Essentially unlimited power allows a nuclear-powered submarine to maintain a far more comfortable environment than was ever possible in conventional submarines. But close quarters, especially in attack submarines, still make for such hardships as restricted storage space, little opportunity for exercise, and lack of privacy.



Chief's Head
Although the "head," or toilet, in a submarine looks like its terrestrial counterpart, there are major differences. Waste on a submarine is transferred into a holding tank below the commode via a hand-operated ball valve. To remove it, the tank is pressurized up to 700 psi (49.2 kg/sq. cm) and the waste is then blown outside the pressure hull.

Clothes Washer and Dryer
Early Cold War nuclear-powered submarines had space for only a single clothes washer that handled as little as 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of dirty laundry; later ones have greater capacity. Whatever the capacity, however, machine time always had to be rationed. A crew member had to plan ahead and sign up for an available time slot to use the washing machine and dryer.





Crew Berthing
The personal space for the crew on a nuclear-powered submarine is extremely tight, as shown by these stacked bunks from USS Trepang (SSN-674). The bins underneath the berths represent the only space a sailor has to store his clothing and other personal items for the duration of a patrol. On a fast attack boat such as Trepang, the crowding can be so great that three men may "hot bunk," or share two bunks between them, so that when one is on duty, another is asleep.

Submarine Uniform (Poopie Suit)
The standard uniform for officers and crew in a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine at sea is blue coveralls. They are made of lint-free polyester, because lint could clog the air purification system. This garment, known as a "poopie suit," is simple, easy to wear, and practical. Footwear is up to the individual, so long as it has a non-slip rubber sole, which also has the advantage of being quiet. Sneakers are popular.

Back to: Homepage / Operating a Nuclear Submarine / Life Aboard

Copyright © 2000, The National Museum of American History