How to Become a Sonar Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a sonar technician. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the U.S. Navy as a sonar technician. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Sonar Technician?

Sonar technicians are members of the United States Navy who are stationed on surface ships, at military posts or in submarines. A sonar technician who works on a surface vessel is responsible for maintaining sonar systems. He or she uses this equipment for detecting and classifying ocean contacts, as well as operating fire-control systems used in underwater combat. Submarine sonar technicians operate sonar and oceanographic systems that are on board the submarine. Sonar technicians may spend a great deal of time away from home, stationed in locations that are often remote.

Career Requirements

Getting into this career typically requires an associate's degree in sonar technology. No experience is needed, and you will be trained through Navy 'A' school. Key skills include math skills, computer skills and mechanical aptitude. You will also need to join the U.S. Navy and complete required military training. In 2016, the pay for a sonar tech in the military depends on the rank and years of service. Monthly pay ranges from $1,566.90 (pay grade E-1 and <2 years in service) to $2,614.20 (pay grade E-5 and 4 years in service) according to the U.S. Navy.

Now let's take a look at the steps that sonar technicians take to get into the field.

Steps to Becoming a Sonar Technician

Step 1: Join the Navy

To be eligible to enlist in the Navy, a candidate must be at least 17 years old and a U.S. citizen. Parental consent is necessary for those under age 18. Candidates must pass the Navy's strict zero-tolerance alcohol and drug policy through drug testing and interviewing. Individuals must also comply with the Navy's legal, medical and character standards. The Navy investigates candidates' backgrounds, including traffic offenses, criminal history and citizenship status.

Be prepared for the rigors of basic training. It will be to one's advantage to be in good physical condition in preparation for military training. Individuals who can improve their strength, endurance and general health will be in a better position to be successful at boot camp.

Step 2: Complete Training at Boot Camp

Both surface and submarine sonar technicians must successfully complete boot camp held at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, located in North Chicago, Illinois. This 7-9 week program includes physical conditioning, swimming, naval classes and weapons training.

Step 3: Gain Advanced Sonar Training

After completing boot camp, surface sonar technician candidates go directly to an 'A' school for advanced training. This apprenticeship training can last up to one year. Here, they learn the basics of operating and maintaining advanced electronic sonar equipment.

Alternatively, submarine sonar technicians must attend the Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. Candidates receive training in submarine operations and maintenance, as well as advanced 'A' school training in sonar equipment operation and upkeep.

Step 4: Earn College Credits for On-the-Job Training

After successfully completing advanced sonar technician training, both surface and submarine sonar technicians receive field training for a number of years. Career Navy sonar technicians can advance in rank to master chief sonar technicians.

Through the Navy College Program, it's possible for sailors to complete distance education while at sea or apply military experience towards off-duty education. Through school partnerships, sonar technicians may earn associate's degrees in applied science and technology for special warfare operators, electronics technology, applied marine engineering and ocean systems technology.

Think about possible ways to translate skills learned in the Navy to civilian life. Individuals who are not planning on long-term Navy careers, or who know they will still have some years left to work after retirement from the military, may want to think about post-Navy career options. One could consider supplementing sonar training with college coursework that would help to transition into civilian working life. Although the position of sonar technician does not have a civilian equivalent, some of the training could be used in other careers, such as the weather service, computer programming or mechanical work.

To recap, with naval training and possibly a postsecondary degree, sonar techs work in the Navy on surface vessels or submarines caring for and monitoring sonar equipment.

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