SAA Queensland Inc.
Why do Submariners' Wear Dolphins?

(adapted from an article written for the Submariners Association of Canada)


The length of the qualification program and the degree of knowledge required of the individual to qualify as a submariner is not put in place as a matter "pride" or to make submarines distinct from other areas of the Navy. It is in place purely as a result of safety and to maximise the submarine's fighting efficiency. The systems are learned so that whatever happens in the submarine everyone knows instinctively what to do when things get rough so that the survival of the boat isn't compromised.

When things go wrong in a submarine they can rapidly escalate into a life or death situation. There isn't time to wait for "someone in the know" to appear on the scene and take corrective action. Consequently whatever a submariner's background or occupation may be he/she must be aware of his/her surroundings and be capable of taking quick action in the event of an emergency situation.

The Australian qualification program evolved from the Royal Navy Submarine Service. A tentative submariner first attends a basic submarine course where the content is a comprehensive study of submarine theory of operation, submarine systems covering all aspects of submarine equipment such as air systems, hydraulic systems, electrical systems, weapons systems, sensors and so on; in other words virtually every system in the submarine is addressed.

On completion of the basic submarine course the novice submariner joins a submarine and commences his/her on board qualification program. Now the hard work really begins, what may have been quite apparent on a classroom blackboard is not quite the same when it is in place on the submarine itself!

At first the process is intimidating with the overwhelming amount of pipes, wires, switches, button, valves and a myriad of gizmos that are all over the place. On top of this is an apparently different language being spoken in this new environment to further confuse the issue! (A "personal" learning process, high on the agenda, is learning as fast as you can how to get through the submarine, in darkness as well as light, without bashing your head, knees, elbows and other protruding parts in the process!)

As challenging and daunting as the process seems it can be accomplished when approached in a systematic matter, learning system by system over a 7 month period and tying it all together at the end. For example the first month consists mainly of items, systems and procedures vital to submarine safety such as location and use of all fire fighting, life support, first aid equipment, submarine escape systems, mainline and trimline, casing fittings and knowledge of all major onboard safety evolutions.

The next phase consists of learning the complete hydraulic system layout, all control valves and the equipment operated by hydraulics, then it is on to the air systems and so on. Throughout this period of intensive training all systems are covered which includes "chasing" each system through, (viewing each pipe, switch, valve etc. in each system) and drawing detailed, functionally correct diagrams of each system. The qualifier must be able to not only describe the theory of operation of all the equipment learned during this process, he/she must also demonstrate the ability to use it in most cases.

As the qualifier progresses through the various systems and procedures he/she must demonstrate his/her knowledge of the particular item, what its purpose is and how to operate it to a qualified member of the crew who will "sign off" the item in the qualifier's book as completed once the qualifier has demonstrated the correct knowledge.

Once the qualifier has completed all items he is given a walk through by a senior sailor who is expert in the area being covered and who examines the qualifier in all aspects of what he/she has learned. On successful completion of the senior sailor's walk through the qualifier does an officer's walk through and on successful completion moves on to the next phase.

On completion of the program the qualifier must do a final walk through of the submarine first with the Engineering Officer and then the Executive Officer. This walk through combines all he/she has learned during the qualifying process and he/she is examined in all aspects of what he/she has learned both in theory and "hands on" operation.

The final walk through is quite lengthy and includes open up for dive in all compartments which requires the qualifier to know virtually every piece of equipment in the submarine, what position, function or mode of operation it should be in and how it operates. A final walk through normally takes 8 to 10 hours to complete and is done over two or three days.

Rarely does the qualifier complete the qualification process in less than 6 months. The qualifier while completing his/her submarine qualification is also at the same time learning his/her own trade related items and equipment, standing watches and carrying out all other submarine day to day requirements. There are also many variables such as equipment availability, docking and leave periods, availability of walk through personnel and so on which tend to slow the process down somewhat. On average it is closer to a year before all is said and done. In addition the qualification process is done during the individual's "off" time, not while he/she is on watch nor while he/she is turned to working which makes for a pretty weary sailor at times.

On successful completion of the qualification program the qualifier is awarded his/her "dolphins" with much ado and great fanfare.

Sailors in surface ships (with the exception of safety items) are not required to have a great deal of knowledge of their ship outside their immediate area of employment. e.g. a stoker has a great deal of "stoker stuff" knowledge but doesn't know a whole lot about what goes on in the torpedo loading room or a cook who knows his/her galley inside out doesn't know much about the main switchboard. It is with great pride a submariner, whatever his/her trade, can take an individual through the boat and explain, in great detail, what everything in the boat does and how to operate it.

And so the newly qualified submariner heaves a sigh of relief! He/she has finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel, he/she now proudly sports his/her new dolphins on all of his kit and his/her off time is his/her own to do as he/she pleases....... not really, he/she will continue on helping new submariners through their qualification program in a never ending process of learning and teaching.

All in all, a great deal of work goes into earning your dolphins and submariners around the word wear them with a great deal of pride and a sense of accomplishment.

The next time you see a set of dolphins on a sailor's uniform give him or her a "well done". They will appreciate the acknowledgement and it may even get you a tour of their boat!

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