Nuclear power means virtually unlimited endurance; a submarine could stay
at sea for years at a time, if power were all that mattered. But it is
not. How long the crew can endure is a significant limit, as is how much
food can be carried. Food for the crew is the bulkiest commodity in a
submarine and becomes the limiting factor for patrol duration. Fresh food
lasts about two weeks, then it is canned, dried, and frozen food for the
rest of the patrol. When a submarine leaves on patrol, food fills every
takes place in the crew's mess. Despite the tight galley space, good meals
are the rule, with the same menu for officers and enlisted men. Extra
funding for food makes submarines the best "feeders" in the Navy. But
the mess deck also is virtually the only common space aboard a submarine
for training and study, or where off-duty sailors can unwind by watching
video tapes, playing games, or talking. Volunteer "lay leaders" may also
conduct religious services on the mess deck; submarines do not carry chaplains.
Disposal Unit (TDU) Breech
Disposing of trash, like many other activities that are relatively straightforward
ashore, require special arrangements in a submarine. Trash is tightly
compacted in a cylindrical steel mesh container. A 7-lb (3.2 kg) weight
ensures that it sinks to the bottom of the sea. Since the end of the Cold
War, submarines operate under stricter rules about when and where they
can discharge trash overboard, and some materials, like plastics, can
no longer be discharged at all. TDU operation can be relatively noisy.
When a submarine is rigged for quiet running, trash can accumulate on
board for days or even weeks, lest the sounds of disposal alert a potential
Brewer and Juice Dispenser
Much mess deck gear is just what you might find in any institutional kitchen
and dining room, as witness the coffee machine and juice dispenser from
USS Trepang (SSN-674).
The chief of the boat, or COB, regales some crewmates aboard USS Alexandria
(SSN-757) with sea stories. The COB is a position unique to submarines.
As the senior enlisted man, he is responsible to the executive officer
for the day-to-day running of the boat, as well as the morale and well-being
of the crew. His job entails everything from showing newcomers the ropes
to acting as father confessor to his younger charges. Navy photo by
JO1 Robert Benson
The cramped spaces aboard a nuclear-powered submarine make it difficult
to stay in shape during lengthy patrols. In missile submarines, crew members
may run laps around "Sherwood Forest," the nickname for the compartment
through which the missile tubes pass. Others prefer stationary equipment
such as bikes and treadmills crammed into any available space.
Saturday night is traditional "Pizza Night" aboard the
Los Angeles-class attack sub Pasadena (SSN 752); here the
mess specialist places toppings on the crust before baking. US Navy
photo by PH2 August Sigur.
Crew Mess Tables
These are two of the five mess tables and benches from the mess deck of
an attack submarine, USS Trepang (SSN-674). Such a small area works
reasonably well for the roughly 120 enlisted men, who eat in overlapping
shifts. The noncommissioned officers, called chiefs in the Navy, use two
of the five tables, which are somewhat larger than the other three. Although
they all eat the same meals, the commissioned officers have their own
separate eating space, called the wardroom.
Status Board, with dolphins
After they complete formal schooling ashore, officers and enlisted men
are assigned to submarine duty. To qualify as submariners, they must thoroughly
learn the ship and its systems, both through the supervised performance
of their jobs and by devoting much of their off-duty time to study. The
status board shows how each man is progressing. A formal board of officers
or senior enlisted men examines each candidate and keeps track of his
status. Officers average 12 months to qualify, enlisted men 6 to 8 months.
In the end, the candidate either earns his dolphins and becomes a true
submariner or fails to qualify and is dismissed from the Submarine Force.
Crew members of USS Seadragon (SSN-584) play the North Pole's first
ball game, 25 August 1960. Courtesty Naval Historical Center