay new solution… Navy doctors are commissioned at o-3 i believe. how about they do the same with watch standers get some straight out of the academy 3rd and put him on a carrier pay wouldnt be that bad and more leave it could work. Especially now with no jobs available. From what I’ve seen its the bad thirds that join the navy in the first place give them some incentive and you may get good ones

one of the best thirds I’ve ever worked with was an army watercraft guy seriously a great third knew his stuff.

Navy doctors, and some other professionals, are commissioned at levels above Ensign in recognition of the additional years of specific education that they have beyond a bachelor’s degree, e.g. MD, JD, DDS.

What part of the training of your new academy graduate merits such a direct commission?

How about we designate them as warrant officers, since that is much more appropriate in this case.
“A Warrant Officer is a highly specialized expert and trainer in his or her career field.”

New academy grads are just entry level trainees. They are not specialized experts.

It takes a few years of experience before they become specialized experts.

But they still have more task specific education and training at that point than the ones currently serving as OOD’s.

Oh, I agree with that, sir.

I was responding to cali-deckie and his proposal to direct commission as O-3 (Lieutenant), and asking what merited that for a new academy grad. I suppose it was to get the higher salary they would get sailing MM on their license, if there were jobs to be had.

The USN is not likely to reorganize their officer system to reflect the specialist approach used by the Dutch, the English, or most other navies. I served for 28 years, and think I understand the culture.

There have been many comments, or proposals, on this thread and others, to put licensed mates on the bridges of USN ships as specialists, as the key OICNWs, as resident SMEs, etc. Specifically, the role filled by the Sailing Master on Royal Navy ships when they still had sails. I have responded previously regarding the lack of a career path if commissioned as an Unrestricted Line Officer (i.e. eligible for command). My warrant officer comment noted that it would be more appropriate than a line commission for these new academy grads, as they would be limited to the role of OICNW. If the USN wanted to do this, and greater remuneration was needed, they would simply add a signing bonus, or continuation pay, or some other incentive not tied to basic pay.

As a retired SWO and a licensed MM officer, I certainly see the possible benefits in having licensed MM officers as the main OICNWs (typical three section watch), or one onboard as the resident SME and trainer. I just don’t see the USN making this change, no matter what levels of incompetence or systemic problems the Fitzgerald investigation shows.

But I’ve been wrong once already TODAY, so could be incorrect here as well. :grinning:

To me it would be a pay reason and so we outrank some dumbass ensign.

I was enlisted for seven years before commissioning. When I reported to my first ship as an Ensign, we had several Chief Warrant Officers in the wardroom. It was made very clear to me that the CWO4 wouldn’t take any crap from a LCDR or below, the CWO3 from a LT or below, and the CWO2 lorded over the Ensigns and LT(jg)s.

In fact, the ship’s Electrical Officer was a CWO-4. He was in charge of the movie schedule and no one onboard would give him any crap about it - including the Flag Mess. :grinning:

So, initial appointment as WO-1 for new academy grads, CWO2 for 2nd Mates, CWO3 for Chief Mates and all can be progressively promoted to CWO-4. For Seconds and Chiefs getting direct appointments, credit MM sea time for both years of service and sea pay eligibility and level. Use incentive pays - if needed - and the compensation should be attractive enough.

Might be a good, workable idea, but I still don’t think it will happen.


Many more… serious problem.

USN are not professional watchstanders. They are professionals but standing watch is not their profession.

This is true for the bridge officers for the most part, but not the supporting structure around them. Most of the enlisted have standing their watch as a primary duty and it’s a major part of their job(this would be the QMs on the bridge, OSes in CIC, and the STGs in SONAR if the ship is so equipped).

Additionally, there is another watch backing the bridge up in navigation down in CIC called Surface(as the name implies, they’re in charge of surface stuff), who is also required to pass the Coast Guard test just like the bridge watchstanders. They have access to everything the bridge does, minus the windows(which is a huge benefit for navigation, I know. Nothing replaces the eyes.)

The theory here is that you have an officer who’s maybe not as experienced on the bridge, but the support around them is such that the ship will navigate safely. This tends to fail if the officer freezes up entirely, or stops listening to their support network that is feeding them info and recommendations.

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That’s a backwards way of working.

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