A Day in the Life of a Sailor (And What Questions to Ask)

So, what does a day in the life of a sailor look like? With so many different roles and responsibilities, it should come as no surprise there’s not one schedule to fit all.  


For my husband, a typical day begins with him waking up between 5:30-6:00am.  The morning meeting typically starts around 7am or 0700. Then it’s briefings, when someone presents on various topics both classified and unclassified. The morning continues with additional meetings (division updates, deployment prep, shipyard liaising), and tons of paperwork (messages regarding parts, personnel, planning). 


Every boat is different, but most offer specific lunch themes each day, which your spouse will become accustomed to (i.e. my husband is a big fan of “burger day” but hates all seafood). Depending on what was being served that day and what time constraints he’s under, my husband might take in leftovers, eat on board or go out in town for lunch.  My husband is always hungry at 11am  as that is the typical time he eats on board. This can differ depending on the boat. 

The boat schedule and location dictate  the “busyness” of the day. In the shipyard there are days that include boredom greatly juxtaposed to insanity of PORSE (Post- Overhaul Operational Reactor Safety Examination)  prep or the exhaustion of shift work. Post-shipyard life includes many underways to certify the boat is seaworthy. Pre-deployment prep includes many underways and trainers to ensure peak crew readiness. There’s likely to be a CRE (Combat Readiness Evaluation)  and or ORSE (Operational Reactor Safety Examination) before deployment. The days before deployment are hard on everyone. You want to spend every single minute you can to soak up that last minute time as a family together, but the crew  usually experiences late nights as they prepare the submarine to leave. Those are the times of peak “busyness” of late nights and stress. 

When your spouse comes home during these times of stress and intense “busyness” there will be details they can share and many details they cannot share. Know your spouse or significant other, and what is best for them. Our first year on our first boat my husband and I had to learn ways to communicate to allow for him to deal with stress the way he needed to and share what he could share and wanted to share. 

These were the questions I learned to ask:

Do you want to spend time together tonight, or do you need alone time?

This is an important one. My husband is quite the introvert,  so extroverting all day and having a crazy day often leads to the need for alone time. This took me a long time to learn and respect because I want to know what’s going on and often talk about things. I have a friend whose husband is the total opposite, her husband comes home and shares all that he’s allowed. Know what works for your significant other and try not to be offended if they need some space to decompress. Some nights my husband and I might watch TV together and not discuss work at all. I try to bring up positive things to talk about, like our next event or activity we can look forward to. 

Will it be another long day tomorrow? Should I wait for you for dinner?

This question always helps me mentally prepare for the next day, while taking some pressure off my husband. Baseline if I was told not to wait on him for dinner that was code for he’d be home after 6pm ( but usually before 7:30pm). I would give me the freedom to go about my evening and not be waiting on him for dinner, wondering when he’d walk through the door. Later on my husband would call or text when he’d be on his way home, so I could  warm up his dinner and sit with him while he ate. This also substantially assisted in my need to call the boat. I only ever call the boat after hours aka 5pm. I’m grateful to never have had an emergency during the day that would warrant a phone call. Typically if he said he’d be home for dinner and it was 6:30pm I’d call and make sure he was still alive as I’m a big worrier.

Did you get that “check out” you were hoping to get today?

Check outs are a part of the qualification process to get “dolphins.” Qualifications are a long process that are ongoing for approximately the first year on-board a submarine. It requires a significant amount of studying and many in person “check outs” which are effectively oral quizzes on specific topics.  Your significant other will have great successes and failures ultimately concluding to the wonderful day they are pinned with their fish. Asking about the check outs they were able to accomplish that day can give you an excellent picture of events behind their mood that evening. The nights my husband received many signatures, signatures are the check marks for passing the check out by the proctor, were those of sunnier, more chatty evenings. Those with more “lookups”, the checkout proctor believes you require more study time to fully “pass” the check out to receive the signature,  as they call them typically lead to a more defeated or frustrated mood. 

Did you happen to bring home this month’s duty schedule?

The duty schedule, though up for changes, is usually set at the beginning of the month. The schedule allows you to have a sense of when your significant other needs to work and what weekends and nights you’ll have free. This can be helpful for planning going out to dinner, seeing family, etc. As with anything in the Navy, everything is subject to change. But the duty schedule can provide an initial overview of what the plan is. 

What do you want to do this weekend?

It’s best to ask this question on a day they are relaxed and home at a reasonable time. Some weekends they may want to stay in, sleep in  and binge watch Netflix. Other weekends they may feel adventurous and want to get out and explore the area. Other weekends there will be boat functions to attend. Sometimes this question can gauge how tired your significant other is and at least set you up to know what the weekend will look like. 

Submarine life can be tricky as we will never truly experience the day-to-day life of our sailors and so much of what they do cannot be discussed. However,  there are MANY MANY ways we can still be supportive. 

Do you have any routines with your significant other? What questions do you ask? Share in the comments below!

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