Officers and crew stood watches to ensure that the ship was properly and safely operated 24-hours a day. Watches lasted four hours on a rotated schedule. A full eight hours sleep occurred once in four nights due to watch rotation. For the other three nights, men received between four and six hours – and the six hours were split in two periods.
“While in boot camp, you were an apprentice seaman. When you came on board, you became seaman or fireman third class. The seaman branch consisted of yeomen, hospital corpsmen, storekeepers, gunner’s mates, boatswain’s mates, quartermasters, signalmen, radiomen, firecontrolmen, etc. The fireman branch consisted of the men associated with the engine room and auxiliaries such as water tenders, boilermakers, machinist’s mates, electrician’s mates, etc.
After about four months, you became a seaman or fireman second. You took an oral exam to become seaman or fireman first. You could tell which branch a man was in by a single stripe that encircled his shoulder seam. The seaman stripe was white and on the right shoulder. A fireman wore a red stripe on the left shoulder. While a seaman or fireman, you were a striker for a rate within your division. Striking is on the job training as opposed to attending one of the official navy schools. Rate is a word for your job like radioman or boatswain. Within the rate are first, second, and third classes. Class refers to your experience and that you have passed qualifying exams.
Your rate basically described your job that was known as your work or duty station. It was where you carried out your daily tasks. Normally, you worked eight hours, unless you had watch duty.
Watch duty was in addition to your work station. Everybody stood watch except the laundry guys. Your watch lasted four hours. If you had watch during the night, you still had to put in eight hours at your work station. The purpose of watch is to keep the ship at battle readiness so all the guns, radio rooms, damage control, fire control, engine rooms, bridge, etc. would have watches 24 hours a day to be ready. The ship was divided into port and starboard watches and each division was divided into sections. This system enabled the ship to fill six 4-hour watches per day.”
-Paul Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c