What Does a Navy Captain Do?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
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In most militaries around the world, a navy captain is a senior-level officer who is in charge of commanding and organizing lower-ranking officers and enlisted personnel in sea-based missions. He or she is often the commander of a ship or submarine, but not always. Naval officers can have a wide range of different jobs. In addition to ship work, captains can be stationed on bases to organize training, teach in service academies, or perform legal or medical tasks. Their job duties are defined both by their captain’s rank and their professional expertise.

A navy is, by definition, a country’s maritime defense arm. Most navies are organized into two parallel tracks: enlisted personnel and officers. Both are hierarchical systems, with members assuming progressively more responsibilities and duties with each rise in rank. In almost all cases, captains are senior officers. Most of the time, a captain has served at least 15 years, and over the course of that time has gained extensive expertise in some aspect of maritime combat.


Traditionally, the title captain is given to anyone in command of a ship or sea vessel. This can make defining a navy captain’s job somewhat confusing, as many naval ship captains have not attained the officer’s rank of captain, or have in fact exceeded it. In battle and on larger war ships, command is almost always given to those with the rank of captain or higher. Smaller vessels, good will missions, and exploratory cruises are sometimes manned by lower-ranking officers or in alternating shifts between captains and other experts.

In most cases, there are more captains on any given ship than are needed to actually direct the vessel. Captains accompany navy units and direct their activities while on board. This often involves a lot of strategizing, battle planning, and analysis.

A navy captain is usually assigned to a certain division of the naval service. His or her specific job duties will align with that specialty. Some are trained in aviation, while others focus on strategy; still others have specialization in engineering, technology, or espionage. Each sector has devoted officers. At the captain level, officers serve as high-ranking directors, making plans and giving orders. Depending on the size of the unit, a navy captain may be the most senior officer, which makes him or her the de facto leader to which every member must default.

Not every navy captain is directly involved in combat operations. Most of the time, navies train officers in the law, in medicine, and in other civilian specialties such that military personnel and their families can have ready access to needed services no matter where they are posted. A navy doctor who has spent enough time in the service may attain the rank of captain, for instance. This will make him or her more senior, which often enables greater choice when it comes to posting locations, office hours, and other quality-of-life considerations. Navy professionals must respect rank, but are rarely in command-and-order situations they way they would be in combat.


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