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Sea pay boost: First raise in 13 years to start this summer

Mar. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
About 100,000 sailors receive sea pay, and all will see a 25 percent boost this summer when the new rates take effect. Here, sailors on the destroyer Stout heave mooring lines prior to a Jan. 19 visit to Haifa, Israel.
About 100,000 sailors receive sea pay, and all will see a 25 percent boost this summer when the new rates take effect. Here, sailors on the destroyer Stout heave mooring lines prior to a Jan. 19 visit to Haifa, Israel. (MC2 (AW) Amanda Gray/Navy)
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Some senior enlisted could qualify for $750 in monthly sea pay — the maximum allowed under current law. Here, Chief Gunner's Mate Terrance Wright checks bearings aboard the destroyer Winston S. Churchill in the Atlantic Ocean last March. (MC2 Aaron Chase/Navy)

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.

'About time'

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.”

New sea pay rates

Career sea pay rates are based on your paygrade and your cumulative sea time, which starts when you report to a sea duty billet. The existing rates are shown beneath the new rates for each paygrade, set to take effect later this year.

Years of sea duty
Paygrade <1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 20
COMMISSIONED OFFICERS
O-6 100 135 135 394 400 400 419 450 463 494 506 525 544 544 569 594 625 669
100 100 100 315 320 320 335 360 370 395 405 420 435 435 455 475 500 535
O-5 100 135 135 394 394 394 394 400 431 438 456 463 463 463 500 525 550 594
100 100 100 315 315 315 315 320 345 350 365 370 370 370 400 420 440 475
O-4 100 135 135 325 331 350 356 375 388 388 394 394 419 419 475 494 506 525
100 100 100 260 265 280 285 300 310 310 315 315 335 335 380 395 405 420
O-3 100 135 135 263 281 325 331 344 356 375 394 394 419 419 456 475 494 506
100 100 100 210 225 260 265 275 285 300 315 315 335 335 365 380 395 405
O-2 100 135 135 263 281 325 331 344 356 375 394 394 419 419 438 456 475 494
100 100 100 210 225 260 265 275 285 300 315 315 335 335 350 365 380 395
O-1 100 135 135 263 281 325 331 344 356 375 394 394 419 419 438 456 475 494
100 100 100 210 225 260 265 275 285 300 315 315 335 335 350 365 380 395
WARRANT OFFICERS
W-5 210 210 210 263 300 506 544 544 544 544 613 656 700 700 750 750 750 750
210 210 210 210 240 405 435 435 435 435 490 525 560 560 630 630 700 700
W-4 210 210 210 263 300 506 544 544 544 544 613 656 700 700 750 750 750 750
210 210 210 210 240 405 435 435 435 435 490 525 560 560 630 630 700 700
W-3 210 210 210 263 300 475 494 500 506 544 613 656 700 700 744 744 750 750
210 210 210 210 240 380 395 400 405 435 490 525 560 560 595 595 630 630
W-2 210 210 210 263 300 456 463 463 475 544 594 594 656 656 700 700 700 700
210 210 210 210 240 365 370 370 380 435 475 475 525 525 560 560 560 560
W-1 180 190 195 263 300 306 350 438 475 525 569 569 594 594 631 656 656 656
180 190 195 210 240 245 280 350 380 420 455 455 475 475 505 525 525 525
ENLISTED MEMBERS
E-9 135 135 160 381 400 438 438 469 688 700 700 713 725 750 750 750 750 750
135 135 160 305 320 350 350 375 490 500 500 510 520 550 575 620 620 620
E-8 135 135 160 381 400 438 438 469 688 700 700 713 725 750 750 750 750 750
135 135 160 305 320 350 350 375 490 500 500 510 520 550 575 600 620 620
E-7 135 135 160 381 400 438 438 469 688 700 700 713 725 750 750 750 750 750
135 135 160 305 320 350 350 375 490 500 500 510 520 550 575 600 600 600
E-6 135 135 160 350 375 394 406 438 638 656 656 656 675 694 713 731 750 750
135 135 160 280 300 315 325 350 450 465 465 465 480 495 510 525 550 550
E-5 70 80 160 350 375 394 406 438 638 638 638 638 638 638 638 638 638 638
70 80 160 280 300 315 325 350 450 450 450 450 450 450 450 450 450 450
E-4 70 80 160 350 363 363 363 363 488 488 488 488 488 488 488 488 488 488
70 80 160 280 290 290 290 290 390 390 390 390 390 390 390 390 390 390
E-3 50 60 100 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125 125
50 60 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
E-2 50 60 75 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94 94
50 60 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75 75
E-1 50 50 50 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63 63
50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50

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