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NOAA Corps Officer Profile: Rear Adm. Ben Evans

RDML Ben Evans stands atop a structure over the water.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is one of the nation’s eight uniformed services and NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of NOAA. With approximately 330 officers and growing, the NOAA Corps supports nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives. Meet NOAA Corps officer Rear Adm. Ben Evans.

Where did you grow up?

I am originally from Williamson, New York, a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario. Growing up, I was fortunate to spend much of my time “messing about in boats.” I always liked maps and learned coastal navigation using NOAA nautical charts while racing sailboats around the lake, but I never knew I’d be pursuing mapping and charting as a career!

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

After graduating from the public high school in my home town, I studied physics at Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts. As part of my undergraduate education, I also completed the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, an amazing interdisciplinary semester at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. I also rowed on the crew team at Williams, which didn’t give me another degree but did feel like another major! Taken together, these experiences pointed me toward a career in ocean science and technology, but I was not sure yet what that would look like.

I went on to graduate school in Ocean Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program. I studied applied ocean physics and engineering, and completed thesis research working on acoustic navigation systems for autonomous underwater vehicles. My favorite parts of grad school were the hands-on work in the lab and field testing our systems at sea, so I chose and completed the 3-year engineer’s degree track of the joint program.

What inspired you to become a NOAA Corps officer?

Both my parents served in government positions early in their careers – my mom as a historian with the National Park Service, and my dad as an Army officer. As a result, public service was familiar to me growing up. I had considered the military both before and after college, but decided I wanted to do something more science and engineering oriented. 

As a graduate student in Woods Hole in the late 1990s, I frequently saw NOAA ships coming and going from the NOAA Fisheries lab down the waterfront from my office. One day when I was procrastinating on a tough acoustics problem set, I did some web searching (no Google in those days!) and discovered the NOAA fleet and NOAA Corps. I learned that NOAA had ships responsible for mapping our oceans and coasts to produce the charts such as the ones I’d used growing up, and that the NOAA Corps led this mission for the nation. As I dug into it further, I learned that the sonar systems NOAA used for mapping were very similar to the acoustic navigation systems I was helping develop as a grad student. If that wasn’t enough, I was hooked by the idea of working in the uncharted waters of Alaska and other remote areas. The NOAA Corps seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in uniformed service, my desire to do something operational adventurous and my technical background into a meaningful career. I was so excited that I considered leaving grad school early to join, but ultimately stuck it out and completed my degree, which was a good choice. 

What do you do as a NOAA Corps officer?

RDML Evans (second from left) talks with navigation partners.
RDML Evans (second from left) talks with navigation partners. Photo: NOAA/Nicolas Alvarado

If you’ve read this far, you know that I like maps, nautical charts, ships, and navigation, so I consider myself very fortunate to have spent most of my career in NOAA’s hydrographic surveying and nautical charting community. I am currently the director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, which is the section of NOAA responsible for mapping and charting all U.S. waters. This includes developing specifications and project instructions for the hydrographic survey ships in the NOAA fleet, performing quality assurance on the data they provide and combining this with many other sources of information to produce the nautical charts that all mariners in U.S. waters depend on. I also work closely with colleagues in the Departments of Defense and State to represent the United States at the International Hydrographic Organization and other international bodies where we work to increase worldwide seafloor mapping capacity and coverage, and produce standards for mapping data and nautical charts to ensure interoperability for mariners. 

In addition, as one of the few NOAA flag officers, I support the director of the NOAA Corps in their leadership of the service. In this capacity I advise the NOAA Corps director on NOAA Corps policy, strategic direction, senior officer assignments, and other topics as requested.  

What was one of your favorite missions or experiences?

I’ve had some incredible experiences and opportunities over the last 24 years, so it’s hard to pick just one. A few of the highlights include:

  • As a junior officer, I enjoyed learning manual methods of hydrography including establishing our own tide gauges and SCUBA diving to identify and measure seafloor targets that we could not resolve with our sonars. Our tools are much better now, but understanding this background is still important!
  • Entering magnificent Kuiukta Bay in remote Southwest Alaska for the first time when we arrived to survey those waters aboard NOAA Ship Rainier. The nautical charts were basically blank when we arrived, so we had all the ship’s small survey launches out ahead of the ship to ensure there were no hazards and find a suitable anchorage.
  • Sailing between Puget Sound and Alaska via the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. There’s a reason people pay to explore those waters by cruise ship!
  • Serving in an innovative community which pioneers new methods and applications of ocean mapping. This has included doing the first tests of uncrewed systems as a junior officer in our research lab and later as Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, and implementing new procedures for surveying and data processing which made our data useful not just for nautical charts, but also habitat mapping and other science applications.
  • Working on the staff of the NOAA administrator. The hours were long and keeping up with the NOAA leadership team was challenging, but it was a tremendous opportunity to learn how NOAA really works and build a cohort of close friends who have sustained and supported each other through our careers ever since.
  • The opportunity to command not just one, but two NOAA ships. There were times when this was difficult and frustrating, but the teamwork, camaraderie, and sense of accomplishment more than made up for it. Whatever else I do, this was probably the best job I will ever have.
  • More recently, I’ve been privileged to serve as Flag Sponsor for two of our NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Classes . This is the initial training for incoming NOAA Corps Officer Candidates, which is integrated with the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School. As Flag Sponsor, I meet with the officer candidates several times over the course of their training, and play a small role in mentoring and training this next generation of leaders. This was my favorite aspect of command at sea, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to continue this.
  • Representing the United States in the international hydrography and nautical charting community is a tremendous honor and privilege. I’m always reminded of the incredible expertise and capability the United States brings to the world, and our ability to use these abilities to improve sustainable economic growth, environmental stewardship, and security worldwide.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a NOAA Corps Officer?

Serving in the uniform of the United States is a privilege, but also a heavy responsibility. It requires technical and operational skill, so I recommend taking every opportunity to build your STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) background and looking for opportunities to take this knowledge into the field. Operational expertise is also essential, so experience with small boats, aviation, or other similar activities can help prepare you. However, in many respects, these are the easy parts. As a NOAA Corps officer, you will not just be a practitioner. You will be a leader, a follower, and often both at the same time, at sea or in the air, and ashore. Your success will depend on your ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences, above and below you in the chain of command. So, while STEM and operational skills are critical for all officers, writing and speaking can be the difference between a good officer and a great one.


As a practical matter, life in any uniformed service, including the NOAA Corps, can be challenging. The work is rewarding and the benefits are outstanding – but it also requires long periods away from home, working long hours and days, without the freedom to pursue the personal priorities of civilian life. I recommend those interested look for opportunities to give this a try, by volunteering with NOAA, participating in an internship, interviewing or shadowing current officers, or other similar opportunities. (The NOAA Corps recruiters can help potential candidates connect with these experiences.)  It is also important that officers have strong support networks which appreciate the value of the work, and can help sustain them through it. As you learn about the Corps, talk it over with friends and family – they will be with you on this adventure, and will help see you through it successfully. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

My wife and I are fortunate to have two active children, who are currently 15 and 12, so my time outside of work is mainly spent trying to keep up with them and experience as much as we can together while they are still at home. Fortunately, we all have compatible interests – travel, sailing, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor pursuits, as well as movies and games. We also recently added a very rambunctious puppy to the mix!