US Navy review finds shortfalls in basic seamanship

An internal review conducted over a period of three months by senior US surface fleet leaders has found concerns with the ship-handling skills of nearly 85% of its junior officers.

Many had difficulties in acting decisively to extricate their ship from danger when there was an immediate risk of collision, Defense News had reported, citing a message released by the Navy’s top surface warfare officer, Vice-admiral Richard Brown.

The Surface Warfare Officer School led the review, under which officer of the deck competency checks were conducted between January and March this year on a random selection of first-tour division officers in underway bridge navigation simulators.

Of the 164 officers who were evaluated, only 27 passed with no concerns. Another 108 completed with some concerns,  while 29 had significant concerns, according to the message, which was released by the Navy’s top surface warfare officer Vice Adm Brown said that the evaluations were “sobering”.

Brown told Defense News that the checks would be used to inform new training in development for young officers and that changes were already underway that show the Navy was serious about self-assessment and improvement.

Last year the US Navy suffered two disasters that claimed the lives of 17 sailors, as well as severely damaging the John S McCain and the Fitzgerald.

The checks found that officers struggled with operating radars and the associated tools at hand. Although officers had a solid grasp of the international rules of the road for navigating ships at sea, they struggled to apply them practically during watch standing, especially in low-visibility situations.

In his message to the fleet, Brown said that “while the OOD competency checks were a snapshot in time, we must be realistic in confronting the systemic shortfalls that they revealed in core proficiencies across the junior qualified members of the force”.