Surviving Navy Boot Camp

Navy Recruits Go Through the Paces at Great Lakes

Soldier in basic training

 South_agency / Getty Images

The U.S. Navy only has one location for its boot camp: Great Lakes Naval Training Center, on the western shore of Lake Michigan, near Chicago. This is where the Navy molds its newbies into ensigns, putting them through the arduous basic training that will serve them throughout their military careers.

The Recruit Training Command processes more than 50,000 recruits through Navy boot camp every year. Here's what to expect from Navy basic training.

Preparing for Boot Camp

There are several things you should do in advance to prepare yourself for Navy Boot Camp. First and foremost is to get in shape. If you arrive de-conditioned, you will likely fail the standards or get injured.

Also, if you don't know how to swim, try to learn before you leave for boot camp. Soon after you arrive, you'll be screened for swimming skills, and those that can't swim will have to undergo extra, special instruction, which you want to avoid if at all possible.

If you are a tobacco user, give it up. As with the other services, smoking, or the use of tobacco products is not allowed in boot camp.

Must-Know Information for Navy Recruits

Navy Boot Camp is probably one of the most "classroom-intensive" of the four primary military services so the more you can prepare in advance, the less you will be struggling with when the stress really begins.

  • Know the 11 General Orders.
  • Know all of the details pertaining to rate/rank recognition.
  • Learn how to make a rack (bed) with 45-degree "hospital" corners
  • Practice ironing military creases in a long sleeve, button-down, collared shirt 
  • Read the Bluejacket's Manual. Pay particular attention to Damage Control, Seamanship, First Aid, Uniforms and Grooming, and History.
  • Memorize the phonetic alphabet. (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie...)

How Long Is Navy Boot Camp?

Navy boot camp consists of eight weeks of training. Here's how it breaks down.

The first few days at the Recruit Training Center (RTC) are a whirlwind of activity. The first military drill you learn: how to stand at attention.  

Once the paperwork is completed, recruits will be issued Navy sweatsuits which they will wear until the first uniform issue. At this point, recruits box up all of their civilian clothing, and any personal items that they brought that weren't on the list. They can either ship these items them back home, or donate them to charity.

Next recruits will be taking a mandatory drug test by urinalysis.

After that first day, normal days will run from 0600 (6 a.m.), with a loud whistle to awaken all recruits until lights out at 2200 (10 p.m.). Precisely at 10 p.m., lights go out.

Even though uniform items at boot camp are issued (free), many items are not. The first night at boot camp all recruits are given a number of hygiene items, shoe polish, sewing kit, T-shirts, PT shorts, sun tan lotion, some other miscellaneous items plus a chit book for the Navy Exchange.

Recruits with eyeglasses will get issued glasses at the eye exams. Once they've graduated from basic training, sailors can wear the civilian glasses again, as long as they conform to military dress and appearance regulations.

Recruits get assigned to a division consisting of about 80 men and women. The divisions are housed in gigantic 1,000 person dormitories, which are called "ships" in the Navy Recruit Training Command. While men and women train together, they do not room together.


7 Tips for Surviving Military Boot Camp

Guard Duty: Learning the Orders of the Sentry

In the Navy, guard duty is called "Standing Watch." It means that sailors get to spend significant amounts of time guarding the ship, conducting a fire watch, snow, and security watches.

After observing the recruits for a few days, the RDCs will select "recruit leaders," known as "Recruit Petty Officers" in various areas of responsibility. The RDC will select those recruits who, during the first few days showed that they were "squared away."

Recruit Petty Officers are charged with preserving good order, discipline, and security within their respective division. Any violation of good order, discipline and security will be reported by the Recruit Petty Officer to the chain of command for disposition. 

During the remainder of this first week, known as P week, recruits learn the correct way to make beds and fold underwear and receive medical and dental exams. Classroom time is spent learning the basics of grooming and uniform wear, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), standards of conduct, discrimination, and a few hours with the chaplain about values. Additionally, the RDC will introduce the division to a couple of sessions of physical training.

First Full Week of Navy Boot Camp

During the first week, initial swim qualifications are conducted. Before graduation boot camp, all recruits are required to pass the requirements in swimming, treading, jumping into the water and drown-proofing. Also during this first week, the RDC will introduce the division to the complexities of military drill (marching).

Classroom learning during week one will be about rank/rate recognition, rape awareness, equal opportunities, sexual harassment and fraternization, and core values. The first week is also the most intensive week of physical conditioning.

Second Week of Boot Camp

During the second week, recruits receive dress uniforms and have them tailored. The classroom work will consist of a course on professionalism, test taking, Navy chain of command, watch standing, and customs and courtesies. Recruits take the first written test, covering all the subjects that were taught so far. Of course, physical training and drill will continue through this week.

Recruits run the Navy Boot Camp Confidence Course. It is designed to simulate obstacles one may have to encounter during a shipboard emergency. Recruits wear OBAs (oxygen breathing apparatus, standard equipment for shipboard fire-fighting) carry sandbags, toss life rings, and climb through a scuttle (a small circular door) with full seabags. Recruits complete the course in groups of four. The object is to cross the finish line as a team, not as individuals.

Third Week of Boot Camp

During the third week, there is less classroom learning, and more on-hands learning. The classroom work will consist of training about Naval history, laws of armed conflict, money management, shipboard communications, navy and aircraft (fixed wing and rotary wing) and basic seamanship. The week will finish with the second written test.

After that recruits get to practice basic line-handling skills and get direct experience and practice in first aid techniques. 

Fourth Week of Boot Camp

During this week, recruits will get to shoot weapons such as the M16 and shotgun. Recruits will also take the physical fitness test which consists of sit-reach, curl-ups, push-ups, and a 1 1/2 mile run. Also during the fourth week, the dress uniforms are ready and recruits take graduation (yearbook) pictures.

Week Five of Navy Boot Camp

Recruit training and administrative tasks such as focusing on career selection typically take place this week. Recruits may brush up on skills they've learned so far, including:

  • Increasing the number of live rounds fired with the M-9, 9mm handgun from five rounds to 40 rounds
  • Firing five “frangible” training rounds on a Mossberg shotgun
  • Extensive anti-terrorism/force-protection briefings on threat conditions, history of terrorism and steps sailors can take to present less of a potential target
  • Taking computer classes and familiarization with Navy jobs
  • Taking eight one-hour mentoring sessions, with RTC staffers and an RDC

Week Six of Navy Boot Camp

During the sixth week, drill continues along with more physical training. Recruits also receive basic training on damage control and firefighting. 

This is also the week when recruits will be trained in the gas chamber. They each have 30 seconds to put on gas masks while the petty officer is lighting the tear gas tablet. The petty officer will instruct recruits to take off the mask, and remove the filter cartridge, throwing it in a trash can, while stating their full name and Social Security number. Tip: Eat light on gas chamber training day. It's intense.

Week Seven of Navy Boot Camp

During the seventh week, recruits receive classroom training on the history of the uniform, grooming standards, dependent care requirements and terrorism. Another written test will document how much recruits have retained. 

Also during week seven, recruits practice fire-fighting skills in an actual "shipboard" fire-fighting exercise.

The week winds up with Battle Stations, a fun, culminating event of Navy Boot Camp. It's designed to wrap everything learned about swimming survival, teamwork, fire-fighting, damage control, and more into one massive 12-hour hands-on exercise. At the end, recruits receive their hats. It is the ceremony that marks them as sailors.

Week Eight of Navy Boot Camp

Assuming all recruits pass Battle Stations, the final week consists mostly of out-processing, practice for the final pass-in-review, and (of course) a little more classroom training. Even though the recruits at this point have passed the final physical fitness test, physical training still occurs. 

Finally, on either Thursday or Friday, recruits get to put on the dress uniforms and make that final pass-in-review.

If you've passed all your requirements (especially Battle Stations), you'll spend most of the following weekend on "Liberty," before continuing on to "A School" (which is what the Navy calls its technical school) or a direct assignment.