Submariners, a crew, a community: Is this a life for you?

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Navy News / June 9, 2021

SLt Joshua Ehnisz,

MARPAC Headquarters

The submarine community is amongst one of the most closely knit groups throughout the Canadian Armed Forces. Submariners are the only sailing professionals that conduct operations while being under the water in a steel tube for weeks at a time.

After contacting a few submariners, a number of interesting points came to light.

The air is not always exactly fresh, laundry is hand washed, the beds are small and the work is demanding yet rewarding. There are no windows to look out, save two periscopes, and submariners regularly work over 16 hours per day when at sea, but at the end of the day there are 58 other crewmates that are there for you.

When asked about the submarine community, Lieutenant(Navy) (Lt(N)) Nathan Haylett, Navigating Officer aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine (HMCS) Victoria, said, “I joined the Submarine Force because I wanted to be part of the scariest thing in the ocean. I stay in the Submarine Force because of the people.”

A submariner needs to train to be capable of doing not just his or her job, but also be aware of their crewmates’ jobs and be able to do common tasks on board. They look out for each other. These tasks are not as simple as learning how to use the printer. You need to learn everything about the submarine to ensure it continues to operate as intended, and you need to be able to apply this knowledge during high-pressure, emergency situations while remaining cool, calm and collected.

The benefit is a submarine crew truly becomes a family. You develop bonds that are unlike any other, and, as a submariner you are granted more privilege and a few more perks than those received by surface counter parts.

“Because our contact with home can be limited, things like the Military Family Resource Center are very important, said Lt(N) Haylett. “These services ensure our families have a support network when we are gone.”

Submariners are recruited typically from the existing surface fleet. Sailors who have already developed skills at sea are the best candidates for successfully becoming submariners.

Becoming a submariner is no easy task. To become a full-fledged submariner, candidates will undergo a rigorous training package that requires multiple signatures from experienced submariners. Upon completion of this training, a submariner earns their Dolphins, an insignia and symbol a submariner will proudly wear throughout their career. It clearly identifies that the submariner has succeeded in completing one of the most challenging and unique programs the Canadian Armed Forces has to offer.

When asked about Dolphins, the following quote was mentioned to describe their meaning:

"These Dolphins, once you pin them on your chest, leave deep marks, right over your heart, long after the uniforms have been put away.” - Bud F. Turner, U.S.S. Stonewall Jackson

Lieutenant-Commander Dave Hendry, the current officer commanding HMCS Corner Brook left me with important advice for anyone considering a career in submarines, “Work hard and study hard. Becoming a submariner is a rewarding, but incredibly challenging, career path within the Navy. You will have more responsibility, but also a lot more freedom than your counterparts in the surface fleet.”

HMCS Corner Brook is currently in dry dock and is expected to rejoin the Royal Canadian Navy Fleet in early 2022. It has been fitted with a variety of new equipment including the Mark 48 Mod 7AT heavyweight torpedo, Universal Modular Mast and a new sonar suite, the BQQ-10 sonar. These additions bring HMCS Corner Brook to the cutting edge in torpedo technology and in line with a number of our Allied submarine forces.

Historically, Corner Brook has been part of exercises and operations at sea including Operation Nanook and Exercise Noble Warrior. It has contributed to the more than 2,300 days at sea amassed by Victoria-class submarines and is scheduled to conduct contractor sea trials in late 2021.