PREPARING FOR DEPLOYMENT
For your submariner their first deployment will be their first long time away from home in a submarine, it will also be a huge professional challenge for them. They will have to learn how to live with a bunch of people who all know more than them, they will have to learn their professional job but more importantly they will have to persuade their shipmates that they too are competent submariners. It is very daunting – they know it will be very hard work and very stressful for them and are likely to forget it will be the same for you!
Even if it is not their first time away there is much for them to do in preparing for their particular role: training in simulators, courses, ordering stores, stowing the stores, cleaning the boat, training their own teams, cleaning the boat, fuelling, did I mention cleaning the boat?
With stress levels rising at work bickering and arguments are sometimes the result at home but recognising why this is happening and all parties understanding it is the first line of defence. Practical stuff can also help you get through this period.
Here are some tips:
- Make sure you know where all the important documents are: house and car insurance, birth certificates, passports, MOT and so on.
- Are you authorised to operate the utility bills?
- Plan how you will pay the household bills – do you have a joint account? Do you have access to savings? Are any major bills going to need to be paid?
- Having an emergency money reserve for unexpected expenses is a good idea but if you suddenly run short of cash we can help – see the Emergencies Section on this website.
- Put key dates like car insurance renewal on your calendar or on the fridge.
- Think about what presents (Christmas, birthday, anniversary) to send with them and hopefully they will think about what presents to leave behind for you! Small gifts/sweets/cards to be opened on agreed dates will cheer up your submariner and make life a little easier.
- Download and read the Royal Navy Family and People Service (RNFPS) Deployed Information Pack which you can get hold of by signing up to the Royal Navy Forum.
Yes here we go again with the S-word. Security is key to both keeping your submariner safe and the boat achieving its aim whilst on patrol. The best tip is simply not to talk, tweet, post, email or write about what your submariner does, when they are doing it and when they might be home. Around Faslane there are people who are paid by the tabloid press to listen to conversations and report any submarine related gossip. If you hear others saying things they shouldn’t either tell them or let us know. The Base Security Officer is on 01436 674321 Ext 6232.
All About Dates
So it is really important to understand how boats programmes work. For those whose submariner is serving on a bomber you will receive a Not Before Date (NBD) by letter some days after the boat has sailed. This date is the earliest date the boat might return. It is not the return date – programmes are flexible. This is often the hardest thing to get to grips with for the new submariner’s family. For those in attack boats the system is less formal and your submariner should give you an indication of when the boat may be back but again this is not a fixed date and you should treat is only as an approximation.
Boats can sometimes come home unexpectedly early but quite regularly they can be extended on patrol. You might ask why and we will always say “for operational reasons”. This will be annoying but patrols or deployments are only ever extended for really important things. It maybe that the next boat to deploy has been delayed by a defect or that the international situation has changed and your boat needs to sit off the coast of a country ready to react to a crisis or indeed something completely different.
The Navy will always try to keep you informed but in a fast changing situation the date could change several times. For the bomber families you will eventually get a 48 hour letter (by email and by post) and then you can believe you finally know when they will be home! For attack boats again the system is less formal but the 5th Watch will contact you with updates about homecoming. The 5th Watch are those who have not sailed with the boat- there is a 5th Watch Officer in charge.
Each boat, Bombers and Attack Boats, have a nominated person with a mobile phone always ready to take and handle emergency calls. For Bombers this is the Support Crew Duty Officer and for Attack Boats it is the Submarine Family Liaison Officer. It is really important that you get this number from your submariner before they deploy. .
We are fortunate to live in an age where social media means information can be shared an obtained at the click of your fingers. That said, there is also an enormous responsibility on friends and family members treating what your submariner and the Navy tells you regarding their deployment as privileged information for you only. The excitement of a boats impending return may feel like a cause for celebration and sharing, but doing this has previously resulted in a delay to their return on occasion. No one wants their loved-one being kept out longer than necessary but security requirements (security again!) means sharing this sensitive information on social media could ultimately pose a risk to the boat. Once your submariner is home and shoreside, then share photos of their return by all means.
No matter what else you do join the RN Forum. It is a safe space designed for you with areas for: submariners’ families, accommodation, deployment, some boat specific pages and much more.
You may also be told about informal social media groups – should you join one be ultra-careful as these are more likely to be vulnerable to those who are ill-intentioned.
Remember your personal social media can be an easy way for others to find out what your submariner is doing so make sure your privacy settings are tight and think before you post!
Your submariner can transfer 6 travel warrants to immediate family members over the course of a year. There are some rules about what you can and cannot do with these so you might want to plan your travel before they go. Also spouses and civil partners of submariners are entitled to the HM Forces Railcard which for £21 a year gives 1/3 off most rail fares.
Keeping in touch
When a boat is on patrol the general rule is that it very seldom, if ever, breaks radio silence. This is because it is very easy for an enemy or potential enemy to find its exact location from just one brief transmission. When it does transmit then it is only for urgent operational reasons. The end result of this is that personal messages are seldom sent from sea. That said there are very occasionally opportunities for an email exchange with the attack boats though never with the bombers.
On the other hand boats do receive radio messages from home regularly. These messages are mainly to do with operational stuff like what other units Headquarters (sometimes referred to as ‘Northwood’) thinks are operating near your boat (this is what we call ‘intelligence’ – no jokes please!), weather, orders about what the boat is to do next and so on.
Because the messages have to go a long way and even penetrate below the surface of the sea they are usually sent by a very low frequency radio wave. The end result of this is that it takes a long time to send a single message. Each time we send out a set of messages it is called a Broadcast Schedule (or Sked). The good news is that there is sometimes space on a Sked and then we use that for some personal messages from you!
These messages are called Familygrams or FAMGRAMS. The allowed length of each FAMGRAM and how often you can send them change depending on the type of patrol so check this with your submariner now and make sure to read all about FAMGRAMS and how they work here. Link to SOP 6
Another new word! Every member of a crew fills in a form which includes the following key bits of information:
- Whether or not they want to participate in the FAMGRAM scheme.
- Who their Next of Kin are.
- The details of two nominees who are allowed to send them FAMGRAMS.
- How often they will expect FAMGRAMS and if their nominee should be hastened if the FAMGRAM is overdue.
- Details of any issues that may arise whilst they are away. Some examples might be a partner is pregnant, a parent is ill, a house sale is due to complete.
What about the children?
Hard though it may be for you the best way for the kids to deal with a deployment is for them to see it as a perfectly normal part of their lives. This is just Mum or Dad going off to work and the more fuss you make about it the more they will worry.
That said it is good to have a plan to see you through the forthcoming separation. You may not have heard of Aggies but they are one of our oldest charities that have been supporting sailors and their families since 1876! They have a scheme called Storybook Waves which allows your submariner to record bedtime stories before they sail which are then professionally edited and sent back to you on a CD. Aggies will also send out a free Storybook Waves Pack to all children aged 7 and over which includes a deployment journal. Contact Aggies by email: [email protected] or phone: 023 9265 0505.
Some ideas from those who have survived:
- Get hold of the RNFPS Kids Pack
- Have a countdown (based on the week after the Not Before Date): move sweets into a jar each day, have a jar of things to remember to tell Dad/Mum, have a jar of fun things to do when they get home, just use a calendar and tick the days off.
Want to learn more? The Naval Families federation have produced an excellent and detailed guide called The Experience of Parental Absence in Royal Navy and Royal Marines Families with explanations, research, suggestions and advice.
There is a danger of being overwhelmed with advice and this in itself leading to worry but it is worth letting your child’s school know that a parent is about to be deployed and if their school is not near a Naval Base then you might draw their attention to the nattily named Service Children’s Progression (SCiP) Alliance is packed full of stuff to help them help your child.