Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Dakota Rayburn
PACIFIC OCEAN – Some Sailors might ask, ‘What does a quartermaster do?’ and the simple answer is they help drive the ship. That is only a single aspect of one of the Navy’s oldest rates, which shares history with boatswain’s mates and gunner’s mates.
A quartermaster (QM) mans the helm and assists the navigation officer and the officer of the deck in the navigation of the ship. They help to ensure the ship’s safety moving through ports and in the open ocean.
“Bremerton’s port is the most interesting and the most challenging because it’s so long,” said Quartermaster 3rd Class Clem Benton, from Tacoma, Wash. “The transit coming in is 12 hours until actually hitting our destination.”
The size of the ship itself presents a challenge when pulling in and out of port. The sheer length, width and depth of an aircraft carrier are prohibitive to mooring in areas that many smaller ships can easily access. QMs need to know how to maneuver the ship safely in tight, high traffic areas and know which areas are inaccessible to the ship.
Navigation department uses the Voyage Management System (VMS) to assist in navigating the open ocean and in ports. QM’s will check the VMS against radar and by gaining a true bearing using visual landmarks. Fog and bad weather present new and more dangerous challenges for QMs, especially pulling in and out of port because it is difficult to use landmarks to check against the VMS and radar.
Despite the challenges that come with the rate, many of the 23 members of navigation department agree the positive aspects of being a QM far outweigh the difficult ones.
“Every day I get to walk up onto the bridge, and I get to see the sunrise, and I get to see the sunset,” said Senior Chief Quartermaster Henry O. Nicol from Hemet, Calif. “I get to look out and see different weather and different things happening on the ship from the bridge. Being a quartermaster is not an easy job, but if you want to work somewhere with a view and where you get to see what’s going on every day, it’s the place to be.”

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