Life Under the Sea: 30 Fascinating Facts About Living in a Submarine
Life on a submarine might sound exciting to some, while many others might find the idea downright terrifying! Whether you’re planning on taking a submarine tour, joining the submarine force, or getting your dose of underwater living facts, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve carefully compiled a list of some of the most interesting facts you may not have known about living in a submarine. Keep reading to learn more!
If you were in the submarine force before 2014, then you would have an 18-hour split into three six-hour sections. However, a few junior officers decided to shift submariners back onto a 24-hour schedule to optimize sanity.
Officers in the submarine force have noted that this switch has had a very positive impact on morale and performance.
No Thievery Allowed
While you should never steal at any point in your life, thievery is highly frowned upon when living on a submarine. If you still want on a submarine, you have to deal with some fairly severe consequences.
As soon as the submarine gets to the next port, the thief gets dropped off. Many thieves end up being demoted or dropping a rank.
Sharing is Caring
Everybody knows the importance of sharing, no life on a submarine takes this idea to an entirely different level. Because of their small size, submarines do not have individual bunks for every passenger. Most often, a bunk is shared by two to three passengers.
When a single passenger gets off their shift, they will wake up the sleeping passenger in their bunk to switch with them. Submariners refer to this as “hot racking,” as the sleeper essentially warms up the bed before the next person gets in.
All Hail the Dolphin
Who doesn’t love an adorable dolphin? In the case of submariners, dolphins are very highly regarded. In fact, one of the highest honors you can earn from your commander when living on a submarine is the Dolphin Pin.
So, how do you win this Dolphin Pin, you ask? First, you have to memorize the ins and outs of the submarine and learn how to use its onboard weapons. Next, you have to ace the test given to you by your commander.
Make Your Coffin
The thought of living in a submarine is enough to generate a claustrophobic panic attack for some. This probably makes it fitting that many submariners refer to their beds as “coffins.”
We don’t know how keen we are on being buried alive or that we’d ever want to lay down in something that resembles a coffin. Maybe the sailors are braver than your average person.
Become a Sleep Master
If you want to live on a submarine, you have to become a master of sleep. Things will always be happening around you, and if you can’t sleep through them, you’ll never get the right amount of sleep that you need.
Not many submariners are light sleepers, though call their name in the case of an emergency, and they’ll be there at the drop of a hat.
What Day Is It Again?
Remember, submarines operate deep beneath the sea, meaning it is pretty rare for anyone onboard to see the sun rise and set. You’re bound to lose track of time at one point or another, especially when you consider the fact that a submarine can be underwater for many months at a time.
Luckily, every modern submarine comes equipped with a clock, so you don’t have to worry about your sanity too much.
Take a Deep Breath
Submarines operate with lower internal oxygen levels, which can introduce some unique physical side effects. For starters, if you get injured aboard a submarine, it may take longer for your body to heal itself.
Beyond keeping your body from healing at optimal speed, lower oxygen levels can cause mood swings and reduce energy levels.
Cuddle Up With Weaponry
Even if you feel like you might be okay with living in tight spaces, you may change your mind once you realize you’re living adjacent to some of the most powerful weapons of destruction on Earth.
Just about every military submarine comes equipped with some sort of weaponry, whether nuclear warheads, torpedoes, or ballistic missiles.
Hanging in the Mess Hall
When free time rolls around, the best thing you can do is hang with the rest of the crew in the mess hall. While you won’t find a lot of space here, you’re bound to find good times and entertainment.
The mess hall is a communal area where you can find board games, poker sets, large televisions, movie libraries, and more.
Follow the Robots
If you get lost while driving down the highway on a road trip, all you need to do is pull over and ask a local for directions. However, when you’re hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the water, you don’t really have anyone to pull over and talk to.
Modern submarines navigate their way through the water using highly capable electronics. Essentially, when you are living in a submarine, you put your life in the hands of robots.
Day In and Day Out
Living on a submarine may sound quite mundane, as you have the same schedule each day and a limited number of things you can do. Unless you’re in the middle of a war, you won’t be dealing with much action.
With that said, many submariners find peace in this notion. There is a saying many submariners abide by — “no news is good news.”
Tiny Bathroom Space
If you’ve ever complained about your apartment’s tiny bathroom, the submarine life may not be for you. With so much equipment and machinery on the inside, there’s not a lot of room left over for much else.
Unfortunately, the bathrooms are quite small and can feel pretty claustrophobic for anyone who needs to do their, well, business. Plus, sharing that small toilet space doesn’t sound lovely either.
We’ve pretty much driven home how little space there is on a submarine, especially when you consider the fact that crews can add up to more than 100 people. You can’t be rolling a board with three suitcases packed to the brim with non-essential items.
If you are living aboard a submarine, you need to pack light. Remember how many other people you have to share this small space with.
Many people dream of becoming submariners, though many are blissfully unaware of how much work it takes to become one. The training process for becoming a submariner is quite rigorous, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.
Current and former Navy crew members say that the training process starts out with studying for ten hours per day for the first few months. They liken it to a six-year college-level degree in less than a year.
Do you think you can take some time away from your phone? When you submerge beneath the surface in a submarine, you won’t be able to communicate with the outside world. This means no text messages, social media, or sending letters.
The only time submariners get to contact their loved ones is when they reach the surface.
Be Your Best Caveman
Take a look at the members of most military branches, and you’ll see the same, heavily groomed look. We’re talking about military buzz cuts and li,ttle to no facial hair. Military members that are living on a submarine get a little more leeway in this regard.
While you certainly wouldn’t want to completely let yourself go, it’s okay to let that stubble grow into a full beard or that hair fall down past your ears.
Don’t Fear Commitment
If you have trouble committing, submarine life may not be for you. Going down into a submarine is a major commitment, as many submarines dive for weeks or months at a time.
The average submarine stays underwater for at least 90 days. However, in some cases, passengers end up onboard for around six months.
Check for Leaks
The first thing that the crew will do when the submarine is fully submerged is check for leaks. Nothing is more of a danger to a Submariner than a leak in the boat.
No matter how big or small the leak is, it is important to cover it up and fix it in the shortest amount of time possible.
Get Creative in the Shower
Remember when we said how small the bathrooms are in submarines? The same thing goes for the showers. By now, you know that submarines are filled with tons of equipment and machinery, leaving very little room for non-essential amenities.
Because of this, showers are quite small, and passengers onboard have to get creative if they are larger or taller.
Enjoy Three Tasty Meals
Aboard every submarine, you will find a kitchen, which is referred to as the galley. This is the area where all the food and beverages are prepared. As you may have expected, these kitchens are pretty Limited in terms of space. However, that doesn’t stop cruise from enjoying three tasty meals a day.
From pizza to fish to pasta and beyond, submariners say that they enjoy pretty decent food, which is good to hear considering that. between resupplies could be weeks or months.
Stay on Watch
When you’re on watch duty, you have to be alert. The good thing is that watch duties never come as a surprise, as crew members are always on strict schedules.
The time and place where you must attend watch duty will depend on your rank. This is because certain watch areas require unique or specialized training, and higher-ranking individuals have more responsibility.
Of course, living on a submarine isn’t all about war. In fact, submariners enjoy plenty of unique recreational activities to keep them sane and have fun while below the surface.
Just about every submarine comes equipped with board games and decks of cards, so that crew members can keep busy in their spare time.
Don’t Mess Up the Valve Line
Just like your toilet at home, the toilet aboard a submarine can get clogged. However, toilets work a bit differently down here. The water is pumped from the toilet into three separate sanitary tanks within the submarine.
The bad news is that water can flow to other places, such as the shower or sink if someone messes with the valve line. The last thing you want is wastewater coming up while you’re brushing your teeth.
There’s nothing quite as unique and exciting as a sailor ceremony, and one of our favorites is the line-crossing ceremony. If you tried to guess what it was by the name, you probably guessed wrong!
The word “line” in the name actually refers to the equator. Once you cross the line, you become a “shellback.” Those who have yet to cross the line are called “wogs.”
Shut the Door Softly
Slam the door on a submarine, and you are bound to get in trouble. Submariners don’t get very much sleep, which is why they put strict rules about slamming doors. The last thing you’d want is someone slamming your bedroom door while you’re trying to get your beauty rest, so suffice it to say, it’s a pretty good rule.
Beyond sleeping, maintaining silence by not slamming doors is one of the best ways to make sure you don’t get detected by enemy vessels. In many ways, this prohibitive rule can save a submariner’s life.
No Long Showers
Even though you have water all around you when you’re down in a submarine, the freshwater that is stored on the vessel is very precious. Most submarines want to remain undetected, meaning they are unable to expel used water very often.
This means that your shower time will be limited to a few minutes max. The actual time typically depends on the ship’s water cycle. If you enjoy long, hot showers, the submarine life may not be for you.
Wash Your Clothes
Even with a relatively large crew, there may only be one washing machine and dryer aboard a standard submarine. This means that each crew member will only be able to throw in a few articles of clothing at a time. Even though these ships are rigged with military equipment, the washers and dryers are pretty similar to those you’d find in your average apartment complex.
In fact, the washers and dryers aboard a submarine are often smaller than standard units.
Stay In Uniform
When it comes to the types of uniforms military personnel wear, submariners are special. While they still have all the same badges and emblems that are representative of the United States Navy, their uniforms are made of lint-free polyester.
The big reason for this is that lint can clog up the submarine’s onboard filtration system. What’s even more interesting is the name of this very particular suit — the poopie suit.
Preventing Suffocation By Producing Oxygen
We probably all wonder how servicemen and servicewomen living on submarines for an extensive period don’t suffocate. Submarines are equipped with an impressively simple technology that enables them to produce oxygen from the water.
Electrolysis is a process by which seawater extracts oxygen from saltwater. In addition, submarines consist of a few oxygen tanks just in case these systems collapse and there’s a need to release oxygen into the interior of the submarine.
Hitting Rock Bottom
In some Hollywood films, submarines are usually shown laying at the bottom of the ocean. But, is that truly even accurate or possible? Well, it depends on the type of submarine.
Unlike their bigger sisters (nuclear submarines), electric diesel submarines are lightweight and more maneuverable. Assuming that their depth is within their limit, they can sit at the bottom of the ocean floor. Nuclear submarines are not as likely to perform in that way because they have a higher chance of getting trapped at the bottom.
The Process Of Trash Disposal
Sometimes, there are more than 100 people (or more) living on a submarine at one time. So, naturally, there’s bound to be lots of trash everywhere. But, where is all of this waste even ending up?
To follow both environmental safety concerns – while also prioritizing the mission’s success – some of the trash can’t be sorted until it’s unloaded and recycled onshore. On the other hand, what can’t be recycled ends up sealed in designated steel cans and dumped into the ocean.
Carry Missiles for Protection
Even with such limited space, crew members are able to make plenty of room for serious artillery. Many submarines carry Trident missiles, which are equipped with unique, independent targeting technology.
Knowing you are onboard with an ultra-destructive missile requires an extra level of caution, though it may make you feel a bit safer knowing you are protected by one of the most powerful weapons known to man.
Anechoic Coating Allows Submarines To Stay Quiet
To avoid detection, submarines must remain as quiet as possible. Due to this, their hull is coated with an anechoic coating, a special material. It consists of complexly engineered rubber tiles that are attached with glue to the submarine’s hull.
Amazingly, the rubber tiles absorb the sound of breaking waves against the hull. They reduce the acoustic signature of the vessel. And, they also diminish the sounds that surface from the submarine, which, in effect, ensures that the submarine’s status remains stealthy.
A Special Hatch For Special Operations
Due to its covert and distinctive nature, many may not know this fact. United States submarines have a special lockout trunk used by the Navy SEALs. Now that we know of its significance, what purpose does it serve?
Essentially, it’s a room that allows SEAL teams to access the interior through a hatch. It also enables them to get on the submarine in their full scuba gear while the ship is underwater. The teams can deploy special forces anywhere.
Spending Decades Submerged Underwater
Being a nuclear-powered submarine has a lot of advantages. One of the main advantages is that it will continue to be serviceable and operational for decades without needing to be refueled. For example, the Royal Navy-operated Astute class nuclear submarines only require refueling once every 25 years.
Even with such a remarkable capacity and capabilities, a submarine does need to resurface because it has to be resupplied with food and clean water. Regardless, this fact is extremely impressive.
Making Room For Additional Bunks
We already know that submarines don’t have enough sleeping bunks and sailors sometimes have to share the bed space. However, when even that isn’t sufficient, there are additional temporary bunks placed in the torpedo room.
So, sailors have to share their beds with big, muscular torpedoes? Well, that’s better than having to sleep near metal tubes filled with explosives. Although it’s not an ideal sleeping situation, they probably get used to it. After all – what other options do they have?
There’s Medical Service Onboard
Usually, the ship’s doctor has a dedicated area on a modern vessel that’s exclusively reserved for them. The word “doctor” may be misleading because, on certain submarines, a senior corpsman serves as the medical authority on the vessel. But, they will only receive that honor after intensive training.
The main responsibility of the medical authority is to prioritize the crew’s health. They can also treat minor injuries, in addition to more severe ones. Some of those serious injuries might even require surgery.
An Adequate Amount Of Food
Since submarines need to remain submerged for extended periods, food is obviously important. Unfortunately, fresh food won’t last for more than a few weeks, and then it’s up to the chefs to improvise. Sometimes, dried foods are utilized in preparing delicious and complex meals.
There are other additional tricks that the chefs keep up their sleeves. Another one is to store fresh food in random nooks and crannies to prolong its shelf life. Fresh products have a longer life due to the very cold conditions underwater.
They Don’t Really Move Too Much
This fact might come as a surprise for those who haven’t ever been on a submarine before, but there is usually relative stillness below even if there’s a storm raging above. So, why is that? Typically, submarines travel dozens (and, sometimes even hundreds of miles) of meters below the surface.
They actually don’t move too much and are fairly still, despite some minor jolts from time to time. On board the vessel is where a majority of noise comes from; people and the whirring equipment.
More Drills Than You Can Count
A significant aspect of the submarine’s mundane routine is the countless drills that occur. Fire drills, flooding drills, and reactor drills are the most important. Additionally, there is another type of drill that deals with various battle scenarios.
It’s mandatory that the crews carry out drills, even when the submarine is docking at the port. They must be ready for every scenario that could arise. A torpedo “hot run” is yet another type of drill, it implies a scenario where a torpedo accidentally goes off onboard a vessel.
Preventative Maintenance Is Essential
While at sea on operational development, a submarine (just like any other complex machine) must have a high degree of maintenance so it can operate without any hiccups. Sailors have to spend many hours out of their days and nights fixing, repairing, and doing any maintenance necessary for every valve and hatch.
Of course, this also includes the preventative maintenance of electronic equipment and the launch tubes. Needless to say, sailors rarely get much rest at all while on a submarine.
Sledding Sailor Style
Perhaps, this activity is unique to American submariners, but boys will always be boys. When the conditions permit it, sailors will sometimes “slide” down the submarine’s corridors when it undergoes steep depth changes.
This doesn’t happen every day, yet when it does, it’s almost like a mini holiday for the sailors. Of course, they have to get the go-ahead from their commanders before doing such a silly thing. Well, at least they have a way of enjoying and entertaining themselves.
The Halfway Night Ritual
On submarines, there’s another odd ritual that’s the moment between the patrol and the deployment. Normally, this ritual is greeted with the celebration of a grand and sumptuous meal. The lavish meal could include lobsters, prime rib, or even a NY strip steak.
The ritual feast can also entail a festive atmosphere, which the crew members delight in. There’s a celebration where they throw pies at one another (but, not the captain, of course). That would certainly get somebody in trouble.
Commitment To Studying Hard
Contrary to what many might think, the training and qualifications don’t stop once the sailors leave the shore. When they aren’t on duty, doing drills, or on watch, they dedicate their time wisely to improving their professional skills and qualifications.
Ultimately, the learning process persists while the sailors are already at sea. The goal is to make sure they have gained all the necessary knowledge that there is to know about their sector. This is a lot to digest, especially because modern-day submarines have thousands of valves, pumps, pipes, and other kinds of complex equipment.
What’s With The Blue Nose?
Although this is quite rare, it does happen sometimes. Whenever a submarine is afforded the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle, its members paint their noses blue.
The US Navy subs rarely visit the North Pole, maybe once every two to three years. Thus, the number of people in the force who actually earned their blue noses isn’t that plentiful. Typically, if a submarine is coming through that specific area it’s because the vessel is doing a fleet transfer.
Enjoying A Steel Beach Picnic
Fortunately, it’s not always dark and depressing living on a submarine. When the weather conditions are pleasant (sometimes), and when the captain isn’t in a bad mood, the vessel will resurface, allowing the sailors to climb on top and have a little BBQ time.
The submarine cooks will send burgers and hotdogs down from the kitchen and everyone gets a chance to relax a bit out in the fresh air. Although, some members of the crew still have to stay alert and on watch at the bridge.
Time For A Swim
There are some moments when the submarine resurfaces, allowing for some much-needed recreation time for the exhausted sailors. When the conditions permit, the captain can choose for the submarine to resurface so the sailors can revel in some glorious swimming activities.
But, just to ensure their safety, someone is tasked to keep watch at all times. There are sharks out there, lurking about. Some of the sailors take advantage of this opportunity to catch some sun rays and enjoy the fresh air.
The Good Ol’ Mail Buoy
Just as in any other armed forces branch, pranks are a necessary part of the military tradition. In this aspect, submarines are no different. There’s one funny prank that the sailor newbies have to go through – retrieving the mail buoy.
Supposedly, a mail sack is attached to a buoy. One of the newbies has to don themselves in foul weather gear, approach the captain, and request permission to climb on top of the buoy to get the mail. Of course, the request is blatantly denied, because there’s no such thing as a mail buoy!
Another Funny Prank
This funny prank is yet another aspect of life onboard the U.S. Navy sub, which is enacted on newly enlisted sailors who recently joined the underwater force. Usually, this prank occurs during maintenance time in which the “chief” asks one of the newbies to go to the supply deck and ask for “relative bearing grease.”
However, it’s no surprise that when the newbie gets there, the supply officer says that they gave the last canister to another maintenance crew. This would require the sailor to run around the submarine and chase after various crews in an attempt to fulfill the order.
Being Away From Home
Submariners pretty much have little to no contact with the outside world, meaning that they don’t receive much news from home. This, at times, means they also are absent from college graduations, births, and other significant events.
Before leaving on another voyage, it’s part of their routine to pen letters to their families and significant others. Some submariners even pre-order gifts for their special loved ones in case they won’t be able to be with them for the holidays.
Killing Time By Shooting Water Slugs
When you are stuck in a tin can underwater for extended periods of time, it’s no surprise that you play silly pranks. Every week, submarines perform torpedo launching procedures.
This practice consists of filling the torpedo tube with air and “shooting” it into the ocean. Hence, it’s called shooting water slugs. The new sailors are typically unaware of this funny name and are usually tasked to head to the engine room to get a bucket of water slugs. Imagine that!
How About The Flickering Lights?
Contrary to what you might believe, it’s not always the newbies who get pranked. There are times when the whole crew pulls a prank on one of the sub’s senior officers, which may even include the Executive Officer. The electrician taps into the lighting system in the living quarters of the officer and starts fooling around with the lights whenever the officer is there.
Of course, the officer would call the electrician who confirms that the lights are fine. This prank is the perfect way to mess around with your Executive Officer…at your own risk!
Sending And Receiving Family Grams
Unlike their U.S. Navy counterparts, sailors on board British submarines actually get to “communicate” with their families once a week. When we say communicate, we mean that they can send (and receive) a single message consisting of no more than 60 characters. These are known as “family grams.”
At times, both sides would forget punctuation entirely and use contracted forms of communication. This way, they can put as much information as possible into short messages, and it keeps sailors going during their long voyages at sea.
Hair, Hair Everywhere
It’s known that the Navy is not as strict about its submariners growing beards and long hair, but there are times when they need a haircut. Actually, there are no official barbers onboard the submarines.
In that case, usually, one or two crewmembers who know a little about trimming beards and doing decent haircuts will be tasked with this job. When we say “usually,” we mean that sometimes sailors settle for somebody who can simply hold a pair of scissors.
Field Day Has Arrived
As one of the many routines aboard a submarine, there’s a designated day for cleaning it. Ironically, the day is called “field day.” When hearing the order “sweepers, sweepers man your brooms!” booming over the PA, sailors have to pick up cleaning supplies and get to scrubbing and cleaning the floors as quietly as possible.
Although, on other submarines, sailors utilize sponges or foxtails (hand brooms) to clean the floors. They do this since there isn’t enough space to swing the brooms.
A Unique (And Recycled) Smell
People on a submarine operate in close proximity to others, meaning that the air they inhale is always being recycled. Once the hatch is closed, the only thing you would smell is an unpleasant combination of oil, amine, and body odors.
In case you weren’t aware, amine is a special chemical substance that removes carbon dioxide from the air. It’s rather useful and enables submarines to travel underwater for a long time, but it’s rather smelly.
Keeping Mental Health In Check
It’s no surprise that spending weeks and even months devoid of communication with the external world could take a toll on one’s mental well-being. The sailors that serve aboard a sub go through an intensive selection process and training before being admitted to the submarine corps ranks. Despite this (although rarely), some of them crack under pressure.
When this occurs, the medical officer on the submarine is authorized to issue medications (typically sedatives) and confine the sailor. This means that the sailor is put under close watch in the living quarters.
A Jack Of All Trades
It takes hours and hours to master a submariner’s primary occupation. For example, a sonar operator spends much of their time perfecting the skills and knowledge required to work the sonar systems.
But, it doesn’t end there! Each and every submariner is tasked to learn about the systems and equipment that exists outside their area of expertise. This is important because a sonar operator would study the work of the engineers who are in charge of maintaining the ship’s nuclear reactors, as well as the other way around.
Stealing Doors…No, Seriously
Here’s yet another funny prank that submariners like to play on their Executive Officer – stealing their stateroom (living quarters) door. These officers are typically good-natured and kind, and, regardless of their difficult job, they just play along with these pranks!
The Executive Officer is in charge of every administrative aspect involved in running the well-oiled submarine machine, including drills. They usually know who the sailors are that stole the door and enact certain measures to convince them to return it.