Because the Naval History and Heritage Command's mission is to protect naval artifacts and history, decommissioned U.S. Navy ships are treated as memorabilia rather than put up for sale. In fact, even former crew members and plank owners struggle with obtaining mementos from decommissioned ships due to strict policies.
Ship are preserved by NHHC for research by future Navy personnel, researchers, veterans and the general public, allowing them to glimpse into how the Navy has impacted the United States. Staff members are trained to properly handle and care for historic artifacts, but preservation lies first in the maintenance performed by the crew members assigned to each vessel.
The NHHC is comprised of two branches: the Operational Archives Branch and the Curator Branch. The purpose of the Archives Branch is to organize and preserve, as well as study and share the Navy's historical records, while the Curator Branch maintains and studies the Navy's material culture, including the artifacts that represent aspects of the naval vessel's history.
The process of decommissioning a ship takes several months, starting with communication between the NHHC and the ship. This is when both parties coordinate what objects are to be sent. The ship then begins the operation of sending artifacts to the NHHC. As of 2015, the NHHC has catalogued over 250,000 artifacts, which are preserved in an electronic database designed to secure all information for each object.