USS J McCain / Alnic MC collision near Singapore


Not as good of a job that should be done. The Navy has a massive lessons learned database, but it is treated more as a requirement than a resource. SWOs, being the cynical bunch we are, usually refer to it as ‘lessons identified’ or ‘lessons relearned’. At SWOS in Newport they have a variety of collisions programmed into the full mission bridge simulator, I’m told the replay of USS PORTER crossing the TSS in the Persian Gulf with bridge audio is horrifying. And we have our own forum where I promise you every collision, grounding, and every other mishap gets discussed ad nausem. Rarely do we see much systemic change though.

Yes, but it’s probably better spelled “Merchie” (the “ee” was an homage to a few esteemed posters here who struggle to spell “navy”). Merchant Mariner just doesn’t roll off the tongue. It’s not used as a derisive term (except by a very few USNA grads looking down on USMMA/SA grads). If I was on the bridge internally referencing another ship I would simply refer to it as Group 1, 2, or 3 Merchant (usually just Group 3 - superstructure aft). But there’s no animosity (except for those squid boats with their collapsed suns for lights - f those guys).

I don’t see what make people think a 3rd mate is going to do better than an ensign. I’ve sailed with new ensigns and with new 3rd mates, seem about the same more or less.

1 Like

There are many navies, such as the RAN, RN, JMSDF, ROKN who can do every mission area we do with the exception of carrier operations. Our breadth and depth is a testament to our size but necessarily skill.
Having fewer officers was not always the case, and I would argue isn’t a great reason to have better skilled officers, but thats my opinion.

I think we need to define seamanship, as it is the art and skill of operating a ship and everything related. War fighting is built upon this cornerstone, as I believe JPJ once pointed out. Driving the ship is only a portion of “seamanship”, but includes all ship operations. My problem from what I’ve seen in the USN SWO community is that seamanship seems heavily marginalized (as even described by yourself). I personally believe this correlates directly with how our war-fighting prowess can seem sloppy some times when compared to other nations. These are strictly my personal observations from seeing other Navies and ours, and one reason I keep harping on them and their system so much (again my opinion).

Again this is just due to our numbers, but operating hours per hull is not significantly different. When MSC took over the auxiliaries, they were able to better maintain the ships and stay underway much longer running many more missions than when the USN operated them. Foreign Navies do not fall short of the USN by any means in this regard, so it just doesn’t seem like a good talking point.

There are over 52,000 merchant ships in the world sailing our oceans day in and day out operating many more underway days per year than a USN ship, so this is hardly a comparison. I would love to find the statistics for operating hours per accident rate and see how the USN stacks up. A better comparison would be the MSC fleet vs the USN fleet (with MSC having many more operational hours). Who has the better record?

I can see the merit in this thinking but believe we can do better.

Clearly I am not going to convince you what a special organization we are, and that’s ok. When the JMSDF starts to shoulder the burden of patrolling the Black Sea, Med, Caribbean, Persian Gulf, Baltic, and not just the Western Pacific let me know. They’re a great organization, they really are, but they’re not us. I attended a briefing from the ROKN where they proudly announced their new KDX III destroyers would allow them to extend their reach to Singapore.

The requirement to be a good seaman has been dropping steadily thanks to technology. In JPJ’s day you had to maneuver your ship into firing a broadside, so things like the weather gauge and lee gauge mattered. Turreted guns and steam made that less relevant, and missiles, aircraft, and guided torpedoes have eliminated the seamanship variable almost entirely. There are companies out there investing in technology that threaten the future of deck officers everywhere obsolete. Pilots feel the pressure exerted by drones. The future won’t be men simply operating equipment. More will be required, and in that sense focusing on warfighting is prudent. Until we get there though we absolutely need to shore up our seamanship, but cannot be distracted by it either.

I don’t know that there will ever be an apples to apples comparison, but at least the MSC fleet does UNREPS. How many of those 52,000 ships are getting called into plane guard in the middle of the night and chasing around a carrier at 30 knots (like those poor unfortunate souls on the FRANK E EVANS)?

My only goal is to leave this organization one day better than I found it.

The only struggle here is not to get sick every time the navee screws up.

And the term navee is a derisory conflation of navy and ditch digger or navvy - look it up since it probably isn’t in the SWO for dummies guidebook.

Your definition of seamanship appears to be focused on its application to war fighting, which is your prerogative as a naval officer, but there is MUCH more to the art and science.

From my (and possibly others on this forum) perspective, the attitude that taking a back seat while the ‘technology’ takes over is the crux of your organizations problem. The attitude that seamanship as a skill and lifelong pursuit can be replaced with gadgets and tech is folly. We have all benefitted from the use of technology in navigation, but the ‘mark one eyeball’ coupled with the ‘sailors eye’ have been the foundation upon which all the rest of those nice electronic nannies were built upon.

This may just be my humble ‘Merchie’ opinion but I’m afraid if your attitude displayed on this thread is endemic of the whole officer corp of the navy we are already screwed.


My views here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Navy.

The only folly here is the attitude that machine operators can’t be replaced by automation. It happened to switchboard operators, it’s happening to fast food cashiers, it’ll happen to taxi drivers, and it will happen to us.

Make no mistake, I love the sea. I love being at sea, and in my heart I may believe that there is a level of nuance that can’t be replicated by sensors and technology. But the machines will do “good enough”, and whatever effectiveness is lost by automation will be made up for by the costs savings of paying for all of us.

If man is to be useful in the automation age then he will have to be the ones directing the machines, not operating them. That is what I believe the future of war at sea will be. So for today, we absolutely need to fix our seamanship problem, but it won’t be a “problem” forever…

Technology does not preclude seamanship. Seamanship is ever advancing with technology. JPJ had advances in technology (that might not be obvious to us today) that his predecessors could have only hoped for and this changed what it meant to be a good mariner even in his day (by his quote).

1 Like

Doesn’t seem that cut and dried to me. What about the practice of ship captains having to rely almost 100% on the chief for Eng dept matters?

It has to be true that something is lost with specialization into deck and eng on the merchant side.

So thought Toys R Us

Actually, I would say that the requirement has increased in many ways. The scope of what needs to be considered seamanship has changed and the abilities provided by new technology enable operations that would not have been attempted with previous generations of technology. The decision-making loop runs at a higher rate now, regardless of vessel size and speed. A poorly trained officer will spend too much time attempting to understand a situation he or she is faced with and never identify if the new technology is leading them down the wrong path or discrete danger signals are ignored. Without a well trained and competent operator that is not suffering from fatigue and allowed to focus on whats required for a safe and successful operation, we will continue to have incidents, fatalities, and disasters.


To me it’s like a fighter pilot. They don’t call themselves air warriors. They are pilots first and foremost and build upon that. Somehow the Navy SWO has become a quote on quote “sea warrior” and deminished everything else and have suffered the consequences.

It has to be true that something is lost with specialization into deck and eng on the merchant side.

Even as SWOs try to be the jack of all trades, serious knowledge gaps exist as they only stand 4 different shipboard jobs before reaching XO. Not every SWO does an engineering tour, etc and these tours are very short coupled with long shore tours… you are left with a very mixed bag. Were looking for sharp SWOs and we get a bag of wet mice.

1 Like

I don’t know enough about Navy ops to say one way or the other how SWO should be trained.

From my experience it seems unlikely that any legit fix will be without cost.

Pilots and SWOs are not an apples to apples comparison, not least of which because the pilot is singularly responsible for keeping their aircraft airborne, while SWOs do shiftwork. Good dogfighting skills can keep a pilot alive, but it doesn’t matter how good you are at COLREGs and DIVTACs when you’re staring down a salvo of Sunburns. Pilots can also showcase their skills at airshows, while SWOs do their dirty work far away from the eyes of the public.

The average SWO is doing seven years of sea duty before becoming an XO - 4 as a Division Officer (2 x 24 mos) and 3 and a Department Head (2 x 18 mos). Would things be better if these tours were combined into single, longer tours? I don’t know. I do know that after 18 months of being a DH you are ready for a change though. There was an MSC thread recently where people were complaining about the prospect of two year stints on ships. The longer shore tours are helpful for work/life balance, and the introduction of “SWO Clock” jobs are meant to keep people on the XO/CO track from losing touch with the waterfront.

Who is “we”? Big Navy isn’t looking for sharp SWOs, or if they are they aren’t doing a good job of finding them. SWO is in competition for the best talent from aviation, submarines, and special warfare. In terms of raw academic potential and tenacity, those communities are getting the lion’s share of talent. SWO standards are the baseline standards, and SWOs have the shortest minimum service commitment, leading to the phrase “SWO and Go” for those looking to simply meet their payback requirements for their USNA or ROTC scholarships.

SWOs also bleed talent to other communities such as Supply, JAG, Public Affairs, etc. Usually it is the most talented JOs who are able to lateral transfer out. We bring in about 1,200 SWOs a year to graduate 275 Department Heads - a 75% attrition rate. DH Screening has always been more of a pump than a filter.

I wish that SWO wasn’t the default URL community that the unmotivated or unqualified got dumped into. I wish we didn’t have to have a dozen 1160s on every ship just to meet our DH numbers. I wish that SWOs got rewarded for their sacrifices at sea instead of looking at HR officers fat dumb and happy on shore duty drawing the same benefits and wondering who had this whole Navy thing figured out. I think if we recruited more highly motivated officers that our attrition rate would drop, the officers that remained would be better trained, and maybe we would sail safer too.

That’s one of the problems. The SWO community is not taken seriously enough, even by members of the community. If they want to be taken seriously, it’s time for them to consider the art and science of seamanship as the foundation for a good warfighter.

1 Like

12 posts were split to a new topic: Navy and South China Sea

Realise wrong thread but relevant:

4 posts were merged into an existing topic: Navy and South China Sea