Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Before the local format was changed a bit awhile back, the Naval Submarine League sponsored a small afternoon reception fur each graduating SOBC and SOAC class at Sub School, and a member was asked to mix with the group and say a few words about the NSL. As an underemployed retiree, I was often asked to provide that pleasant service, and as a result, over the period of perhaps 10 years, got to chat with most of these submariners.

A question I almost invariably asked the SOACs was whether or not they were going to be the Third on their next boat-almost invariably resulting in a puzzled look and perhaps a “Do you mean Senior Watch Officer?” question in return. I then characteristically pontificated a bit too much about the difference, but I think the imbedded message was and is an important one.

The Senior Watch Officer is just that-the senior member of the wardroom who stands watches. His most essential task is, once a month, to prepare an in-port officers watch bill which is then (on most ships I’m afraid), modified and approved by the XO, or even (on some ships, unfortunately), modified and chopped on by the XO and then passed to the CO for further modification and final approval.

The Third Officer, on the other hand, is the wardroom Chief-of-the-Boat. He, not the XO (or God forbid, the CO!) is the one who tells a JO that he needs a haircut or that his uniforms are shoddy. He, not the XO, is who gets the officers out of bed for field days, and goes to the XO’s stateroom 3-4 minutes before a scheduled lecture to let him know that he can tell the CO that everyone is ready. When the Third submits a watch bill, any subsequent review or approval is perfunctory, and because of that, any officer junior to him would almost rather aggravate the CO than the Third.

In our profession at least, sea stories are an indispensable part of the teaching/learning process, and the following relates to the current issue. On an SSN in 1970, the renowned, respected and highly decorated skipper was shortly being relieved, and chose to host a wardroom party at his home to thank his officers and introduce the new skipper to them. One bachelor Lieutenant didn’t show, not having sent any regrets or the like, and the following

Monday the Third was summoned to the COs stateroom:

“(angrily)Why didn’t (John Doe) come to my party Saturday night!?”
“I don’t know Cap’n, but I’ll find out.”
“John, how come you didn’t go to the Skipper’s party?”
“I had other things to do.”
“Cap’n, John had other things to do” (pause as CO fumes) 1100 you want me to take care of it, Sir?”

The ship had spent some 300 days at sea, mostly deployed, during the preceding year, and was due to be in port for a month before the change of command. On the watch bill that was due and promulgated a few days later, John Doe had been assigned the Saturday duty for all five weekends.

“You can’t do this to mel”
“I just did.”
“I’m going to talk to the Captain about it!”
“Be my guest.”

When John left the CO’s stateroom after about a 30 minute closed door session, he was significantly humbled and, thereafter, a model of social and professional etiquette. He did, by the way, stand the S Saturday watches-a hollow action being worse than no action at all.

All of this is about something far more important than power struggles or ego trips for the Third/Senior Watch Officer. It’s about training-the Third is, in the normal course of things, an XO under instruction, and the more he learns and acts (under observation) about running the wardroom and its officers, the better XO he will be. Of even greater importance, the more the Third picks up the load from the XO in such matters, the more time the XO will have to spend on his real job-an under-instruction CO. Synergistically, the XO will then be able to pick up the load from the real CO in enough areas that the Skipper can spend more time on his real job-the morale and fighting ability of his ship and crew, and the only person on the ship who doesn’t have to spend a significant portion of his time making himself better prepared for his next job.

There is no real requirement, of course, to pass responsibility down but still retain accountability, but in this instance, the alternative could easily be that the CO does the XO’s job, the XO does what the Third should be doing, Department Heads act as
Division Officers, and Division Officers try to be LPOs-a job for which the best of them are (and we tldtrs were) woefully inadequate. Meanwhile, the Chiefs take refuge in the Goat Locker to rightfully grumble, and the rest of the crew become short-timers. Not only isn’t that a formula for winning the ‘E’, but the odds aren’t bad that the ship will run aground or worse. Having the XO be CDO every night, from the start of the ritualistic 2000 wardroom movie (which the skipper always attends) until the CO chooses to awaken is a far Iess risky affair, and also builds a better ship and a stronger Force.


Due to a glitch in our new database program, the following addresses were missing from the 1998 Directory when it was printed in October.

Owen Carlson
7609 Dublin Drive
Manassas, VA 201@-3354

TMC(SS) Richard K. Sparger, USN(Ret.)
194 Tall Pines Road
Ladson, SC 29456

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League