Royal Navy submariner gives advice on self-isolation

AS THE Royal Navy prepares to help the NHS with the coronavirus outbreak, Submariners have stepped-forward to provide advice to the public who are doing their part by self-isolating and staying at home.

The Submariners know a thing or two about isolation.  While on patrol they regularly spend months under the water, never surfacing and with only very limited contact with the outside world.

We spoke with Sub Lieutenant Andrew Rose, a qualified Submariner who recently patrolled with HMS Artful, to find-out how the Silent Service does it:

Can you tell us a bit about the training a Royal Navy Submariner goes through and how it prepares you for being on patrol, cut-off from the surface?

SLt Rose:  “No amount of classroom training can prepare you for what it’s like at sea.  You must learn on the job and learn quick.

“The first course we do at the Submarine School is the Submarine Officers Training Course where we learn about the basic construction of a submarine and how it functions.  We also undertake Submarine Escape Tank Training and practice survival skills.

“When you get to step on board you’re known as a ‘non-qual’ until you learn your Basic Sea Qualification which means understanding how the submarine operates, how the systems onboard work, and how to keep the vessel safe in an emergency.

“It can take many weeks to learn what you need and prove your knowledge to the specialists onboard.  It ends in an oral board to prove your knowledge and if you pass your presented with your dolphins – the mark of a qualified Submariner.”

Once you are on patrol what is the daily routine?

SLt Rose:  “The submarine keeps a watch system, so for me that’s six-hours on, six-hours off.  During my six-hours on I’m busy doing jobs such as keeping lookout on Optronics (the modern-day periscope) or for my department it could mean managing defects or just general rounds of all the kit such as weapons, explosives, sensors or computer systems.

“During the six-hours off is when you get a chance to wash, exercise, catch-up on any admin, relax and sleep – or study if you’re not yet qualified.  You tend to lose track of the days quickly as you end up going to bed and waking twice a day.  I was second watch so worked 1am to 7am and 1pm to 7pm.  It was very strange having breakfast just before going to bed and waking-up for lunch!”

Patrols can last a long time.  How do you maintain morale?

SLt Rose:  “I was very lucky to have a good crew with some excellent people I could have a laugh with.  If I ever did feel down, I know I could talk to them about it.  It helps to keep busy too because it keeps your mind focused.”

What about the importance of exercise?  How do you keep fit in a confined space?

SLt Rose:  “On board we have a few weights, some mats and an exercise bike.  It’s impressive how creative some people can be with such little space.  There’s plenty of exercises that you can do without moving from your mat – sit-ups, press-ups and squats just to name a few. 

“Exercise was massively important for keeping healthy and being able to exercise really helped morale for a lot of people.”

You may not see loved-ones for many weeks when you are on patrol.  How do you cope with the separation?

SLt Rose:  “It sounds odd, but I found it easier knowing that I would have no contact with home rather than maybe sometimes having contact.  No contact meant that I could focus solely on my job.  Again, it really helped having a routine that I had to stick to and keeping busy.”

Could you summarise your advice on isolating?  What do you do to get through?

SLt Rose:  “Get a routine and stick to it.  There’s plenty we could do in the house such as cleaning, exercising, contacting family or friends, learn a new skill etc.

“Also, remember that, just like being at sea, isolation won’t last forever.  Have something to look forward to and try not to get too downhearted.  Think of the things you and your friends will be able to do once it’s all over!”