C of C Guidelines

C of C Guidelines

The information contained herein is quoted from Social Usage and Protocol Handbook: A Guide for Personnel of the U.S. Navy (OPNAVINST 1710.7 dated 17 JUL 1979)

The following guidelines are provided as a reference aid:

Date and Time

The officer being relieved should establish the date for the change of command subject to the concurrence of the relief and his immediate superiors. The change of command should generally not be scheduled for Saturday afternoons, Sundays, or national holidays.

The time for the ceremony should be one which will be convenient for guests, and also will give the host, ship time to make the many preparations. Normally, the change of command can best be scheduled to commence between 0945 and 1100.


The preparations and mailing of invitations is the responsibility of the officer being relieved. The officer is also responsible for ensuring that invitations are sent to the “official family”, which includes Commanders, Commanding Officers, Chief of Staff, Chief Staff Officers, etc., of all local units and activities, as he knows these better than does his relief. Inasmuch as the invitations should be mailed two to three weeks before the ceremony, the relieving officer should forward his guest list in ample time. The officer being relieved should screen this list to eliminate duplication.

A pre-addressed postcard or an envelope with a card should accompany the invitations to facilitate the R.S.V.P. Consideration should also be given to enclosing gate passes, parking permits, and boat schedules, if applicable.

If inclement weather would necessitate a shift in location or time of the ceremony, a card with these details should be prepared and enclosed.

The command should keep an accurate and up to date list of acceptances and regrets as they are received. Numbering R.S.V.P. cards is helpful as some invited guests will not print or write their names clearly.

Change of Command Message

At least a week in advance of the Ceremony, a message announcing the Change of Command should be sent to the Senior Officer Present Afloat (SOPA).

This SOPA message is customarily used to invite interested fleet officers and their spouses to the change of command. An example of a typical change of command message follows:



OFFICERS - (Specify)
ENLISTED – (Specify)
CIVILIANS – (Specify)


Local directives will govern the actual form and distribution of change of command messages and should be consulted before fting.


Programs for the occasion are not only helpful for the guests, but often serve as souvenirs of this memorable event. Print shops are available for printing change of command programs. Under normal circumstances, allow at least ten working days for preparation of the programs.

Inclusion of the following items is desirable:

  1. Command insignia, and/or a good picture of the ship or command.
  2. Schedule of events for the ceremony. The schedule of events should be detailed enough to provide guidance for civilian guests who may not be familiar with the customs and courtesies of the military. Make a note on the program as to when guests will be expected to rise and be seated.
  3. Brief biography and photograph of the Cornmander/Cormnanding Officer and the Prospective Cornrnander/Cornrnanding Officer.
  4. List of previous comrnanders/cornmanding officers, with dates of command.
  5. A summary history of the ship or command may be included.

Participation of Seniors

Since the change of command ceremony is an event conducted by and in the interest of the two officers concerned and in view of the limited space available in most cases, a maximum of two seniors (the immediate superior in command and one another) is recommended for participation with one being the norm. The guest speaker (senior participant) should be invited to speak at least two weeks in advance. A written invitation to the senior participant and guest speakers is appropriate.


If at all possible, make arrangements for a band. A band’s presence permits the proper rendering of honors to Flag Officers and adds zest and a military atmosphere to the entire proceedings. Requests should be made in writing for record purposes.


A complicated change of command ceremony requires a complete rehearsal (less the principals) about a day ahead of time. A rehearsal precludes awkward situations and serves to alert those involved to flaws in their planning. The lectern, public address system, chairs for the principals, and other miscellaneous hardware should be in place and the equipment operating for the rehearsal so that, adequacy, positioning, spacing, etc., can be checked on the spot. The more attention paid to details at the rehearsal, the more nearly flawless will be the actual ceremony.

Foul Weather Plan

Have a complete and rehearsed, foul weather plan for quick inplementation, if needed.

Change of Corimmnd Notice

Prior to the ceremony, commands should issue a change of command notice. This notice should have as its enclosures, the following:

  1. Schedule of events (fair weather).
  2. Diagram of ceremonial area (fair weather).
  3. Schedule of events (foul weather).
  4. Diagram of ceremonial area (foul weather).
  5. Detailed list of services and equipment desired.

Informing Nearby Ships

Ensure that nearby ships, especially any ships along-side, are kept informed of your plans. Don’t hesitate to let them know what you expect of them by way of cooperation in making your ceremony a success. Request that ships in the area use MC systems topside during ceremony ordy in emergency.

Traffic Control

Coordinate with adjacent or host activities to work out any traffic control problems anticipated.


Make arrangements for adequate parking near the ship so as to preclude long walks for guests. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that official cars park sufficiently clear of the brow or ceremonial area to maintain a clear path for subsequent arrivals.


Junior officers should serve as ushers for all guests and unescorted ladies. Ushers should be lined up in a military fashion awaiting their turn. Designate an officer to be in charge of the ushers, and make him or her responsible to see that all guests are properly escorted. Each usher should know those for whom reserved seats have been designated. When escorting, a male usher should offer his right arm since swords are often worn.

The Ceremonial Area

The area should be laid out so that the guests have a good view of the platform or area where the ceremony will take place. The principals should be centrally located. If possible, they should be seated on a raised platform so as to be in full view of the audience. Two lecterns should be placed on the platform with well-checked out microphones and sound amplifying system. Having a separate lectern and microphone for the Master of Ceremonies provides one of the most important “secrets” to flawlessly executing a change of command ceremony. The principals seated on the platform are: the officer being relieved, his relief, and the participating senior. The Master of Ceremonies and the Chaplain are also located on the platform. Using the departing officer as the host figure, follow the customary alternating pattern of senior man to host’s right, second senior man to his left, etc. Chairs should be located so that none of the principals are hidden by the lecterns. Guest seating should include reserved marked seats for the incumbent Commander/Commanding Officer’s family, the relieving Commander/Commanding Officer’s family, and guests of honor or their family. An aisle is recommended with the relieving officer’s family on the left side. The wife of a ranking guest would be seated next to the wife of the officer being relieved or immediately behind depending on the number of vacancies on the front row.

The Ceremony

Normally, the following program of events should be as follows:

  1. Upon arrival of the senior participants, the Master of Ceremonies calls the crew(s) to attention and asks all guests to rise.

    Members of the official party arrive in inverse order of precedence with the senior entering last, except that the relieved officer will generally precede the relieving officer, although the latter may be junior. Upon arrival at an activity with a saluting battery, all members of the official party who are entitled to honors will receive full honors less gun salute except for the senior official, whether military or civilian, who is accorded full honors.

    After receiving honors, members of the official party sometimes gather at a designated point to greet other members of the party as they arrive. They then proceed to their seats on the platform. An acceptable alternate calls for officers of the command to meet and escort members of the ceremonial party to their seats upon conclusion of their personal honors. As a general rule, arrival or departure honors will not be rendered to guests at a change of command ceremony.
  2. National Anthem.
  3. Invocation (Master of Ceremonies requests all military persomel to remain covered).
  4. Master of Ceremonies requests all guests to be seated.
  5. Remarks by senior officer.
  6. Presentation of awards (if appropriate).
  7. Remarks and reading of orders by the person being relieved (only those parts of the orders pertinent to the change of command should be read–Address, Subject, Brief of Content, and Signature).
  8. The person being relieved orders his flag and pennant hauled down. Full honors as appropriate and presentation of his flag/pennant.
  9. The person relieving reads his orders pertinent parts only), assumes command, orders his flag or pemant broken, and receives full honors as appropriate. He reports assumption of command to his immediate superior, if present, and makes remarks as desired.
  10. Master of Ceremonies requests all guests to rise and military personnel to remain covered.
  11. Departure honors for the official party.
  12. Master of Ceremonies announces conclusion of the ceremony.