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Frequently Asked Questions

What must my major(s) be to apply for the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps program?

Applicants must receive a four-year degree. While all majors are acceptable, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees relevant to NOAA's missions are preferable. All candidates must meet a minimum of 48 STEM credits, regardless of the degree they hold.

Can NOAA Corps officers donate unused leave under the leave transfer program?

In 1988, Congress passed a law providing a way for federal employees to share leave. The intent is that if a federal employee - or a family member - experiences a medical emergency, and as a result misses more work days than are covered by his or her own leave, they can avoid the additional hardship of lost income by using leave hours donated by others. You can learn more about this program at the Department of Commerce Human Resources website or the NOAA Workforce Management site.

There are some exceptions to the policy. Although NOAA Corps officers are federal employees, commissioned officer leave is governed by different laws than civilian leave. NOAA Corps officer leave is therefore not included in the leave transfer program.

What are the educational requirements to apply to the NOAA Corps?

Applicants must hold a baccalaureate degree awarded from a postsecondary institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation can be verified at the Department of Education website. Preferably the applicant's major is in a course of study related to NOAA's scientific or technical activities.

All applicants, regardless of degree(s) awarded, must have completed at least 48 semester (72 quarter) hours in science, technology, engineering, or math course work pertaining to NOAA's missions.

For more information click on Eligibility and Benefits.

Can I apply to the NOAA Corps if I am not a U.S. citizen?

As a uniformed service of the United States, the NOAA Corps only accepts applicants who are U.S. citizens. All applicants must speak, read and write English fluently.

For more information click on Eligibility and Benefits.

What is the age limit to join the NOAA Corps?

The NOAA Corps no longer has a maximum age requirement. However, the NOAA Corps will separate officers at age 62 regardless of retirement status.

What is the tattoo and piercing policy in the NOAA Corps?

All tattoos/body art/brands are subject to the following requirements, regardless of ink type (including ultraviolet). 

  • No tattoo or brand, of any type, is authorized on the head, face (including inside the mouth), neck, or hands, except as described below.
    • No tattoo or brand may be visible above the collar of a standard crew neck t-shirt.
    • Hands - A single tattoo per hand, no larger than one inch in any dimension is authorized between the wrist and the first knuckle ( closest to the wrist). Tattoos on the palm of the hand are not authorized. 
    • Fingers - A single finger tattoo per hand is authorized and must be within the first and second knuckle closest to the wrist. A ring is considered a finger tattoo.
    • Head/Face - Permanent cosmetic makeup is authorized for female officers. No other tattoos, body art, branding, etc. is permitted on the head or face.
    • Tattoos or brands anywhere on the body that promote racism/discrimination, indecency, extremist or supremacist philosophies, lawlessness, violence, or contain sexually explicit material, including nudity, are prohibited.
    • Branding - no more than one brand, not to exceed 4-inches by 4-inches, is authorized.
  • No piercing, other than those for earrings as described below, will be made through the ear, nose, tongue, chin, eyebrow, or any other body part that would be visible while in any uniform. Ear piercings for females must not exceed two per ear lobe and must be small and inconspicuous. 

What are the NOAA Corps' vision requirements?

An applicant must have normal color vision, an uncorrected visual acuity no worse than 20/400 in each eye, and their vision must be correctable to 20/20.

NOAA Corps medical standards are based on the requirements for officer candidates set forth in the U.S. Coast Guard medical manual for commissioned officers. Any potential disqualifying conditions will be addressed using an Individualized Assessment process.

For more information click on Eligibility and Benefits.

What is the salary of a NOAA Corps officer?

NOAA Corps officers are paid on a military pay scale. The pay amount is based on rank, time in service, marital status, and where you live.

For more information click on Eligibility and Benefits.

I have a private pilot's license. Can I be commissioned as an aviator?

The NOAA Corps has multiple venues for recruiting pilots:

  1. Active aviators or navigators brought in as Inter-Service Transfer from another U.S. Active Duty Service for the purpose of flying NOAA's light or heavy aircraft platforms.
  2. Applicants with a commercial airplane multiengine license with instrument rating may qualify for the Direct-to-Aviation pipeline.
  3. Non-aviators or those with less than a commercial airplane multiengine certificate with instrument rating may be considered for flight training following the Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC) and  an initial sea assignment. The NOAA Corps may select officers from the maritime fleet to pursue initial flight training through the "Fleet-toFlight program."

Note: An officer is not guaranteed aviation training upon commissioning. Pilots and Navigators have strict vision and other physical requirements.

I am currently in another branch of service, how can I transition into the NOAA Corps?

NOAA Corps has two venues to transition from another branch of service:

Inter-Service Transfer (IST):

Requests for Inter-Service Transfer to the NOAA Corps are evaluated annually during the NOAA Corps IST Personnel Board. The decision to accept or deny an Inter-Service Transfer request is based on the immediate needs of NOAA Corps and the rank, skills, and experience of the applicant. Qualified Inter-Service Transfer applicants may be considered for direct placement in NOAA's aviation or maritime program.

All Inter-Service Transfer applicants must have less than 12 years total creditable service time and rank no higher than O-4.

If selected, candidates will transfer at the rank they hold three months prior to the transfer date. This is due to the length of time for a commissioning package to be signed off by the Secretary of Commerce. 

Commissioned officers may retain their rank at 100%. Enlisted and Reserve personnel are not eligible for Inter-Service Transfers.

For more information click on Apply Now.

New Recruit:

Prior service members (commissioned/enlisted) and reservist applicants that do not qualify for an Inter-Service Transfer may apply for the NOAA Corps as a new recruit. New recruits must be fully discharged or a conditional release authorized prior to the start of BOTC training. Applicants must meet all eligibility requirements.

Prior commissioned officers receive credits of at least 50% of their commissioned service time for promotion purposes. If creditable service time is granted, it will be applied upon appointment to the grade of lieutenant (junior grade) or above.  100% of all prior creditable service time is used for pay/retirement purposes.

Prior enlisted personnel receive no credit for promotional purposes. 100% of prior creditable service time is used for pay/retirement purposes.

Note: More than four years of creditable service qualifies for O-1E pay. For more information click on Eligibility and Benefits.

All new recruits attend the same Basic Officer Training regardless of prior service.

If I am a retired service member, can I join the NOAA Corps?

Retiring from any of the other seven uniformed services makes an applicant ineligible for appointment.

What is Basic Officer Training Class like?

For more information click on Basic Officer Training.

Does the NOAA Corps decide where I will be stationed or will I have input?

During Basic Officer Training Class, each officer will submit a memorandum listing his/her top three choices for their first ship assignment. The needs of the service are primary and there is no guarantee of assignment. However, each officer's assignment preference, experience, class ranking, and education is taken into consideration. For future assignments, whenever possible, the NOAA Corps will try to match an officer's assignment with one of his/her skills, background and assignment preferences.

What will I do at my first duty station?

All officers completing Basic Officer Training Class will serve up to 3 years stationed aboard one of NOAA's research vessels. General duties include familiarization with assigned ship and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); Performing inport Officer of the Deck (OOD) duties; Standing navigational watches as Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) and eventually underway OOD. Performing collateral duties as assigned (i.e. correcting navigational charts, diving, environmental compliance, safety and damage control, etc.)

Does the NOAA Corps have any summer jobs, internship or co-op opportunities?

The NOAA Corps does not currently offer summer jobs, internship, or co-op employment programs. However, some civilian NOAA programs have a limited number of such opportunities depending on your specific interests.

How do I become a NOAA Corps aviator?

The NOAA Corps has three primary annual competitive selection boards for acquiring aviators:

Inter-Service Transfer (IST): Officers commission directly into the NOAA Corps from their prior uniformed service agency. Depending on the aviator's aircraft history and FAA (equivalent) qualifications, they may be selected to operate any aircraft in the fleet.

Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC): The NOAA Corps offers a direct-to-aviation pipeline for those applicants who hold a commercial multi engine license with instrument rating. Those applicants that qualify will begin their aviation careers at NOAAs Aircraft Operations Center upon successful completion of BOTC.

Fleet-to-Aviation: A presently serving mariner (one who did not get selected at BOTC or has decided to transition to aviation at a later period in their career) may compete for a pilot position via Fleet-to-Aviation Selection Board. These selects will typically begin their NOAA aviation career on our Twin Otter aircraft.

Officers who hold less than a Commercial Multi Engine Land (MEL) Pilot Certificate-Instrument Rating will attend Flight Training. ISTs are generally selected because they hold these credentials and typically should not have to attend Flight Training. If an officer holds a Commercial MEL Pilot Certificate-Instrument Rating or greater, any follow-on training requirements will be coordinated by the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center Training Section. For any aviation specific questions, please contact the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center at

What is the Service Time Agreement for BOTC and IST?

An officer who completes BOTC will incur an initial four year service obligation. Those officers who are selected for Initial Flight Training will incur a six year service obligation, which may be served concurrently with the initial four year service obligation.

An interservice transfer that attends any portion of initial flight training, will incur a 6 year service obligation. Furthermore, any IST that attends any portion of heavy aircraft flight training will incur a 4 year service obligation. Please contact the NOAA Corps Recruiting Branch for further clarification.

What are the common medical disqualifications?

For a list of common disqualifications, please reference this document.

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