Most people wonder what it would be like to live beneath the sea in a submarine. The Beatles Yellow Submarine made it sound like fun, however, the reality of living on a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine would be severely different. Yes, we said nuclear – which makes things a little more dicey due to the increased sound of danger.
In a fairly recent article, WeAreTheMighty.com published an amazing group of photographs that were provided by former sailors from the Submarine Bubblehead Brotherhood. That’s what submariners call themselves – bubbleheads – which makes sense.
Did you know that everyone in the submarine force is a volunteer? So if you’re a Navy guy and afraid of water or have conditions that prevent you from feeling safe in small spaces, you are not forced. For those who are interested, it is a matter of taking tests, classes and participating in specialized training.
They are some of the most trained and skilled lot in the Navy. Can you imagine – every crew member must know how to operate, maintain and repair every piece of equipment on board. So their technical abilities are outstanding and parallel to few.
Overall, nuclear submarines are very unique. There are over 600 submarines in the world, operated by 43 countries at last count (
Each crew is divided into different groups, as you might imagine. Like any microcosm, there is the full spectrum of duties and responsibilities, from administrative duties to navigating the ship.
These are a few of the key photos that were contributed by the brotherhood that will give you an idea of what life might be like under the deep, blue sea.
15. Deployment Day
Although the three types of U.S. Navy Submarines are all nuclear-powered, not all of them carry nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Ballistic submarines are the ones that carry that load, so they are longer by about 200-square feet compared to the others. Attack submarines are those that are actively engaged in tactical missions, such as sinking other subs and ships. Cruise missile submarines are responsible for launching missiles and gathering intelligence. As mentioned above, all submarines can handle most any type of mission.
14. Down the Hatch
There is no grand entrance for the submariners. The hatches are smaller than on surface submarines. It would take a special type of person – one who doesn’t mind small enclosures and going without sunlight for an indefinite period of time. They are often underwater for weeks at a time. But the sailors are tested for claustrophobia and those who have any trepidation about small spaces or being under the sea are not allowed to become a submariner.
13. Underwater Dive
Any submarine looks quite majestic as it submerges and somewhat similar to a large whale. In fact, whales have been known to swim near submarines, although it is not clear why. There have been reports of accidents with these massive vessels that even use high-tech sonar equipment to detect nearby objects. But for the most part, this is not a problem. To submerge, they open valves that allow air to escape while seawater enters the lower tank which weighs down the vessel. U.S. Navy subs can submerge 800 feet or more – exact information is classified.
12. Young Submarine Drivers
Although there are a lot of high-tech controls, the drivers of the sub are young sailors and midshipmen, some even as young as 18-years-old. Since there are no windows, sonar is the technology that provides the ears and eyes to the driver. A submarine travels at a high of 29 miles per hour, which allows them to get to their global destination quickly. And, evidently, subs are faster underwater than when traveling above the sea.
11. Sound Proofing Technology
As one could imagine, sounds of normal life and technology could be over-powering and annoying when you’re stuck for weeks with a bunch of people under the sea. Submarines are state-of-the-art and complete with lots of rubber shock absorbers on anything that might normally make noise. Silence is golden.
10. Submarine Cuisine
Believe it or not, reports on the cuisine is that it is the best in the Navy. So the cooks are obviously doing their part. As you can imagine, fueling the appetites of 120 hungry men for several months takes some serious planning. There’s no running out for last minute items, so the preparation is key. Apparently, the fresh foods are used first and then the cooks use canned and frozen foods for the duration. Cook contests keep things interesting.
9. Water Fun
When they finally have the opportunity to enjoy the water, they take full advantage. Since the crews are divided into three shifts, each submariner has 12 hours a day to do other things, including sleep. Evidently, the submariners live on 18-hour days, which works perfectly. Of course, the water swim is not a daily option. They also study, train, watch movies, work out and even run marathons.
8. Barbecues and More
It’s nice to know that the Navy does its best to give our boys as much of a normal life as possible. Fresh shrimp on the barbie is looking good to this crew. Obviously, the guys miss their home life and events like this help them bond as friends, as well as being homey bubbleheads. Remember, even though email technology is available, the standard operation is to be underwater, undetected – stealth.
7. Friends Forever
It’s like a small village, where everyone knows everyone to a certain degree and lifelong friendships are made. The submariners need to rely on one another when carrying out their mission, so it’s natural they would bond. Luckily, they don’t have to worry about anyone being sloppy or demonstrating really irritating habits, as they are trained to honor one another’s space and the submarine is always spotless.
6. Breaks Through the Ice
This is a photo of a submarine that broke through the ice to the surprise of these curious polar bears. This isn’t a common occurrence except for the subs with secret missions that lead to the north pole or thereabouts. When this sub completed surfacing, the bears must have surprised the bubbleheads, even though they probably detected them from their periscopes.
5. Submariners Paint the Sub
Most U.S. attack submarines are in the USS Los Angeles class, which are 362-feet long and 33-feet wide. That is longer than a football field. U.S. fleet ballistic missile submarines of the USS Ohio class are 560-feet long, which is two football fields. There are generally around 140 to 160 on board, depending on the vessel and mission. Someone’s got to paint them, so it looks like these sailors were the select bunch.
4. Blue Nose Sailors
Ever hear of the term “blue-nose sailor”? It is actually called the Order of the Blue Nose and it is for sailors who have crossed the Arctic circle. There’s also the Order of the Red Nose which is for sailors who have crossed the Antarctic Circle. Finally, there is an Imperial Order of the Golden Dragon for both sailors and marines who have crossed the International Date Line.
3. Heading Home
After weeks or even months of living on a submarine, one can only imagine how wonderful it would feel to know that home was the next destination on the schedule. Even though loved ones may have sent letters or packages to one of the earlier port stops, and a few emails may have been allowed, there is no place like home. The sailors are trained for living in this manner, so it is not considered traumatic. They are able to acclimate into their normal lives.
2. Home Sweet Home
Then, there’s the moment you see your family and the last submarine stretch is instantly erased, at least temporarily. The life of a sailor is getting easier because of technology, however, it is still a fairly lonely path. But like any calling, it is not for everyone. It would be like living in a 300-foot long, 30-foot wide, three-story building with no windows.
1. USS Scranton Homecoming
This USS Scranton sailor shared this photo with WeAreTheMighty.com and it is truly touching. It’s Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Warren Jack who is cuddling his little daughter for the very first time. He was away for seven months and was not present when she was born. The USS Scranton is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine.