It’s official: Fleet sailors are getting a pay raise.
The Navy is hiking most career sea pay rates by 25 percent this summer, the first such boost in more than a decade — and only the second in nearly 30 years.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the pay increase March 4, which will apply to sailors and Marines.
For the Navy, the move is designed to better reward sailors for time at sea, and to help the service fill as many as 9,000 open jobs in the fleet.
“This increase is long overdue and is meant to reward our sailors and Marines for their continued sacrifices as part of ‘America’s Away Team.’ ” Mabus said in a March 4 news release. “This change to career sea pay will both improve critical sea-duty manning and reward those who take these challenging seagoing assignments.”
The 25 percent rate hike is aimed to catch up sea pay with inflation, which officials say has eroded the buying power of the current sea pay, unchanged since Oct. 1, 2001. The hike is expected to cost the Navy $66 million per year.
The service also boosted the career sea pay premium, an extra kicker payment some sailors begin receiving after 36 consecutive months in a sea duty billet. This monthly premium will double from an extra $100 each month to $200.
Only those with three or more years of cumulative sea time will get the raise.
Navy officials say about 100,000 sailors receive some level of career sea pay, with 13,000 of those also earning the premium pay.
The pay raise was a big hit for most sailors.
“Well deserved,” wrote Caraus Williams, a hull maintenance technician, in a Facebook comment to Navy Times.
When it starts
The exact schedule for when the new rates will be paid out hasn’t been locked in, as officials work on the details. But it could be just a few months away.
The raise was announced in tandem with the unveiling of the fiscal 2015 budget request — which includes funding for the pay for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Officials think they can start paying it before then — as early as June and no later than July, if all goes according to plan, sources told Navy Times.
“Pending final coordination with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, it is expected that the new CSP and CSP-P rates will take effect early this summer,” the Navy release said. “An announcement on the exact date is forthcoming.”
Both types of career sea pay are given in addition to a sailor’s normal base pay and any other specialty pays they’re eligible for, based on their qualifications, billet or command.
By law, career sea pay and the sea pay premium can’t exceed $750 and $350, respectively. Under the 2001 tables still in effect, no one gets the maximum levels of level of sea pay — though that will soon change.
The amount of career sea pay a sailor can earn is based on paygrade and cumulative years of sea duty. Once the raise takes effect, an E-6 with more than 18 years of sea time will net the maximum $750 figure. Those in paygrades E-7 through E-9 only need 13 years of cumulative sea time to rate that max.
In the warrant ranks, a W-2 will get the maximum at 18 years while W-3s and W-4s hit that level at 13 years of sea duty.
Even with the increase, the sea pay premium won’t go the maximum level, leaving the service room for a potential increase without a change to current law.
It’s worth also noting that sailors in paygrades E-5 through E-9 who have eight years or more cumulative sea time don’t get the sea pay premium kicker: That money is already programed into their career sea pay. This, in effect, gives the most salty sailors in the fleet the equivalent of collecting both career sea pay and sea pay premium immediately, bypassing the 36-month waiting period.
Personnel officials are adamant that sea pay increases are critical to getting sailors in the busiest seagoing ratings to stay in the service — and, more importantly, to take the critical billets at sea.
“I do think it will continue to send the message to sailors that we value sea duty,” said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of personnel who was an architect of the plan, in a Feb. 18 interview with Navy Times. “The fact that we have not adjusted that pay in 12 years, it is hard to argue that you value sea duty when you are not even keeping up with the rate of inflation.”
Sea-shore flow calculations are used to assess the most seagoing sailors. This program classifies 18 ratings as “sea-intensive,” meaning a sailor can expect to spend more than 18 years at sea over a 30-year career.
Another 30 ratings are classified as “sea-centric,” where sailors can expect to be at sea duty for 15 to 18 years over that same 30 years.
The 29 ratings considered “shore-centric” spend more than half of their 30 year careers ashore. Seven ratings fall into the “shore-intensive” category and don’t have a sea-to-shore flow at all.
The Navy historically seems to have a tough time pacing sea pay with inflation. Before the 2001 change, the pay hadn’t been updated since 1989.
The 2001 increase came after the Center for Naval Analyzes made a startling discovery: Sea pay’s buying power had sunk 40 percent against inflation. At the time, just like today, the Navy also had many billets gapped at sea and fewer additional incentives available to reward sea duty.
As a result, the CNA study concluded the pay wasn’t enough to get sailors — especially those with longer sea tours — to complete those tours, let alone volunteer to extend their tours at sea.
It remains to be seen whether this tactic will work today. But the initial reactions were largely positive from sailors, spouses and families.
Bill Howarth summed up the views of tens of thousands when he wrote, “It’s about time,” in a March 4 comment on Navy Times’ Facebook page.
Most sailors were pleased with the news of the pay raise, with some joking that it may lure some back to sea, or as another reader put it, “bring out the shore duty hoggers.” Many wished the pay boost would be retroactive.
“13 years … way too long,” commented Susan Bailey.
Still, recent talk of widespread cuts to benefits and the searing experience of the enlisted retention boards led many to greet the news with skepticism.
“They are trying to appease sailors by increasing sea pay,” wrote Jason Holmes. “But sea pay does not count towards retirement. They are trying to cut retirement pay.”