The operational organization aboard a ship is the watch organization. Whereas the Department/Division organization is designed to maintain equipment, train and administer to the various groups of personnel, the watch organization is designed to conduct and coordinate the actual around-the-clock operations of the ship. A comparison of the administrative organization and the battle organization indicates that the division of personnel in administrative departments closely approximates that found in the major battle components. However, to meet the requirements of sound organization principles, the administrative organization structure must allow for the carrying out of certain functions which have no place in battle. In the day-to-day routine, the needs of training and maintenance are emphasized, and certain support measures are necessary for administrative reasons. The Standard Organization and Regulations of the US Navy (SORN) applies to all members of the US Navy. It lists the duties and responsibilities for almost every billet and watch station in the Navy. It also gives regulations on which to base unit and watch organizations. No portion of the SORN is intended to contradict or supersede any portion of Navy Regulations. Many articles in the SORN and Navy Regulations appear to say the same thing; but they are separate directives, and both apply to all members of the naval service. SORN defines a watch as any period during which an individual is assigned specific, detailed responsibilities on a recurring basis. Watches on board ships are set both in port and underway. Commanding officers establish the watches required for the safety, security, and proper operation of their command.
The watch organization is ordinarily divided into three similar groups called sections. At any given time one of these sections "has the watch". Each watch section is headed by the Officer of the Deck [OOD] who carries out the Commanding Officer's orders during the hours of his watch. It is the Officer of the Deck who orders the ship's course and speed, and conducts all combined shipboard evolutions. The OOD is assisted by a second officer, the Engineering Officer of the Watch, who controls the propulsion plant and all engineering evolutions in the propulsion plant.
Each watch section consists of helmsmen (who steer the ship), throttlemen (to control the steam turbine engines), sonar operators (who silently probe the ship's outer environs), missile technicians (to service and launch the submarine's missiles), radio operators (who continually maintain an invisible link with command centers ashore), and electricians (who supply power from the reactor for virtually every service on the ship). These watchstanders, among others, stand alertly by their equipment and stations throughout the duration of each watch.The tempo of the watch is the heartbeat of the ship and, since one third of the crew's time is spent standing his watch, it is also the principal determinant of the day to day routine.