Career Profile: Navy Damage Controlman

USS John S. McCain arrives at Changi Naval Base
U.S. Navy / Getty Images

These days, with all the modern amenities of the Internet age, it's easy to forget that "damage control" used to mean something other than backtracking from a horrible statement on Twitter.

No, a damage controlman (DC) in the Navy is all about keeping a literal ship from sinking.

Duties and Responsibilities

Of course, a basic function of the Navy DC aboard ship is, as the name suggests, mitigating damage to the boat. That includes a lot of the hands-on repairs you might think of at first: "[E]mergency repairs to decks, structures, and hulls . . . and repair of watertight closures" are just some examples according to Navy Personnel Command. Naturally, firefighting is also a part of the job, as is maintaining and repairing the onboard firefighting equipment.

But as the ship's experts on damage control, another important function of the DC is as a leader and a resource for their fellow sailors. Out at sea, the damage controlman can fill the role of ship's fire marshal and is expected to lead firefighting teams in times of emergency. In times of not-so-emergency, DCs train their fellow sailors on how to respond to an emergency such as fire or damage to the hull.

Damage control men also take responsibility for shipboard response to chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) threats (attacks of nerve gas, nuclear weapons, and the like). They're responsible for everything from inspecting chemical protection suits and training ship personnel in their use to setting up contamination control areas in a worst-case scenario.

Military Requirements

In addition to earning a high school diploma, prospective Navy DCs must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and achieve 200 total points from the verbal expression (VE), arithmetic reasoning (AR), mechanical knowledge (MK), and assembling objects (AS) sections of the test. Applicants must also have normal color vision.

Although not strictly listed as qualifications for the job, there are a few other aptitudes that Navy Credentialing Opportunities On Line (COOL) suggests in their DC rating information card, including "the ability to use portable tools, equipment, and machines . . . manual dexterity . . . [and] [p]rior experience in leading others."


New sailors hoping for the damage control rating actually begin life in the fireman apprentice (FN) rating, which, in addition to DC, can branch off into the electrician's mate (EM), engineman (EN), gas turbine technician (GS), hull maintenance (HT), interior communication technician (IC), machinery repairman (MR), and machinist's mate (MM) ratings.

Regardless, the first stop for everyone is boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. Those who secure assignment to the damage control field remain aboard Great Lakes to attend ten weeks of "A" school to prepare them for the basics of the job. The course consists of "[s]elf-paced and group instruction with practical application," according to the Navy COOL rating info card, and progresses from "technical documentation and mechanical theory" to the specifics of shipboard firefighting and damage control systems.

Credentials and Career Outlook

Once promoted to the grade of E-4, a sailor officially moves out of the fireman rating and into the damage control rating as a damage controlman third class (DC3). The Navy COOL rating card advises that although "[a]dvancement opportunities are fair," initially getting into the small DC community is competitive, with only "[a]bout 3,300 men and women" in the rating altogether.

Navy COOL lists the following civilian credentials related to the damage controlman field, for which the Navy may reimburse examination fees:

  • Certified in Disaster Preparedness
  • Certified Incident Safety Officer—Fire Suppression
  • Certified Safety Instructor Senior Level
  • Certified Safety Professional
  • Certified Safety Specialist
  • Health and Safety Officer
  • Occupational Health and Safety Technologist/Loss Control Specialist

Damage controlmen can also apply for journeyman apprenticeship as firefighters or pump repairers through the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program.