Navy Dads


"Nuclear Sub vs Nuclear Aircraft Carrier"


My son is still at boot camp then off to Nuke school. He is considering signing up for sub duty preferring to be "on/off 3 months" at a time vs carrier "6 months on/off". He is engaged (to a wonderful young lady that we all love) and will be married by the time he graduates nuke school. Of course they want to be able to see and communicate with each other more often. Are there any resources you can suggest, that can shed light on the sub vs carrier? Specifically;

1. Are there any videos that might show life on each?
2. Are there any members who know sailors that served on both?
3. My son has also mentioned higher pay on a sub...any idea what the difference is?

I want them to have as much info as possible before they make this decision. My concern is that before leaving for boot camp my son stated that he could not imagine being "cooped up" on a sub, not being able to see the light of day, smell fresh air, etc, and we all agreed. Now that they have been apart 2 months, they are thinking that being apart 3 months vs 6 seems more tolerable. I am sure there's more to the decision than the time and pay difference. Thank you for any input. Mark 



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Replies to This Discussion

I can share my experience with sub duty from 73-77 on a fast attack.

As far as videos, there's a great documentary series about life aboard carriers, and there are many documentaries about subs.  Check out Netflix.

Sub schedules v. carriers.  Subs come in 2 flavors: boomers and fast attacks.  The fast attacks have a variable schedule -- it might be easier to swallow.  BUT (a very big "but"), submarine service is VERY tough on marriages.  No way around it.  Many of my shipmates ended up divorced.  Separation is tough, period.  If the young lady is both committed and mature/independent, then it can work, but it is a strain.

About not like being "cooped up", if your son has second thoughts about the living environment (all the things you mentioned, plus many, many more), then he should NOT volunteer for subs.  He'll hotrack (share a bunk on shifts), only see the sun through a periscope, lose track of the time of day (you get an idea from the meals being served), lose ALL sense of privacy (you can't embarass a sub sailor) and more.  The air gets "stale" after a while.  You don't really notice it until they ventilate after 2 months of being in a can -- then you can really TASTE the fresh air.

However, there are benefits.  You are serving in a very small unit.  Your safety depends on everyone on board the boat, and you are responsible for their safety.  It's a very real, very personal responsibility.   You develop very close friendships -- closer than many will develop in their marriages.

It's a meritocracy -- as much as there can be one in the service.  If you do your job well, you get excused from some of the petty BS of the service.  (That's not going to happen on an aircraft carrier.)

I've told enough of my sea stories to my son that he has volunteered for subs (he's in nuke school at Goose Creek).  He says he had a nightmare that he had been assigned to a carrier.  :-)

Just remember, there are 2 kinds of seagoing vessels: submarines and targets.  (I'm sure I'll get flamed for that.)

Submarines are a wonderful experience -- life changing -- but they are not for everyone.  Good luck to your son and his lady.

Hi Mark,

    My son is on a Boomer which is a ballistic missile submarine and they are on the three on three off. I think though that the fast attack subs go out on 6 to 8 month deployments with battle groups and port in different places. I may be wrong but I think the boomers are the only ones that do the three. You may want him to check into this. Someone please correct me if I am wrong.  Tom.  Also you might want to try youtube for videos on sub life and carrier life. I know I found one that was a discovery show called mighty ships and they had an hour show on my sons boat the USS Kentucky. It was very interesting. They probably have one on carrier life. Hope this helps some.   Tom

My sailor is on a fast attack sub and yes they go out on 6 months deployments.  He just recently returned from his first deployment and will go out again sometime in early 2013.  They have various underways while at home port.  While away they did make 4 port calls which he enjoyed a great deal.  That is one thing boomer crews do not get to experience.

As for videos, the you tube idea is great.  I don't know if there are any there but a good idea to check out.  There is a multi part program out called "Carrier" which chronicles life aboard a carrier, I forget which one.  I saw several episodes on PBS and it was pretty good.  I would imagine it is available on DVD.

Great stuff Mike. I thought they went out on longer deployments. 4 port calls, I bet he liked that. My son doesn't get to experience that as you said. Also Mark, my sons boomer is a large boat and doesn't have to hotrack. He has his own area if you want to call it that. Lol. Mike, how long did they stay in port for? Just curious. There are pros and cons for each I imagine. My son is single so it really didn't factor into his decision. He has wanted submarine duty since he was a sophomore in high school. My congrats go out to all that choose this service. God bless all your sailors, they are special young men.

Tom, they stayed for 6-7 days each for three of the ports and 4 days at the other.  He had an international cell phone so he called from each port too which was really great.  They had plenty of time to sight see and explore.  He took lots of pics(except on port stop where pics were not allowed) and the places they visited were wonderful.

They do hotrack on the fast attacks so I imagine not having to on a boomer is nice.  My sailor got married just prior to deployment.  While gone his wife stayed in GC with relatives which really eased the separation.  They are moved to base now and enjoying married life for real for the first time.

Yeh Mike, I wish that was something that my son would have gotten a chance to experience. You always hear about seeing the world in the Navy. But, he chose what he wanted and seems to be very happy with it. I don't know if hotracking or not makes that big a difference. I guess it gives you maybe some sort of feeling of privacy. Maybe having a little something that feels like your own. Glad to hear your son and his wife are finding a bit of normalcy now.

Yeah, my son has no real problems with his choice of sub duty.  Like your son, he said the food leaves something to be desired at times though.  The first deployment is a real stress machine as they get aboard as NUBs(non useful bodies) since they are not qualified to stand any watches and are under a tremendous amount of pressure to get qualified, besides the check offs to get their dolphins.  I have said this before but I have a feeling the pressure is on purpose in that it is nearly impossible to get check offs while at base thus they want you to qualify while they are at sea.  My son has an underway soon and said he should receive his dolphins on that after his last check off.  One more cross training qual after that and he will be set.  The next deployments should be far less stressful even though they are tested for proficiency every month as I understand it.  As you said, sub duty pushes the sailors and the challenge is great.

As for quicker promotions, not sure how that works but my son was promoted to 2nd class within two weeks of leaving on deployment, but that happened to coincide with the release of the test scores.  They have an interesting way of how they start to receive their new rank pay too.  The better they did on the test the sooner they receive their new pay level.  My son was lucky and started to receive his new pay almost immediately while others just started their new pay five months later.  The sub pay, separation pay, sea duty pay, combat zone pay, and nuke pay plus regular pay really adds up while on deployment.  A far cry from the Army pay I got back in the early 70's but really well deserved.

Oh my goodness, Thank you all for your comments...It's late now, so I'm cutting and pasting to a word doc I can read tomorrow and share with my X-wife and my son's fiance. I will reply when I have read all, and again Thank You All for the great effort!!!

This is a great discussion keep it coming, thanks.

I just found that "Submarine" documentary on Netflix and watched the first episode and it is really good.  I also looked to see if they had the video "Carrier" and they do so there is another resource.  They also have a documentary about the history of carriers.  It is absolutely amazing the equipment these young men work with, it just boggles the mind.

The show was called "Carrier" and was co-produced by Mel Gibson. 10 segments. Not much about nukes tho, except that no one in the lower enlisted ranks seemed to know "what goes on down there" Watch the show it was very well done.



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