How long were you a submariner, and what was your rank and responsibility?
I was a submariner in the French Navy for 28 years, retiring as a Commanding Officer of the French SSN squadron (escadrille des sous-marins nucléaires d’attaque or ESNA) in Toulon.
What is your role at Naval Group?
After leaving the Navy three years ago, I took a position at Naval Group as the Head of Operational Marketing. Part of that role is to help the naval architects ensure their submarine designs are fit for purpose.
What is living on a submarine like, and how long did you spend at any one time onboard?
Different patrols lasted for different lengths of time, generally anywhere between 50 – 80 days. Generally, there was little to no connectivity with the outside world depending on the purpose of the patrol. Only certain people get to look out of the periscope, so being able to see outside was limited.
With a crew of around 70 people living in 90 square meters, you have to be mentally prepared for each patrol by understanding the objectives, your role, as well as bringing a positive attitude to the day, otherwise people would suffer from the isolation.
How did you organize your day, and make sure you stayed on task and worked efficiently?
The most important thing to note is that we had good working stations set up, no matter your role. We always planned our day around our meals to ensure we kept on a strict timeline, we ate well, slept well and maintained our grooming habits. These are the fundamental tasks you have control over, so it was important that you keep order and consistency, otherwise you become less efficient and disorganized.
How did you handle stress and anxiety in a small space?
There wasn’t a lot of stress on-board as everyone knew their role; we shared the burden of our patrols and leaned on each other for support. What’s important to remember when working in isolation is connecting with the people you are surrounded by, through phone calls or video chats. That human contact is important.
It’s most common to experience feelings of isolation by the 40 day mark, it’s a well-known phenomenon amongst submariners that is the most difficult period, so we forward plan to ensure we have something organized, a special meal or a games night for example to help build morale.
What is your advice to people currently living in isolation?
The most important thing you can do is organize your days, you must find the balance between working and living, which includes looking after yourself through exercise, sleeping, having a quality diet and grooming.
You should also, where possible try to have a positive outlook. This period of isolation will end, and you’ll be able to return to normal life eventually. Keep an eye out for your team members and friends, those who are withdrawing further will need your support the most!
Find special events, meals, books or days to look forward to. Giving yourself something out of the ordinary to look forward to gives you a break from your constant ‘at home life’. Most importantly though, when you look out your window, think of all those submariners who can’t!