The United States Navy was founded in 1775, and a Department of the Navy was established in 1798. Today, the Navy is nearly half a million strong, with approximately 326,000 service members on active duty and 110,000 reserve personnel. Whether serving your country for a single tour of duty or building a career over a lifetime, unique opportunities exist for the men and women who join the Navy. Will you be one of them?
How to Join the Navy
Joining the Navy begins with a visit to your local recruiting office, where you can learn about current Navy enlistment requirements and opportunities. General requirements are U.S. citizenship, a high school diploma and a qualifying score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. You must speak, read and write English fluently to join the Navy. You must also pass a physical exam at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
Federal law allows each service to cap the age limit for enlistments, as long as the enlistment cap is under 42 years. Currently, the Navy age limit at time of enlistment is 34 years old.
ASVAB, the Military's Entrance Exam
Introduced in 1968 and taken by more than 40 million applicants since then, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is designed to identify the skills and interest that indicate aptitude for military jobs. The test is not just a U.S. Navy requirement, but is used by all branches of the service. The ASVAB consists of 10 individual aptitude tests, including word knowledge, reading comprehension, mathematics, arithmetic reasoning, general science, auto and shop information, electronics knowledge, mechanical comprehension and numerical operations and coding speed. The purpose of the tests is to assess your abilities and determine your suitability for specific military occupations.
Register for the ASVAB with your recruiter. The computer-based exam is administered at a MEPS or Military Education Testing (MET) site. Calculators are not allowed, and you'll be asked to stow all electronic devices, including watches and phones, in a secure location while you take the test. Get a good night's rest the night before the exam; staying up late to "cram" has been shown to be ineffective. Bring a valid photo I.D. so that you can gain entry to the exam. Allow plenty of time to get to the test site. If you're late, you won't be admitted and you'll be asked to reschedule.
There are a diverse variety of jobs in the Navy's enlisted ranks. Each job has a minimum qualifying score that must be earned on the ASVAB to have access to training and assignment to the position. U.S. Navy requirements for all jobs can change according to the needs of the service, so speak with your recruiter to get the latest information.
Free practice tests are available online for the ASVAB. You can get an idea of the tests' difficulty, which lets you spend time sharpening your knowledge and skills before taking the actual test.
Navy Education Requirements
Depending on the job you want to qualify for, Navy education requirements will vary. For the enlisted ranks, a high school diploma is sufficient. Although outstanding candidates from the enlisted ranks are sometimes offered the opportunity to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), a direct commission as an officer requires a college degree.
How to Become a Navy Officer
A select few officers are graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Admission to the Academy is very competitive and requires nomination by a government official, usually a congressman, while still in high school. There are typically about a thousand students, called midshipmen, per class at the Academy, which trains future officers for the Navy and the Marines. In 2018, the graduating class was comprised of 783 men and 259 women.
It is more usual for officers to join the Navy through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), a program offered through numerous colleges and universities across the U.S. Each branch of service has its own ROTC programs. There are currently 153 programs for the Navy and Marines. Applicants are encouraged to apply early in their high school careers, as scholarships are competitive. An ROTC advisor can help you plan what courses to take while you're in college, as there are no specific U.S. Navy requirements. In addition to academic coursework, you'll take courses and participate in activities designed to build your knowledge and skills as a future naval officer.
Entering the Navy's professional ranks as a physician, dentist, veterinarian, nurse, attorney or member of the clergy requires the appropriate education and degree; as a rule, the Navy does not send active duty personnel to pursue professional training.
U.S. Navy requirements include a passing score on the the Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT), designed to measure strength and endurance. It consists of push-ups, sit-ups and running or swimming, although swimming is not an option for the test during basic training. Sailors earn points in each of three components of the PRT (also called the Physical Fitness Test, or PFT) with rankings in each component including outstanding, excellent, good, satisfactory and probationary. The PFT score is determined by averaging the scores of the three components.
The run is 1.5 miles, to be completed as quickly as possible. Nine minutes and under is considered outstanding and earns from 86 to 92 points. Completing the run in 9:15 to 9:45 is considered excellent, worth 76 to 79 points. Ten to eleven minutes is good, earning 51 to 60 points. Running 1.5 in under 12:15 is considered satisfactory, and scored from 46 to 49 points. A run that takes 12 and a half minutes is only worth 42 points and is scored as probationary.
Push-ups and sit-ups (curl-ups) are counted by number completed correctly within two minutes. Point values are assigned to each score and averaged with the running score. An overall average of 90 to 100 is outstanding, equal or above the top 10 percentile. The top 25 percentile, a score of 75 to 85, is rated excellent. Better or equal to the lowest 25 percentile, a score of 60 to 70 is rated good. Scores of 50 to 55 (satisfactory) and 45 (probationary) are in the lowest 25 percentile but above the lowest 10 percentile. Performance in the lowest 10 percentile is considered a failure. A partial pass indicates that the sailor passed passed the components of the PFT undertaken but was waived from one or more event.
How to Become a Navy SEAL
The SEALS (the acronym stands for Sea, Air and Land Forces) are an elite special operations unit within the Navy. Established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, the SEALs collect information through special reconnaissance missions, carry out direct-action military directives and other covert operations around the world. SEALs can find themselves in any environment, from desert to ocean to jungle, and they may use any number of means to accomplish their missions, including parachutes, submarines, helicopters, foot patrol or even combat swimmer insertion.
Navy SEALs are part of the enlisted ranks, so a college degree is not required. However, there are strict mental and physical standards. You must be a U.S. citizen and eligible for a security clearance. The Navy age limit for SEALS is no more than 28 years old at time of enlistment. Training is extremely rigorous, designed to push candidates to their limits. SEAL preparation consisting of more than 12 months initial training and an additional 18 months of pre-deployment and intensive specialized training. Opportunities for advancement are extremely competitive and based on performance.
Salary and Opportunity Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only tracks data and makes projections for civilian occupations. The outlook for opportunities in the military varies depending on a number of factors. The needs of the military can change according to new technological developments and the world political situation. The amount of money allocated for defense spending can change according to whose in political office.
Salaries for service members are determined by rank (pay grade) and number of years of service. They are the same across all branches of the Armed Forces. Enlisted ranks are designated E-1 through E-9. Officers are designated by pay grades O-1 through O-10. Equivalent ranks have different names in the services. For example, the lowest rank (E-1) is called a private in the Army and the Marines, an Airman Basic in the Air Force and a Seaman Recruit in the Navy and Coast Guard. The lowest ranking officer in the Navy is an Ensign (O-1), equivalent to a Second Lieutenant in the Army, Air Force and Marines. The highest ranking officer in the Navy is an Admiral, equivalent to a four-star general in the Army, Marines and Air Force. The Navy, Army and Marines also have a special class of officers, called warrant officers, whose pay grades fall between that of the enlisted and the officer ranks. Pay grades are designated by Chief Warrant Officer 1 through 5, except in the Navy, where ranking begins with Chief Warrant Officer 2.
Effective January 2018, the military pay table shows that an E-1 in basic training (less than four months of service) earns $1,514.70 per month. At the other end of the table is the salary for an O-10 with more than 40 years of service (this is rare), at $15,800.10 per month. In addition to salary, service members receive other benefits, including medical, dental and vision care, housing allowance and a retirement savings plan. Service members who leave the service honorably after at least 20 years are entitled to receive a pension, which is calculated based on their active duty salary. Members of the Armed Forces who serve honorably are eligible for tuition benefits through the G. I. Bill. Depending on military occupational specialty, members of enlisted ranks and the officer corps may be eligible for signing bonuses, specialty pay or hazardous duty pay.
Who's Who in the Navy
It might surprise you to learn some of the famous names who can list service in the U.S. Navy among their credentials:
Humphrey Bogart, famous for roles in films such as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, enlisted in the Navy in 1918 and served honorably for a year. Before becoming an actor, he worked at various jobs and also joined the Naval Reserve.
Harry Belafonte, singer and civil rights activist, dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy in 1944, near the end of World War II.
Yogi Berra, a 3-time MVP who led to the New York Yankees to 10 championships, served in the Navy during World War II. He became a catcher in the major leagues shortly after discharge.
Mike Wallace, a journalist and long-time correspondent on 60 Minutes, served as a communications officer during World War II. Late night television host Johnny Carson also served as a communications officer during the same period, although the two never met while on active duty.
Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was a naval aviator, as were astronauts James Lovell, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepherd, Walter Shirra, Gene Cernan and Marine Colonel John Glenn.
Careers in the Navy led to careers in politics for former presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Other political figures, past and present, who served in the Navy include the late senator from Arizona, John McCain, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the late attorney general Robert M. Kennedy and a number of current members of Congress.