While the navy’s aircraft carriers get most of the media’s attention, they make up a small portion of America’s surface combatants. Destroyers, the fast, mobile, weapons-packed greyhounds of the fleet are the actual backbone of the nation’s maritime presence, constituting a large percentage of the navy’s warships. Weighing in at around 9000 tons, destroyers are just over 500 feet long and 59 feet across (150 m x 18 m) at their widest point. They are deployed around the world and are one of the most advanced killing machines ever devised.
Serving aboard a destroyer is considered in naval circles as serving in the “real navy.” With a crew of over 300 confined within the small dimensions of the ship, life can be entertaining, amazing, and frightening at the same time. Short clips of destroyers in film, television, and recruiting videos paint a pretty rosy life aboard the small but robust vessels, but they leave out some vital details. Here are ten facts of life aboard a destroyer (or any small surface combatant) revealed after peeling back the Hollywood veneer.
10. You Will Get Seasick
The good news is that you will eventually become accustomed to the rocking and rolling of the ship’s movements, and it might even help you sleep better at night. But no matter how well you can stomach the carnival rides, once the ship leaves the harbor it will be in constant motion, and you will get sick. It will pitch, roll, and yaw: sometimes violently. In heavy seas, the entire bow of the ship can disappear under water, and rolls side-to-side of 45 degrees are not unheard of. Seas can be so rough that it can be dangerous to cook, leaving cold cut sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The disheartening news is that, after you get your sea legs and can hold down breakfast, you will eventually hit a storm. The seas will get so rough that you have to experience the entire ordeal again. The only saving grace will be that even the crustiest of crewmembers will be hugging the toilet next to you. No matter how long a sailor has been at sea, the roughest of waters will reintroduce the queasiness you felt on your first days on the ocean.
9. You Won’t Get Much Sleep
Studies indicate that workers need at least seven hours of sleep per day to function effectively, but only about a third of sailors have work schedules that accommodate that amount of rest. That is navy wide and includes larger ships where crew size allows for more division of responsibility.
After a full work day of eight hours or more, expect to stand some sort of watch. That could include staring through a pair of binoculars, at a radar scope, or instrument gauges. It could also entail steering the ship or plotting navigation. Everyone has to stand after hours watch occasionally, some more than others. Then there are “special evolutions” like refueling from a tanker ship at sea, getting supplies from a helicopter, drills, and exercises . . . all of which the navy likes to conduct after hours.
The sailor’s worst enemy? A holiday at sea where you get to do nothing. The weekly schedule remains the same, only now the ship tries to pack seven days of drills and evolutions into six. Consider any day where you get four or five hours of continuous shut-eye a good day.