The French Navy owes much of its power to two different types of ships in its fleet: aircraft carriers and submarines.
Submarines, more than any other ship in the navy, are responsible for ensuring that our reconnaissance is always on point and that America can deploy missiles on any enemy country at any time.
These stealthy vessels require educated and highly skilled military personnel to maintain their operational effectiveness... But it takes more than sharp wits and discipline to crew a submarine: These tough people must also thrive in the harsh living conditions they endure when immersed.
Have you ever wondered what everyday life is like aboard a Navy submarine?
Here we take a rare peek into the periscope, and see what the average day looks like for a submarine sailor during his 2-3 month deployments to the deep...
With a crew of over 130 sailors on board, all confined to a watertight underwater vessel for months, life in a submarine requires serious planning! Everyone has to get along and the available space is scarce. Strict routines must therefore be adhered to at all times to ensure that the entire crew is not in the same place at the same time.
At sea, the crew operates on staggered 18-hour cycles. For the first six hours, officers work on sonar, keep watch, or perform their duties of supplying the ship. Security drills, attack scenarios and training drills are also conducted throughout the day.
Then there are 6 hours of free time to exercise, study, socialize and relax. Finally, there is 6 hours of sleep where sailors change berths and rest a bit before starting their cycle again.
As you can imagine, each member of the crew has their own tasks and rotations, as well as specific times they must complete those tasks to keep things running smoothly. Rations and supplies are carefully monitored and guarded to ensure that no one goes hungry and that vital supplies, such as oxygen generators, do not run out too quickly.
The program is intense, but the Navy ensures that sailors have plenty of recreational activities on board to keep their spirits up.
During their 6 hours of recreation, crew members can exercise in the gym, play video games, watch movies, read, hang out in the officers' or enlisted lounges, and play games with their friends. There are also many organized activities, such as cribbage and chess tournaments.
Occasionally, submarines may also surface in the middle of the ocean mid-mission, allowing the crew to swim - a much appreciated break from routine and a bit of air fresh and sunny after a long stay under water!
Sleep and shower
Due to crew size and limited space, sleeping conditions are not particularly private or quiet. Showers should be less than 5 minutes due to the heavy workload of recycling fresh water and the need to ensure there is enough clean water for everyone.
While officers generally have their own berth, sailors must share their berth and take turns sleeping during their allotted sleep time. While one crew member is on duty, the other is sleeping and vice versa.
Fortunately, shift crew members are careful not to make too much noise near sleeping quarters, as they know that undisturbed rest periods are rare in a 24-hour work environment.
Time spent underwater
Navy submarines are deployed for approximately 6 months at a time and perform several missions critical to national security. During this period, the ship generally spends 2 to 3 months under water without resurfacing!
While service aboard a military submarine can be professionally and personally rewarding, it can also impact mental health and emotional well-being. Therefore, military personnel should know how long they will be underwater before accepting these assignments.
Typically, officers or crew members of submarines rotate between assignments at sea and assignments ashore. In general, a member of a submarine is attached to a given ship for two to three years. During this period, they deploy for three to six months.
They spend a few months at sea, then a few months on land before returning underwater. Once an officer or crew member's attachment to a submarine is complete, they rotate a few more years on land. This way, no member of the Navy is forced to stay underwater or tethered to a submarine for too long.
Meals and Morale
Maintaining crew morale is paramount, which is why the food is always top quality aboard French Navy submarines.
Crew mess meals often include favorites like pizza and fried chicken, and are always followed by a few dessert choices.
Contact with the house
One of the major sacrifices a submarine crew must accept is the lack of contact with home. Communication can never be guaranteed, especially if it is a covert mission where secrecy is central to the mission.
Each time the submarine transmits a signal, its position is identified - so transmissions must be kept to a bare minimum to maintain coverage. This means emails can only be sent and received when the sub surfaces, which may be only a handful of days during a six-month mission.
Fortunately, most military submarines don't stay underwater for more than a few months at a time. They must resurface in ports to stock up on food and supplies, giving crew members the option to head to dry land for shore leave.
This welcome break allows sailors to breathe fresh air, soak up the much-needed sun and enjoy what's new in the port where they surfaced.
Is becoming a submarine officer worth it?
Yes, if you are up to the challenge! Joining the French Navy in general is a great way to learn about the world and learn useful skills that will allow you to succeed in the civilian world. Also, pay is greater for serving aboard a submarine, and since you have fewer comrades aboard, faster promotions are more likely.
However, you must be able to endure working in a confined environment for months to be successful as an officer or crew member of a submarine.
If you have what it takes, you will earn a great salary and help keep our country safe. Plus, you'll get to see how a submarine works up close!