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December 7, 2012 5:04 AM   Subscribe

What's life like aboard a nuclear submarine? For starters, here's over eight hours of C-SPAN 2, as they took their cameras aboard the USS Wyoming SSBN back in 2000, co-hosted by Rear Admiral Malcolm Fages and writer Robert Holzer.

More about some of the topics covered in the program:

1. SSGNs: The conversion of four Ohio-class nuclear submarines to carry guided missiles was completed as planned.

2. Schedules: The submarine works on a 6-on/12-off schedule. This “is operationally valuable because it allows 24 hour coverage with only 3 watches. This is required by the space limitations on submarines. The schedule also limits the duration of each watch to 6hr. The shorter watches are considered necessary to assure maintenance of alertness during sometimes monotonous work performed at all hours of the day.” (pdf, p.7, with thanks to MuffinMan) And, hey, it could be worse (fifth paragraph down).

A little background: “Since the 13th century, maritime workers have utilized a 4 hours on, 8 hours off (4/8) watch schedule that continued into the Polaris submarine patrols of the early 1960s. However, because modern Submariners must also train, qualify, and conduct drills when not on watch, the 4/8 schedule prevented them from obtaining sufficient sleep during their off-watch periods. During prolonged patrols, Submariners suffered from progressive sleep debt. To remedy this, the 6 hours on, 12 hours off (6/12) schedule was adopted.” (pdf, p.1)

More recently, though, the Navy has been looking into changing to a schedule more in line with the natural human circadian rhythm, based in part on reports like the ones quoted above. Sailors weigh in in the comments on the ever-enlightening blog, The Stupid Shall Be Punished.

3. Food: The submarine forces reportedly get the best food in the Navy, although not everyone agrees. Here's an extremely '70s clip discussing the effect of food on morale.

4. Women: Since the program aired, the Navy's long-running goal of placing qualified women aboard submarines has been achieved, and the first female officers earned their "unrestricted line" Dolphins just this week. Unsurprisingly, one must be wary of the comments on articles such as these.

More: HowStuffWorks discusses life aboard a ballistic missile submarine, while Helium provides a look at life on a fast attack submarine. War Is Boring gives us a look inside the USS Toledo. Mefites talk about their experiences in the Nuclear Power program. British submarine life previously.
posted by cthuljew (23 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Almost forgot: If you want to experience it all vicariously, there's no shortage of means.
posted by cthuljew at 5:22 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's life like aboard a nuclear submarine?

Tedious.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:23 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other news, "Down Periscope" is on Amazon Prime, and Patton Oswalt has like three lines in it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:00 AM on December 7, 2012


When I lived in Norfolk, Va., I had a roommate who was an officer on the USS Montpelier. Besides being the best roommate I ever had, (subsidized most of the rent on a very nice place downtown and was gone 6 months out of the year), he was also cool enough to give me a tour of the sub (this was pre 9/11). I will concur that the food was decent, I had a steak and potato and finished it off with a ice cream in a waffle cone for dessert (Oddly, the smell of the waffle cone was the first thing I smelled when I got aboard).

My roommate shared a tiny room (7 x 4 maybe) that had two berths, two small lockers and a tiny fold out desk. This was pretty plush compared to the enlisted guys who all lived in the equivalent of a hallway full of bunks. Instead of lockers the beds flipped up and they had a small space to store their belongings. The officers lounge doubled as the infirmary/dining room and the mess hall was also the enlisted guys hangout. The Chiefs got a spot tucked away that was just like a one of those big round wrap around Diner booths. One guy even put a bed in the Torpedo room in an effort to get a quieter place to sleep.

Other than that, I was amazed at how clean it was, how much stuff they crammed in there, and how cool the area where they drive the sub was. I was also taken aback at how young the enlisted crew looked, even though I was only 25 myself at the time.
posted by remo at 6:32 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow! Good on the women for earning their dolphins. Back when I was a power engineering major, the navy's nuclear program routinely sent me email trying to lure me into the navy to do navy nuclear program stuff. Except, as a woman in the late 1980's/early 1990's, my actual options there to do anything with nukes were somewhat limited. Chicks in EE going forward have more options to play with reactors, now.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:33 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would love to see officer quarters, at what point do you get your own room? Captain?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:45 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


On British subs only the captain gets his own room. The next senior officers share. The very junior ratings hot bunk. They know they've made it when they get their own bunk. You can pics of the inside a British submarine here.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:14 AM on December 7, 2012


@leotrotsky, I am pretty sure only the commanding officer(s?) gets his own room. I saw the door to one, but obviously was not allowed in. I was told they are slightly bigger, but I imagine based on my observations it would be the privacy not the size that makes it so special.
posted by remo at 7:23 AM on December 7, 2012


"Submariner" is one of the great words of the English language.

(Sub_mare_in_er. Not sub_marine_er)
posted by lstanley at 7:30 AM on December 7, 2012


I had a friend in the sub service, on a boomer. He described his watchstanding thus.

6 hours -- On watch

12 hours -- Study, sleep, paperwork

6 hours -- On watch

12 hours -- Study, off watch work, marathon D&D game with watch mates

Repeat until surfacing or General Quarters.
posted by eriko at 7:35 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The USS Thomas A. Edison is one of the strangest SSBNs I've seen in some time. I have no idea how these sailors got a full-sized steinway wedged into their submarine, or why.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:57 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've always severely craved a room where everything folds into the wall.
posted by The Whelk at 8:10 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


shorter watches are considered necessary to assure maintenance of alertness during sometimes monotonous work performed at all hours of the day.

The guys who blew up the deepwater horizon like all offshore drilling crews work 12/12.

I took a bunch of acoustics in school which is all financed by Office Naval Research for sonar and submarine war so I know some guys who went into it. The food thing had the following horrible caveat. There always had to be a certain number of nukes out there underwater so if your relief ain't ready to sail you stay out there even if your ship has nothing to eat but saltines and peanut butter. For three weeks in the worst case I heard about but who knows for sure he was probably exaggerating a little.
posted by bukvich at 8:33 AM on December 7, 2012


In the Navy, Sub-mare-in-er is pronounced "Bubblehead." Surface Navy folks are "Blackshoes" and Aviators are "Airedales."

I met an ex-bubblehead once who told me about how he had deployed, in the 1980s, during the period when Opus, the penguin from the popular newspaper comic strip Bloom County, had disappeared on his balloon journey around the world. The strip's author went on vacation at that cliffhanger, and that's when my acquaintance submerged, to have basically no contact with the outside world for 3 months. The only message that could get through to him from without was, in those days, a "Familygram," where the families of sailors could send something like 60 characters to their loved-ones mid-cruise. His family sent the message "The penguin is alive!" and the Navy rejected the message, unsent, because it appeared to be some sort of code.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:36 AM on December 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


even if your ship has nothing to eat but saltines and peanut butter.

And the problem is?
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


ArgentCorvid: "What's life like aboard a nuclear submarine?

Tedious.
"

So eight hours of C-SPAN is a good simulation.
posted by brundlefly at 9:05 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but these are eight awesome hours of C-SPAN, because submarines.
posted by cthuljew at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2012


Every time I hear the title Rear Admiral I titter. I think it's because of The Simpsons.

Yes, here we go: http://www.lardlad.com/assets/quotes/season5/1F04.shtml
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:29 AM on December 7, 2012


AWESOME POST. I've been trying to find some decent information about life in a submarine recently and THIS POST happens along to give me so much to see. Love it. Thanks, cthuljew!
posted by grubi at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always severely craved a room where everything folds into the wall.

Ha-hA! Now I know your secret.
posted by grubi at 10:48 AM on December 7, 2012


remo: One guy even put a bed in the Torpedo room in an effort to get a quieter place to sleep.
He was allowed to do that? Wow.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:12 PM on December 7, 2012


That one is kind of odd. Submariners are trained to make as little noise as possible and disciplined for doing anything loud as the only way to detect one is with sound energy. A key plot point in Hunt for Red October was the Russian sub made almost no noise. It is an eerily quiet movie.
posted by bukvich at 3:34 PM on December 7, 2012


Holy crap, you weren't kidding about the comments. There were maybe two comments going "congratulations" among all the rest that decried women serving aboard subs. How many other submarine corps allow women to serve - and what has been their experience?
posted by Xenophon Fenderson at 4:48 PM on December 9, 2012


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