What’s it like to live on a submarine?

Arguably one of the most asked questions most Submariners hear once they reveal their sordid past: What’s it like living on a submarine?

Every generation probably has their own version of life on board.

A Diesel Boat sailor would certainly have a very detailed description of what is was like to never be able to shower and the cramped spaces of a boat that was crammed with machinery and very little space for people and comfort.

Later submarines would be larger to accommodate the large weapons and increased nuclear power plants that drove them to greater depths and faster sustained speeds than their older ancestors could dream of.

But in the end, you are living on a craft that was designed by engineers and in most cases built by the lowest bidder. You separate yourself from the surface world for long periods of time and sacrifice more than you are aware of at the time. Ask anyone who has served when they were younger and now deal with all manner of health issues.

So here is a brief capture that tells what it was like for some of us that road the boats:

What’s it like living on a Submarine? This pretty much sums it up!

For everyone that has ever asked me “what was it like living on a submarine”, here is the answer in terms everyone can understand. How to appreciate what it’s like to be deployed on a nuclear submarine.

1. Buy all the groceries and supplies you think you’ll need for 2 months, with the following exceptions: no milk, cereal, fruits, vegetables or alcohol. Take what you buy home and bring it one item at a time into the house. You may not keep any food in your cabinets or closets as these will be set aside to store spare parts. You may not use the refrigerator as this will be turned into a freezer. Any pre-made candies, cookies, or snacks must be kept in bed with you.

2. Lock the door, close the windows, draw the shades and tear out the phone.(Modern Update: No cell phones either)

3. Turn on the oven with the door open; turn the air conditioner all the way up. Setup enough fans so that the whole house is windy.

4. Replace all your lights with 100 watt bulbs and turn them all on.

5. You may sleep on any shelf you choose.

6. Whenever you are not asleep, your “bed” must be occupied by any garbage man you do not like.

7. You must wear the same clothes a week at a time. You may do laundry once a month. You must sleep with your dirty laundry in a bag in bed with you.

8. Every week on Saturday morning, you must go to the basement, crawl between the pipes and clean the same 10 foot by 10 foot area for four hours.

9. You may be in the shower for 10 minutes at longest, but you may not run the water for more than 60 seconds.

10. You have one week to study the instruction manuals for every appliance, utility and piece of equipment in your house. At the end of this week you must be able to quote any passage out of these from memory and pass a written exam. Until you can do this, you may not have access to TV or radio and you may not sleep for more than 3 hours at a time, with 9 hours awake between sleeping.

11. After this week, you must walk around the house for 6 hours and record every temperature, pressure, tank level, setting, and complete status of every piece of equipment in your house. You may not go to the bathroom or eat during this 6 hours. These 6 hour periods must start every 15 hours.

12. Once a week when you would otherwise be asleep, take your television completely apart and put it back together.

13. You may not go to the bathroom for one hour after you eat because during that time you have to clean it.

14. Each Monday through Friday morning whether you would normally be awake or not, you must pretend to start a fire in your house, put on a gas mask, and pretend to put the fire out. Wear the gas mask for at least one additional hour each time.

15. Each Monday through Friday afternoon whether you would normally be awake or not, you must study the same instruction manuals for 2 hours that you studied the first week.

16. Continue the above for 3 months even though you have only 2 months’ worth of food.

Behold the throne… the only place on board a submarine where you may expect a small modicum of privacy… unless of course a drill is called away


12 thoughts on “What’s it like to live on a submarine?

    1. I am not sure. On the five boats I served on , I only saw one guy lose it. They tested us pretty well before we even got to our first boat. Physical testing in a pressure tank and an escape tank in New London plus a lot of psych tests. I think most of the really claustrophobic never made it that far

  1. Bravo Zulu, Mister Mac! I’ll have to print this out and show it to my wife as she has often wondered about this. My first wife had an inkling (perhaps one reason she left me); we are a strange breed.

  2. A lot of that was pretty much true but the level of comraderie was like you find nowhere else in the military. Fifty years after my duty, I still travel across the country to have lunch with someone I worked with over 50 years ago and we continue our conversations as if we were still on board. Not only a strange breed but cut from a different cloth altogether

  3. Ahh, The Good Old Days! Going from a Diesel Boat to a nuke was going from a Model “T” Ford to a Big New Caddie! With all the water you could use! You had to be a little crazy to live like that, But I would do it all over again!

  4. British Diesel O boat, when on the surface,live in a wind tunnel,and rock and roll,passage routine1 in 3 four hour watches, dive the boat 1 in 2 6 hour watches. Watch the bread get mouldy until it’s all green , no washing no shaving,and the occasional brushing of teeth. The clothes you start your patrol in are the ones your wearing when you finish.
    Because it is a diesel driven drain pipe, the whole boat stinks of diesel,hydraulic oil ,and shit,especially when the shit and slop tanks are vented inboard.
    All the rubbish / gash rotten food is kept in cotton type bags that are designed to leak and are not airtight, so if your on a sneaky or other sensitive area you live with your rubbish which also starts to honk.
    Sleeping arrangements are hot bunking,one in ,one out unless seniority dictates you have your own bunk, which is a small shelf about 16 inches high,which means you can’t roll over, the up side is, you have real proper mates who will give all to you,and you back, the best part and time of my life was as a diesel submariner, (DBF) diesel boats forever.
    Mick PORTBURY, now a retired cop.

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