GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Whether boarding a U.S. Navy ship, or entering the compartment of a recruit barracks, a watchstander is the first person you’ll encounter.
In the fleet, watchstanding is the assignment of Sailors to specific, detailed responsibilities to operate a ship around the clock. These assignments, also known as watches, are continuously manned, as they are considered essential to the safe operation of the ship, allowing for quick responses to emergencies and other situations, both at sea and in port.
At Recruit Training Command (RTC) recruits are taught the purpose and responsibilities of proper watchstanding soon after their arrival.
“Watchstanding is introduced very early because it is a cornerstone of how we do business in the Navy,” said Chief Fire Controlman William Stanford, a 21-year Navy veteran. “The earlier you can introduce a recruit to watchstanding the better, because that’s something they’re going to do the very first night they get here and throughout their career.”
Whether protecting from fires or flooding, ensuring equipment is operating correctly or safeguarding against security threats, watchstanders observe and defend the ship. The responsibilities of watchstanding vary depending on the command and the circumstances, but the principle is the same – active duty people are there to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
When met with potential threats to personnel or property, the watchstander is the first line of defense and must be ready and able to take charge of their post. Basically trained Sailors must understand and demonstrate how to stand a proper watch.
“Watchstanding is not unique to the Navy, but the way the Navy does it is rather unique,” said Chief Cryptologic Technician (Technical) Theo Beasley, a Recruit Division Commander at RTC.
Recruits experience watchstanding through hands-on learning at each of four posts in the recruit barracks, or recruit ships as they are known at RTC. These posts are manned without interruption by a rotation of recruits, who learn the purpose of the 11 General Orders of a Sentry and are guided by those instructions.
Two recruit watchstanders are posted in each compartment. One is positioned at the entrance, challenging anyone entering the compartment and maintaining the compartment deck log. The other serves as a ‘rover,’ who provides support for the posted sentry and is responsible for safety checks of compartment equipment as well as other recruits, including those who are sick in quarters.
Recruits also are posted on the quarterdeck of each recruit ship and are supported by a roving security sentry who helps maintain the recruit ship deck log. Rovers make hourly checks throughout the ship, record and report compartment temperatures and monitor the status of equipment including digital displays of special gauges.
“The truth is, you need a lot of hours doing it and you need things to go wrong while you’re on watch to learn those lessons,” said Beasley. “A lot of watchstanding is responding to problems and to something different. If a recruit gets five or six watches where not much goes wrong on those watches, they’ll still be missing important experiences.”
The deck log is an official daily chronology of certain events for administrative and legal purposes. Learning to maintain the deck log is a critical skill that requires a high level of attention of to detail and reinforces responsibility and accountability. Entries are made using standardized and exacting verbiage and formatting.
The deck log is often the first item an RDC checks when they enter the compartment, and each division has a recruit assigned to review the compartment deck log down to the smallest details.
“He’ll make sure it’s not missing a single period, every zero is slashed, every ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ is dotted, literally and figuratively,” said Beasley. “We spend a lot of time harping on getting that right, because it’s a real skill you need in the fleet to have things properly logged correctly, promptly and neatly. You need every Sailor to have that skill because every Sailor is going to be expected to maintain logs.”
Similar precision and detail also is required of Rovers, who may be called upon to escort an Officer of the Deck (OOD) during a tour of the ship’s recruit compartments. Rovers must be able to recognize security and safety threats as well as notice any unusual events or situations.
Rovers are required to report to the OOD, an experience that can be challenging and stressful, especially for new recruits. Reporting to the OOD requires a specific and precise routine involving the number of times they knock on the door, the length and number of paces they use to enter the office, the position of both their saluting and non-saluting hands and how they address the OOD.
The meticulous detail and manner of reporting to the OOD goes beyond respect for a superior officer. Learning to complete a task in a very specific manner has a direct correlation to the discipline and the attention to detail required by the fleet.
“It’s important because if the sign right next to you says knock three times and you knock four, the same Sailor that can’t get that right is going to have problems when they’re in the fleet,” said Beasley. “When they’re looking at an instruction card that says to turn a valve three times and they turn it four, and now it’s created something dangerous. It says three for a reason. That attention to detail prevents damage to equipment or someone getting hurt.”
Chief Stanford said accountability is what differentiates young Sailors from their civilian counterparts.
“Attention to detail and responsibility are ingrained in us from the beginning,” said Stanford. “Because as the cliché goes, the devil is in the details. We want to make sure we don’t get caught lacking because of a lapse of attention.”
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 35,000 recruits are trained annually at RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.