The sailor's life
October 23, 2006 1:51 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to live on a Navy ship? Firsthand knowledge preferred.

I'm interested in joining the Navy, but I'd like more information on the day-to-day life and accommodations. What kind of sleeping quarters are available? How much space will I have for personal items? What is there to do when I'm done working? I understand that space will be limited and that I'll be taught how to make the most of it, but I'd like more specifics on what I'll be getting myself into if I enlist. If you've served on a Navy ship, I'm interested in your experiences and in links to any Web sites with accounts that you find accurate (particularly with pictures of accommodations).

P.S. This is my first question on this site. If it's a dupe, please let me know what search terms you used to find the earlier thread so that I can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Thank you for your help.
posted by concrete to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not a Navy vet, but being that this is the internet and all, I'll comment anyway. Sixteen years working for the Defense Department, toured quite a few ships, sitting on a Navy installation as I type this.

Sleeping quarters? Check in to a dorm room at a youth hostel for a preview of all the farting, snoring glory. You'll have a tiny bunk with maybe two feet of headroom if you are lucky. You'll share this space with several people. You might be fortunate enough to get curtain to slide cloed across your bunk, unless one of your shipmates liberates them. They are a hot commodity.

Personal items? They'll issue you what you need, and you might have room for an MP3 player and a few books and magazines.

What is there to do? Most ships have gyms, libraries, internet connections and chapels, so you can find something to do.
posted by fixedgear at 4:09 AM on October 23, 2006

The excellent radio program "This American Life" devoted an hour show to life aboard the USS John C. Stennis.

A free podcost of the show is available here, and it is well worth a listen.
posted by extrabox at 4:14 AM on October 23, 2006

Those first two posts are actually going to give you a pretty good idea of life on a Navy boat - but keep in mind that the term 'boat' could offer several different options... you could end up on a Carrier, or a Destroyer, or even a Sub depending upon what you decide to do when you enlist (i.e. what 'rate' you pick). Granted, living accomodations per se won't be much different - but overall experiences will vary because of the environment.

That being said - don't let the accomodations scare you! You'll be surprised just how 'normal' it seems after a while. Also - the pluses of serving in the Navy (for me, at least) far outweigh the little annoyances of life aboard ship.

I don't have a link - but the Discovery Channel ran a show called "Carrier - Fortress at Sea" a while back. Was a good show with an honest look at life on a carrier - from people having both good and bad experiences.

If you should decide to join - best of luck to you and be proud of yourself!

Although you haven't asked for it, I'll do you a favor and go ahead and give you some advice:

1. No one is responsible for your Navy career except you. Remember this one and refer to it repeatedly throughout your career.
2. Your experience in the Navy will only be what you make of it - it will either be great or it will suck. It's entirely up to you.
posted by matty at 4:46 AM on October 23, 2006

Here's the Amazon link for Carrier: Fortress at Sea. Although it's only $3 - maybe you can find it somewhere 'cheaper' on the internets...
posted by matty at 4:49 AM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Hmmm, living quarters and personal space on a ship...

Well, you have a bunk. They're stacked three high, and the ceiling isn't all that high, so the bottom two people can't sit up in their bunks without banging their heads. (The top person generally can, but your head is right up there with the pipes along the ceiling.) The bottom two people get stepped on every time the top person gets into or out of their bunk. The bottom person is only a few inches off the ground, errr, deck. There's generally a small light in your bunk so you can turn it on and read. The length of the bunk is something like 6'2" (there's metal at both ends), so if you're taller than that, your legs will hang out the side or you'll be curled up in the fetal position all the time.

Built into the bunk is a small locking drawer. It's shallow and not too wide nor deep, but you can store writing materials, the book you're reading, Ipods, crap like that in the drawer.

You also have a fairly large square locker of sorts. About 3' by 3' by 4' or so. This holds all your gear, everything you own or have been temporarily issued by the military. Sea bags, dirty laundry, whatever. It's covered not with a door but with a rolldown metal bar curtain - the kind of things that stores in a mall use to cover their glass windows. So small items could be grabbed through the bars if they weren't stored in your sea bag. My very strong hint: buy a second sea bag as soon as you can (the military will issue you one, but two is more useful.) Don't fill it all the way though - remember you will have to carry everything you own from time to time.

That's it. The room your bunk is in will contain a total of anywhere from 10-40 people. There will be a communal shower/bathroom down the hall relatively nearby.

The whole ship will smell quite strongly of feet. This is permanent, but you get used to it. From about 24 hours to one week into any voyage, it will also smell quite strongly of vomit. Anti-nausea patches and pills are available - I suggest you take advantage of them.

What is there to do - most ships have internet connections for email, but not for web browsing. There will be a small ship's library tucked away in a closet somewhere where you can take out military classics and pulp novels favored by young men. (Hope you like Tom Clancy and Dean Koontz!) You can also talk to people and play cards, go topside and watch the sun set in [insert ocean here], exercise, etc. There will be a small rec room somewhere with a TV, DVD player, perhaps even an Xbox. Of course you're sharing this equipment with several hundred buddies.

That's on a surface ship. I think subs are somewhat more cramped. And, uh, no topside, obviously.

On shore your life will be better - you'll be in a small room with one other person, and you'll have a proper wall locker, and you'll share a bathroom with the two-man room next door. Much more civilized. But you'll spend less time on shore than you think unless the job you are assigned is one that exists solely on shore.
posted by jellicle at 6:37 AM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Kind of a derail, but of my two close friends who've joined up, both terribly regret it. One joined the Air Force and is stationed as an MP in North Dakota. He's too independently minded for military life and, of course, N. Dak completely and thoroughly sucks for him. He also seems to despise the general type of people who come into the service. Most of them, he says, are just fuck ups in the real world who couldn't keep jobs or pay bills and need someone to tell them how to do it. It's also killed his marriage. She's going home next week.

The other joined the Navy as a corpsman. He was in the middle of a college semester training to be a lab tech when they pulled him out and shipped he and his wife to Camp Lejeune where he later shipped out with the Marines to Fallujah. That was about the last thing he was expecting when he signed up to be a Navy nurse. He also has some trouble meeting like-minded folk. He's also sacrificed his wife's legal career by moving her to Crapsville, NC when she should be working on her JD. Passive aggressive bitterness is sure to ensue.

Both talk about the rampant cheating that goes on back home during deployment, on both sides of the ocean. Having grown up in a Navy town, it's been pretty obvious to me too.

I think my only point is that it's good you're asking questions about all this, but think of the questions you haven't asked. Do you expect to maybe find an awesome girl you'd want to settle down with before 2010, when you'd get out? Are you cool with being on call-up (reserve) till 2014? Assuming you're at all liberal - you are on MetaFilter, after all - do you mind working with men and women who openly hate those who fashion themselves intellectuals? Can you handle not having control over your the major aspects of your life as an adult?

I imagine the military is like most extraordinary jobs out there: if you really do understand what you're getting into and you're willing to make the sacrifices to do it, then absolutely do it. You'll come out like matty with a positive experience. Otherwise, you'll likely end up bitter and feeling defeated at life like my two buddies.


- A Guy Who Was Absolutely Positive He'd be in the Military, Until About the Age of 17
posted by trinarian at 6:56 AM on October 23, 2006

My brother served on the guided missile cruiser Vella Gulf as Fire Control (he ran the mainframes). He forwarded a list of how to simulate life in the Navy. I'll post a few of the things to give you the gist of the experience.

[FC3 CRS' brother] This is my life, I swear to God. You'd laugh your ass off if you were ever in the Navy.

1. Buy a dumpster, paint it gray and live in it for 6 months straight.

2. Run all of the piping and wires inside your house on the outside of the walls.

4. Every couple of weeks, dress up in your best clothes and go the scummiest part of town, find the most run down, trashy bar you can, pay $10 per beer until you're hammered, then walk home in the freezing cold.

6. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays turn your water temperature up to 200 degrees, then on Tuesday and Thursday turn it down to 10 degrees. On Saturdays, and Sundays declare to your entire family that they used too much water during the week, so all showering is secured.

7. Raise your bed to within 6 inches of the ceiling.

8. Have your next door neighbor come over each day at 5am, and blow a whistle so loud that Helen Keller could hear it and shout "Reveille, Reveille, all hands heave out and trice up".

12. Invite 200 of your not-so-closest friends to come over, then board up all the windows and doors to your house for 6 months. After the 6 months is up, take down the boards, wave at your friends and family through the front window of your can't leave until the next day you have duty.

13. Shower with above-mentioned friends.

14. Make your family qualify to operate all the appliances in your home (i.e. Dishwasher operator, blender technician, etc.).

26. Spend 2 weeks in the red-light districts of Europe, and call it "world travel."

30. When your children are in bed, run into their room with a megaphone,and shout at the top of your lungs that your home is under attack, and order them to man their battle stations. ("General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations")

32. Post a menu on the refrigerator door informing your family that you are having steak for dinner. Then make them wait in line for at least an hour, when they finally get to the kitchen, tell them that you are out of steak, but you have dried ham or hot dogs. Repeat daily until they don't pay attention to the menu any more so they just ask for hot dogs.

37. Sleep on the shelf in your closet. Replace the closet door with a curtain. Have you wife whip open the curtain about 3 hours after you go to sleep. She should then shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble "Sorry, wrong rack."

49. Once a month, take every major appliance apart and put them back together again.

51. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills of your front and back doors so that you either trip or bang your head every time you pass through one of them.

52. Every so often, throw the cat in the pool and shout "Man overboard, starboard side"

53. Put on the headphones from your stereo set, but don't plug them in. Hang a paper cup around your neck with string. Go stand in front of yours tove. Say ... to no one in particular "Stove manned and ready" Stand there for three or four hours. And say again to no one in particular "stove secured." Roll up your headphones and paper cup and place them in a box.
posted by CRS at 7:06 AM on October 23, 2006 [12 favorites]

I have to admit, I had it pretty easy for my 6 years in the Navy (3 active/3 reserve with 6 months for Desert Storm). I never served on a ship the entire time, nor was i ever stationed outside the US. For the most part, I got along OK with fellow sailors and my command structure, even though I was a pretty blatant non-conformist, peacenik, intellectual. That said, for the most part is was just boring and I spent a lot of time getting drunk.
Just because of the current administrations hell bent for ongoing war policies, I wouldn't join now if you paid me (a lot).
posted by doctor_negative at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2006

The general public can take tours of Navy ships, you know. I got mine from an old college roommate who was an officer- he just showed me around the ship - but there are scheduled tours while ships are in dock.

The description above of living space is accurate as far as it goes, but fails to really convey how cramped and public your tiny little 9 cubic feet of living space really is. You should tour a ship before you sign up.

It's also rather interesting how much nicer the officers' quarters and mess are, compared the ones for the enlisted. If you enlist you're signing up to travel in second-class.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2006

Why the navy? You particularly want to join the military? Or you want to go to sea? Because I don't know what the USA is like, but over here hardly anyone's heard of the Merchant Navy and so doesn't consider it; in the USA it's called the Merchant Marine.

You get to go to sea, but - even as a rating, except probably on passenger ships where space it at a premium - you get your own cabin, quite possibly with an ensuite; there is significantly less chance of being shot at, and less of the whistles and shouting and saluting. On the other hand, items 4, 6, 26, 32, 49 and 51 of the list above still apply.

As you may have guessed, whistles and saluting didn't really appeal to me, but going to sea did. I haven't got to the 'making lots of money' bit yet, but I fully intend to. Whatever you do decide, good luck!
posted by Lebannen at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Village People did a short documentary on on the subject, with help from the Navy. "The Navy provided them with a war ship, several aircraft, and hundreds of Navy men."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:56 PM on October 23, 2006

« Older I'd like a club lemon and a non-smoking seat away...   |   Citation of Video Games? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.