US Navy Chain of Command: Definition and Roles

Updated November 23, 2022

The U.S. Navy has a chain of command or hierarchy structure much like traditional businesses. This chain of command shows military personnel who they report to and how their individual units work.

A chain of command can be very helpful for new recruits to know who to report to and even for seasoned officers, so they know who is in charge when assigned to a new ship. In this article, we explore the U.S. Navy chain of command.

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What is the U.S. Navy Chain of Command?

The U.S. Navy Chain of Command or C.o.C is an organizational hierarchy that shows how members of the unit or company report to one another. The naval chain of command is similar in structure to those in an office where an employee might report to a supervisor who then reports to a manager. The U.S. Navy chain of command starts with a recruit and ultimately ends with the President of the United States.

Who is the U.S. Navy's highest-ranking officer?

The highest-ranking admiral in the U.S. Navy is the chief of naval operations. This role is held by a four-star admiral who is also a member of the joint chiefs of staff. The joint chiefs of staff advise the President on military matters and also include other senior uniformed leaders such as the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

U.S. Navy chain of command

There are many roles within the U.S. Navy, but there is one type of U.S. Navy chain of command. This chain of command starts with a new recruit:

  • Recruit: A new recruit has just entered the U.S. Navy and lowest in the hierarchy.

  • Recruit division commander: The RDC is in charge of sailorization and mentoring of newly reported U.S. Navy Recruits..

  • Leading chief petty officer: The leading chief petty officer or LCPO is the “first line of defense”. The chief is the buffer between the enlisted sailors and the officers. The chief will be the one to give out tasking to the division. This tasking is passed from the department head to the division officer to the departmental LCPO before reaching the LCPO. The chief—or LCPO—is also in charge of mentoring and training the division officers.

  • Departmental leading chief petty officer: The departmental leading chief petty officer is also called the “DLCPO.” The DLCPO is the “head chief” in charge of the other chiefs who are LCPOs. The DLCPO is the department head’s assistant.

  • Division officer: The division officer can also be abbreviated as the “DIVO” and is in charge of putting out tasking to the LCPO, who delivers that tasking to the division. The DIVOs are usually very young officers who have served in the military for 1-3 years. They are mentored by the chiefs in their division and the department head.

  • Department head: The department head or “DH” is in charge of a specific department or a ship, submarine or naval base. For example, the chief engineer or “CHENG” is in charge of the entire engineering department which includes electricians, mechanics, machinists and technicians in engineering divisions.

  • Executive officer, RTC (XO RTC): Executive officer can be abbreviated as “XO.” RTC stands for “recruit training command” in this instance.

  • Commanding officer RTC (CO RTC): The commanding officer for a ship is called a “CO.” This officer is in charge of a ship and its sailors.

  • Commander NTC (CNTC): The commander of the NTC, or Naval Training Center, is the next in command.

  • Chief of naval education and training (CNET): The chief of naval education and training can be abbreviated to “CNET.” This position is in charge of all training, including U.S. Navy recruits.

  • Chief of naval operations (CNO): The chief of naval operations is the highest-ranking admiral in the U.S. Navy. The CNO is a military adviser to the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, the secretary of defense and the President. Despite the title, the CNO does not exercise operational command authority over the naval forces. The CNO is an administrative position based in the Pentagon and supervises the U.S. Navy organizations as the designee of the Secretary of the Navy.

  • Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) The secretary of the Navy is the chief executive officer of the U.S. Navy. The SECNAV is appointed by the President and requires confirmation from the Senate. The secretary of the Navy must be five years removed from any active duty military service.

  • Secretary of the defense (SECDEF) The SECDEF acts as the defense advisor to the President of the United States. This role is in charge of the entire Department of Defense which includes the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force and U.S. Marine Corps. The SECDEF is also in charge of the U.S. Coast Guard, when its command and control is transferred to the Department of Defense from the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Vice president of the United States: The vice president reports to the President of the United States.

  • President of the United States: The President is the highest executive authority in the United States. He is also the Commander-In-Chief of the U.S. Military.

Related: Top 12 Jobs in the Navy

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What else do Navy recruits need to know?

Arriving at boot camp can be an exciting but challenging experience for a new U.S. Navy recruit. You are expected to pass a Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) before you can start basic training.

This can involve a lot of training, working out and studying before shipping out to Great Lakes, IL where U.S. Navy Bootcamp is held. While at boot camp, male and female recruits will receive a haircut. It’s a good idea to cut your hair before leaving for boot camp to possibly avoid the buzzcut.

During boot camp, you will work out every day and have three meals per day. You will learn basic seamanship, firefighting, water survival and the U.S. Navy’s rank structure.


Before you begin your formal training at Recruit Training Command, you will undergo medical, dental and administrative screenings. You will also receive an initial round of inoculations and an initial issue of uniforms.

All recruits will be given a thorough drug screening urinalysis by a U.S. Navy Drug Lab upon arrival. The U.S. Navy has a zero-tolerance policy regarding drug use, including any prescription drugs for which a recruit does not have a valid prescription. There are no exceptions to this rule, so be sure that even before you arrive on board, you are adhering to the U.S. Navy's code of conduct regarding drug use.

Your first week of training consists of processing days or “P-Days.” This period lasts for approximately five days, but can run a little longer depending on weekends, holidays and the schedule of arriving recruits.

During p-days, you will be taught the basics of watch standing, given information to memorize, will meet your recruit division commanders (RDCs) and will learn to organize your gear and life. This marks the official start of your training. During your first week of training, your ship’s officer will commission your division and give you the orders to carry out the mission.

Here are several other key items U.S. Navy recruits might need to know before going to basic training:

Drill etiquette

Once at recruit training, you'll be practicing drills. It can be helpful to practice in advance and learn some of the postures associated with these commands. You will use these drill techniques while marching and during the graduation ceremony.

Some of the basic commands are as follows:

  • Attention: Bring your left heel and right heel together at a 45-degree angle for the attention position. Stick your chest out and ensure you are standing up straight. Ball your hands into a fist and pretend you are holding a roll of coins. Your thumbs should be resting on the seams of your pants.

  • Parade rest: In the parade rest position, your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your hands held behind your back. Your right hand should be placed on top of your left hand, with both palms facing away from your body.

  • At ease: In this position, your feet remain in place, but you can relax and move your arms with no particular placement.

  • Fall in and fall out: The fall-in command means to go to your place in formation and stand at attention. The fall-out command means you are able to break formation.

Related: Complete Guide for Navy Basic Training Requirements

General orders

The 11 General Orders are a set of rules that lead a sailor during sentry duty. The orders can help you understand your duties in the armed forces and help keep you safe while on duty. The U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force also use 11 General Orders, although slightly different versions. Recruits will be asked to recite these from memory, so it is a good idea to memorize these prior to leaving for boot camp. Here are the 11 General Orders for the U.S. Navy:

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.

  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.

  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse than my own.

  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.

  6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the commanding officer, command duty officer, officer of the deck, and officers and petty officer of the watch only.

  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.

  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.

  9. To call the officer of the deck in any case not covered by instructions.

  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.

  11. To be especially watchful at night, and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

Related: The 11 General Orders in the Military: Everything You Need To Know

Tattoo policy

Tattoos, body art and brands are permitted, but they must pass four inspection standards:

  • Content: Tattoos that might be considered offensive or extreme are not permitted. Recruiters can talk to potential recruits and give guidance about tattoos if needed.

  • Location: Tattoos can be on your torso, legs and arms but not visible through clothing. Tattoos on ears, faces or scalps are not currently permitted. One tattoo on the neck is permitted as well as small tattoos behind the ear.

  • Size: Tattoos on the neck or behind the ear have a size limitation of 1 inch in all directions. Tattoos on arms, legs or your body can be any size.

  • Cosmetic: Cosmetic tattoos that cover or correct a medical condition can fall under different guidelines. A medical professional within the U.S. Navy can discuss any guidelines about cosmetic tattoos with new recruits.

Jewelry policy

U.S. Navy enlisted personnel and officers can wear one ring per hand, with a wedding band set counting as one ring. Brightly colored rings or stacking rings together might not be permitted while in uniform.

While in uniform, female sailors can wear one pair of earrings in the ear, but male sailors cannot wear earrings while on a U.S. Navy base or ship. Officers and chief petty officers can wear 4mm - 6mm gold ball earrings, while enlisted can wear silver ball earrings.

With the dress uniform, women can wear pearl or diamond earrings. While earrings are permitted, officers and enlisted personnel are not authorized to wear body piercings. While in “civilian clothes” and not in a duty status, male sailors and officers can wear 1 pair of earrings.

Read more: What Should I Expect at Navy Basic Training?

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