6 Things Movies Don't Show You About Life on a Submarine

You can probably imagine what life is like on a submarine, and it ain't cushy: You're trapped in a long metal tube, buried at sea, everything's brutally structured, and there's a lot of gay sex. Well, some of that is a myth: There's no gay sex. Or at least no more than there is anywhere else. The frequency and furiousness of the masturbation increases, sure. Not so much the sex, though.

Speaking of things that definitely won't get you laid: My name's Cleve Langdale, and I used to be a Navy nuclear machinist's mate. From the school to the fleet, it sucked. Just maybe not in the way you think ...

#6. The Training Will Drive You Crazy

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Nuke school is a year and a half of white walls, PowerPoints, and fluorescent lighting. Some say that the ships actually ran off of the souls of Nuke students, drained through the ever-flickering lights. Another popular theory was that there were no ships -- the fleet, the school, the whole thing was a myth contrived by Navy psychologists as part of a sadistic experiment.

The base is like a prison for the first two months: You sit there studying for as long as you can, then march back to the barracks, shower, sleep, and do it again. Imagine 10 hours per day learning different components of alloys and engines, followed by exercise (if you're lucky) and then ... surprise, more studying. They cram four to six years of college-level information into a six-month period. It's an impressive system, in the same way watching a car get compacted in a junkyard is impressive.

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The instructors only use nouns to save time.

People would stand up during class and post themselves at podiums in the rear, just so they could stay awake. Every now and then one of them would literally fall over. Many times I'd be watching a lecture and hear a boom as the person standing behind me collapsed and took his podium with him. On the plus side, the rest of us would be quite awake after that ... for maybe five minutes.

While I was in "A" school, we had one girl take a bunch of pills and try to off herself. In power school there was a guy who took a swan dive off of a third-story balcony. Last we heard, he was a vegetable. Yet another girl took the pill route; a dude started cutting himself and got kicked out. You probably have similar stories about your time at college, except in this case, those casualties are out of a class of about 20 people. It doesn't help that the Navy already has the highest rate of attempted suicide in the armed forces. There's a reason the mothers of Nukes have their own support group.

"Sure, he's in a metal tube, 100 meters underwater, in the middle of nowhere, but he can't call his own mother on her birthday?"

The SEALs encourage people in training to quit. They'll take a class of 200 and whittle it down until only the hardest, toughest bastards are left. But people who want to be Nukes are in short supply; the accepted ASVAB minimum scores are high, and Nukes rarely re-enlist. Civilian life can offer them such tantalizing foreign concepts as "having money" and "not living in a dank metal tube." The Navy doesn't want you to quit, so when someone does wash out, it's treated like a dereliction of duty. "How dare you betray your classmates -- nay, your country -- by wanting to live on the surface world? You don't want to be a Morlock, son? What, so a giant metal group coffin isn't good enough for you anymore?"

#5. They Fuck With the Oxygen

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The oxygen levels on a submarine are kept dramatically low. This is primarily to keep the risk of fires at a minimum, but it has some side effects. Most submariners work with their hands and get injured a fair amount. You'd be surprised what a small drop in oxygen levels will do to your body's ability to repair itself. Constantly oozing wounds are the name of the game. It is not a fun game.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
OK, maybe not that bad.

Low oxygen levels also make everyone a) tired as fuck-all, and b) constantly pissed off. The first time I went down the hatch, a guy broke a coffee mug over my head because I didn't move as fast as he would have liked. Three years later, I dropped him off at the airport when he got out; I was the last person he saw as an enlisted man, and he's one of the people I admire most in the world ... but man, do folks be pissy without their precious oxygen.

The only time they'd turn the damned stuff up was when we had a "field day," a term that means something a little different here from what it does in the civilian world. It probably means something fun to you. To the Navy, it means everyone gets the honor of cleaning everything. Everyone. Everything. But add a few extra percentage points of oxygen and everyone's happy as hell about it, so long as they get the privilege of breathing correctly.

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Even if you'll spend the day choking down Brasso and Clorox fumes.

#4. It's Incredibly Cramped

U.S. Navy via LA Times

Yes, yes, you probably assumed this one. But you do not know the extent of it. For the first two months I was on the sub, I slept in the torpedo room. Some jokers even shut me in one of the tubes once. Ha ha, pretty funny joke, guys, making me think I was going to die in the vast black abyss like that. I thought those sleeping arrangements were a bum deal, until I started "hot-racking." Three guys share two racks, so one person is always getting in as another person gets out. You know that super gross feeling you get sitting on a toilet seat warmed by someone else's butt? It's that, in a bed.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images
You unspeakable slut.

And when I say "one person is always getting into a rack as another gets out," I don't mean we were just lounging around, sleeping the day away. Submariners switch to an 18-hour day while under way. You can't see your precious life-giving and -affirming sun anyway; why keep the whole "24 hours in a day" thing? So we'd sleep six hours, work six hours, study six hours (or work more), then do it again.

But you're still in the military, so there are fitness standards to maintain. We had a stationary bike that was missing the seat. Just a little metal tube you were welcome to sit on if you enjoyed the sensation of being anally violated by a robot. We had a rowing machine that, at full extension, had your back hitting a steam pipe. Every stroke was a test in precision: "How far back can I extend before I burn the hell out of myself?"

Huntstock/Huntstock/Getty Images
"We put a sticker on it, what else do you want?"

We had a treadmill that you could run on if you were 5 foot 8 inches or shorter. I am not. I jogged along with my neck bent either to the left or the right of the pipe that cut right through the center of the track. You think YOU get sore running; try channeling the hunchback of Notre Dame for a few miles. "Just move the equipment!" you say? Ha, you think I slept in a torpedo tube because I'm agoraphobic? In a submarine, things fit where they fit. You're the one that moves.

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