How to Know When It Is Time to Retire From the Navy

by Will Charpentier

When you retire from the U.S. Navy, you may occasionally want throw the cat into the pool to simulate a man-overboard drill, or you may gripe because your beloved doesn't "have the galley stowed for sea" as your life and daily routines change. When your retirement is based on years of service, knowing exactly when to retire depends on your Navy specialty, your Navy pay, your retirement date and your health-care options.

Your Specialty

Before you make the decision to ship out one more time or to swallow the anchor -- re-enlist or retire -- you need to start planning your next step. Use your specialty as the starting point for your civilian life. Every government department publishes its personnel needs or application process on its website. For example, if your Navy career was spent in the ship's deck departments and you loved sea duty but didn't care for shore duty, you can continue to go to sea as a civil-service mariner with the Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC). The MSC publishes its personnel needs on the MSC website. Some government-operated websites, such as, provide tools to link your specialty to civil-service occupations.

Your Pay

If you joined the Navy after August 1986, you face a choice of three retirement programs when you reach your 15th anniversary of service. With the "final pay" retirement plan, your retirement will equal 50 percent of your last month's pay. Each additional year of service adds 2.5 percent to your retirement pay. If you stay in for 30 years, that equals 75 percent of your base pay. The "high 36" program is essentially the same, but it's based on the highest pay you earned in any 36 months of service, rather than your last check. With the CSB Redux plan, you receive 50 percent of your base pay if you retire at 20 years, plus 3.5 percent for every year of service thereafter. Thirty years of service equals 85 percent of your base pay.


This makes searching for a job in your final months and the timing of your retirement important. As you near the end of your career, you face alternating tours of sea duty and shore duty, each 36 months long. If you use your last tour of shore duty to find a suitable job, you can retire at the end of that tour and walk directly into a civilian job, a move that will ease the transition for you and your family. Also, if you remain in the Navy for more than six months after your retirement date, you gain an extra year of service toward your retirement pay. For example, say you retire with 20 years of service on June 1 but wait until Jan. 2 of the following year to leave. Under that scenario, your retirement pay would be based on 21 years of service -- more than 20, but not more than 21 -- instead of 20.

Health care

Consider the health of your family when you begin to think about retiring from the Navy. The biggest change you'll face after retirement is that your medical care will have a cost attached. After you retire, you and your family are transferred to TRICARE, the federal medical plan for military retirees and their dependents. TRICARE has three levels. TRICARE Prime provides care at military facilities for no cost. TRICARE extra is slightly more expensive, with 15 percent co-pays. TRICARE Standard has limits on the care provided and a 20 percent co-pay. Before you decide to retire, compare the cost of TRICARE benefits against the cost of insurance available through a civilian employer, especially if your family's medical needs are atypical.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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