Sonar Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Learn about a sonar technician's job description, salary information and training requirements. Read the pros and cons of this career to see if becoming a sonar technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Sonar Technician

Sonar technicians operate equipment to identify, track or analyze objects for the Armed Forces or in civilian positions. Read on for more information.

Pros of a Career as a Sonar Technician
Bachelor's degree is not required in either career path*
Training, pay and health care provided for military workers*
Occupational outlook is expected to be excellent through 2024 for military careers**
Training from the military can transfer to civilian electronics occupations and degree programs*

Cons of a Career as a Sonar Technician
Expected little or no change in employment growth for civilian occupations**
Stressful work environment for military career (while enlisted, may face dangerous situations or relocation)*
Civilian career has a higher-than-average injury rate due to work with electrical equipment**
Lifting heavy tools and equipment may be physically straining**

Sources: *, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Ships use sonar systems to locate objects, particularly other vessels, underwater by the deflection of sound waves. Sonar technicians maintain and operate sonar systems to perform surveillance and aid in navigation. Technicians may supervise other employees, and they maintain sonar equipment. They also record scientific information for future use. The civilian equivalent to this position is also sometimes referred to as an electrical and electronics installer and repairer.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Civilian and military sonar technicians have drastically different career outlooks and salaries. The BLS states that employment for the Armed Forces is expected to be excellent for 2012-2024. However, the BLS projects that civilian electrical installers and repairers of transportation equipment will have a 4% decline in employment through 2024.

According to the Navy's website, pay for military personnel is dependent upon years of service and rank. reports that monthly salaries for the year 2015 range from about $1,500 to $2,500 for sailors with 0-4 years in service. In May 2014 data, the BLS reported that electrical and electronics installers and repairers for transportation equipment made a median annual salary of about $56,000, and the highest-paid workers made an annual median wage of about $75,000.

What are the Requirements?

Military sonar technicians must meet all military requirements. In order to become a submarine sonar technician (STS), you need to complete specialized Navy training and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. While you don't need a degree to enter the occupation, you should contact a military recruiter for more information on qualifications and expectations of the job.

For civilian occupations like electrical installers and repairers, you may be required to have a high school diploma or an associate's degree. You'll also need to be able to differentiate colors and understand technical issues clearly. You may receive training with more experienced technicians on the job.

Useful Skills

You should enjoy working with technical equipment, computers and electronics if you plan on becoming a sonar technician. In addition to those traits, information found in BLS data and job postings show that you should have the following qualities:

  • Physical fitness (able to lift and carry objects)
  • Able to achieve success in a stressful environment
  • Analytical skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to travel
  • Able to work on a team

Job Postings from Real Employers

You can usually find military occupations on the Armed Services' and government websites. Both military and civilian job postings describe the training and responsibilities expected from sonar technicians. Employers typically seek applicants with a combination of experience, computer proficiency and knowledge specific to the field. Below are some job postings listed on and open during April 2012:

  • A corporation in Indiana needed a sonar technician who had a high school diploma, vocational training and at least seven years of experience with hydrophones, Navy ships and sonar transducers. The applicant needed to know how to use related computer systems and application programs.
  • A university in Texas asked for a sonar technician who had a high school diploma or the equivalent and at least seven years of work experience with sonar equipment. The employer preferred applicants who had experience in working with networks, various operating systems and the Matlab programming language. Duties include testing, developing and troubleshooting sonar systems.
  • A military employer based in Rhode Island looked for an acoustic sensors engineering technician who could analyze and test hydrophones and various sonar equipment. The applicant needed to have at least one year of specialized service and knowledge of transducers and hydrophones.

How Can I Stand Out?

The Navy stipulates your rank or promotion according to your performance and the time you choose to spend in the military. In civilian occupations, you can stand out by getting certified by various organizations for electronics. According to the Electronics Technicians Association (ETA), employers commonly use ETA certification in worker job selection. In addition to helping you obtain a job, certification can also lead to a pay increase or advancement. The ETA offers various levels of designations, from basic to master-level certifications. You usually have to pass an exam and meet educational prerequisites to receive certification.

Alternative Careers


If you'd prefer a similar civilian occupation with better job prospects, then you can become an electrician. These workers install wiring and lights, and they also replace equipment with specialized tools for the task. A high school diploma (or the equivalent) and a four-year apprenticeship are needed to qualify for the job. Electricians also may need to obtain licensure, depending on their state.

According to the BLS, these workers are expected to have an employment growth of 23% for the years 2010-2020. The BLS also states that their annual median pay was about $49,000 as of May 2011.

General Maintenance and Repair Worker

Another civilian career can be in maintaining or repairing mechanical equipment or electrical technology. A maintenance and repair worker can be involved in duties ranging from fixing roofs to assembling equipment. These workers can work with a high school diploma or the equivalent, but some postsecondary classes in blueprints or electricity may be helpful. Training is usually done on the job, and some specialized workers may need licenses to work.

The BLS projected that these workers would have an employment growth of 11% for 2010-2020. As of May 2011, maintenance and repair workers made a median annual salary of about $35,000.

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Penn Foster

  • Career Diploma - Diesel Mechanics/Heavy Truck Maintenance

What is your highest level of education?

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What is your highest level of education?

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

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