The Patrol – being a Submariner’s Girlfriend

14th October 2015

My boyfriend is a submariner in the Royal Navy.  He spends chunks of the year 60m underwater and I have no idea where.  During that time, we can’t speak. I can send him up to 120 words in telegram form but he has no way of replying. His mum and I split this allowance so we can send 60 words each.  He will likely be working six hours on, six hours off for the entire 90 days (or so) that he is away.  What he does and where he goes is so secret, the majority of the crew on board won’t have a clue where they have been. The submarine remains underwater the entire time.


For the one left behind, it becomes a challenge in being patient, particularly when dealing with the common dialogue of “When’s he home?” – I don’t know. “How’s he getting on?” – I don’t know. “Have you heard from him?” – No. “Has he emailed?” – No! “Where is he?” – I don’t know.

You get the idea.

The cycle of emotions is intense but then you learn to adapt and to settle into routine. I send my 60 word message to him on a Sunday evening reflecting on the week that has been, signing off “Miss you, Love you” which doesn’t quite convey what I so desperately want it to.  You find yourself  wanting to punch the television when you flick through programmes and hear a bride weeping about three weeks without her man on ‘Don’t tell the Bride’. Its difficult not to roll your eyes when the girls are complaining their other half hasn’t text since the morning.

You hold onto memories of the weeks that ran up to patrol, all the snatched moments, the country walks and the impromptu days out.  Of course that is what having a submariner in your life does, it makes you appreciate the time that you do have together.  You learn to make the most of the down time and cram it full of moments that will keep you going through the long days of patrol.  It makes you even more proud of them, for the job they do that 9 out of 10 people have a no real idea about nor could cope with.

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At home, other wives and girlfriends of those on the same crew connect with each other to create a network of support across the country. You know who is having a bad day, you share news with each other that you wish you could share with him and you celebrate the little victories (plumbing skills for the win!).  Admiring those that are being both mum and dad to their children whilst the submarine is away and picking up comfort, and wisdom, from those who have been married for thirty years and to whom this is old hat.  They understand, they don’t pretend it’s easy and they’ll put up with your rants!

It forces better communication between you as a couple, to discuss separation, to vocalise emotions. To deal with the tears.  It encourages old fashioned romance – this time I sent him off with a journal full of “Open When…” letters and photos of fun times. He arranged, to my surprise, for flowers to be delivered once he had gone. A reminder that he loves me and that he is thinking of me.

So to all of you who stand with a submariner, I’m proud of you! It’s tough and its emotional but we get through it and it makes us stronger – as individuals and as a couple.

Here’s to the end of patrol and the wonderful feeling of being reunited with someone who  you can’t live life to the full without.

  1. What a lovely article. I’m girlfriend to a RN aviator so our comms aren’t quite as tight, but I can relate to a lot of what you’ve said. I don’t know too many RN other halfs so I can especially relate to the ‘Where is he? Has he emailed?’…/sigh. I love that he arranged to have flowers sent, very sweet!

    1. Thank you Sarah! It’s lovely of you to comment. The flowers surprised me…see? These men do have a heart occasionally! :) Hope you are currently getting lots of quality time with your man. x

  2. This was such a good read, my boyfriend has just been deployed and I don’t know how I’m going deal with the separation. I’m full of anxiety and dread because, as like you, he’s a submariner so comms are none existent and I don’t think I’ll be able to cram life into 150 words that they’re allowed x

    1. Hey Ash, so sorry I didn’t realise you had commented. Thank you for stopping by! How is deployment going? Have you settled into a familygram routine now? Do connect in on social media if you need further support! B x

  3. I am completely in the same boat. (No pun intended). I really needed to read something like this tonight. Feeling down. So thank you for this, you’ve nailed it! Xx

    1. Olivia, thank you so much for commenting and I’m so sorry I didn’t reply earlier! I didn’t get a notification and missed it. How are you feeling? It’s a tough gig but it will end and they will come home! Do connect in with me on Twitter, Instagram or FB if you need support. B x

  4. Hi, Beckie. I found your article by accident but I’m glad I did, I’m slowly building up a relationship with a Submariner, who has been deployed away, he has gone ‘Dark’ with no comms on the other boats! I send letters which he does receive, I agree it’s funny how romance seems to blossom in a different way, with the lack of emails and Text messages. I never thought that I would write letters again! I’ve joined the blog so I’ll be on ‘watch’

    Petworth Girl myself!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thanks so much for commenting! And welcome to the ‘submarine world’! I’m glad you’ve found that you can send letters, that’s a lovely way of communicating. Let me know if you need any help or advice! Beckie x

  5. Hi Beckie, I’m ex-RAF and for the last 20 or so years I’ve helped build submarines and never once have I thought about this, the people the crews (who are all superheroes in my eyes) leave behind. In my RAF days we had Skynet; E-mail, phone calls and a few videos were all possible. But not for you. That’s amazing. Your blog is a real eye opener, you all deserve Queen’s commendations for just putting up with something you have absolutely no control over. I wish you well. Hope he comes home soon. And thank you.

    1. Hi Simon, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. It does surprise people that we are technology free (necessarily so!) but we find the positives in other ways and like I always say…they do eventually come home! I hope you enjoy building the subs – thank you for keeping them safe! Beckie

  6. Hi Beckie! The submarine service i believe is not only tough for those deployed but also for those left behind. I have been daily messaging a submarine officer for over a year now while he has been completing his training and courses. He is now due to be deployed soon and although he messaged he will arrange to meet when he returns after months away he has suddenly stopped responding to my messages and the last message sent a few days ago i know hasnt been read. I don’t know if it’s because he is really busy prior to the deployment with preparations or if he is distancing himself with a change of heart about me. He recently told me that while deployed there are no e mails, texts or mobile use and I do not have access to the 60 word family gram while he’s away. He knows I am proud of him and the work he does and I have told him I will stay loyal and wait for his return when we can meet in person. I just feel confused and I know he has been online today. I have never put him under pressure to meet or continue long distance messaging and don’t usually message him until I know he has read my last , but I am tempted after days with no response, to message one more time . I guess it’s because I’ve read on some forums today that some servicemen/women end a relationship before a deployment and im wondering if hes ghosting me. I guess im looking for reassurance that he really does want me to wait. This is all a new experience for me including the long distance relationship and it’s not the waiting without contact itself that is bothering me but the not knowing before and waiting to know during deployment if he still wants to be with me that I am anxious about because I won’t know the answer until he return’s.

    1. Hi Gina,

      What you’re feeling is only natural and many will go through this as well. I was in the same position as you earlier this year, my man goes away 6 + months a year back to back, he is on the A’s there is no email or family grams for him due to his role, but on ashore email only. I write to him knowing that after the first 3 months have been completed, he will have read my letters, and taken them aboard for the next deployment. I take it your guy is only on 3 months?
      If I may offer some help for you, (I just come in from work at 04:00 so I may miss something but later I
      will come back to adjust or add) If you can avoid looking at forums seeing the bad your then only see the bad. I always go by the last message so for example, if he said I look forward to seeing you after or other positive points, I would go with that. As he may be about to deploy, sometimes the boat, will set sail sooner or later due to service requirements.

      As we all know men think about things slightly different and can seem focused on the job in hand, it doesn’t say that they don’t care, they do in their own way, they can also be fragile. so if you’re going to send another message, keep it short and sweet, also positive too, so when he does pick it up, he has something from a woman who he can trust with his heart and understand him and his role within the RN, being an officer too, you will find that, they are a different breed to the surface skimmers,
      What you can do is to make your life some much busier, that way time fly’s past, your role or position is to be that great lady behind that great man, it is hard not knowing but the time will go by and you will have your answer in time.

      1. Hi Kris! Thank you so much for your message! It has made me feel more positive. He had told me he will be away for a total of around 4 months I’m guessing thats because dates are strictly confidential and can change . The last message he sent was positive but that was a few weeks ago before a short spell at sea where he told me he would then be back for a short time before a long patrol. He read my first message but not replied. Not unusual when he’s busy. To not read a message at all after telling me when hed be back and knowing i would message is unusual especially having been online over the last few days. I just hope that if he’s not interested he would tell me that’s all because I am going to stay loyal and wait for him. I think its an amazing and difficult type of work pattern and life that a submariner has to endure to keep the nation safe. Not many could endure this job . I admire him immensely and so proud of him. I do have lots to keep me busy over the next few months and I know it will pass. Thank you for your reply and positive attitude it’s very kind of you.

        1. Hi Gina,
          Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Oh I feel for you, it is so tough! As Kris said (thanks so much for showing support and replying so quickly!) try to focus on the positives. Those few weeks before deploying are so busy for the submarine and although you really want to hear it might just be so busy that he hasn’t had time. Sometimes a whatsapp message sneaks through and it’s easy to wonder why a reply wasn’t sent but they’re actually not allowed their phones down in the secure areas or on the boats either. There’s also something called the deployment cycle of emotions (google it – you’ll find it on the RN website) which I thought was too predictable to be true but from our experience we’ve found ourselves on each stage! Distancing happens before deployment a it is a coping mechanism so he might just be feeling guilty about going and causing you pain rather than trying to end things! I’m sure he missed you just as much and would love to pick the phone up. I hope you get a call or message before they sail and keep focusing on the happy. Always here if you want more support! Beckie xx

  7. Thanks for the article! My other half has recently gone off on another patrol and will be away for a few months ( away for Christmas aswell) and so feeling really down! It’s nice to see that there’s others about with the same experiences.

    1. I’m thinking our boys may be away on the same boat! Mines recently left as well and away for christmas. It’s hard isn’t it! It’s so good to know we’re not alone through this and have so many people who understand what it’s like.

      1. So glad you are connecting in! It’s a rubbish time adjusting to those first few weeks – thinking of you. :) Hope you have lots of fun plans to distract over the next few months xx

        1. Hi Beckie and everyone else waiting for the return of their loved one. Well I’m trying to occupy myself the best I can. I’m exercising regularly and eating healthy to make sure I look my best when he returns in a few months. Just signed up to start a degree course distance learning and changed my job too. So got lots to do while he’s away to keep myself super busy. Visited the nearby Abbey and with the most warmest of thoughts lit a candle for him and another one too for all those brave service men and women out there making sacrifices to keep us all safe. Hope everyone is coping. It’s so difficult not having contact. I know i sound crazy but every morning I look at his picture and wish him good morning and every night I wish him goodnight. It’s just my way of coping . Best wishes everyone. Gina : )

      2. I think mine my be on the same boat too, not home yet and this deployment feels likes its fine on forever. I ca send family grams but I’m starting to struggle with them, seem to say the same thing over and over. I miss him like crazy but hopefully he won’t be away much longer!

  8. Hi Gina,

    Hope you’re well, Looks like you certainly got plenty to do. Exercising, I found is a great way to pass the time and also makes a healthy body and mind too. It certainly sounds like your also making the best version of you as well, which people in your life will pick up on. This leads nicely onto your last point and no you don’t sound crazy, every day, I look at my guy’s photo and I send him positive affirmations like I hope you have an amazing day today, and other such comments, by doing this you send out into the world positive thoughts, which in time your guy will pick up on. I know when my guy has had a long and or stressful day, (now 5 months out), so when I can I send him my love etc. there are other things you can try too but that’s not for here.
    As Beckie will say Being a Submariners Wife, girlfriend, partner etc is one of the hardest jobs/roles you
    can be in, you have my love and support.


    1. Hi Kris , thanks again for your response . It’s good to know I’m not the only one who talks to a picture of someone dearly missed and close to the heart. It’s a lovely thought to hear my warmest thoughts and feelings will eventually reach him. Best wishes. Gina : ) x

      1. Remembrance Sunday a reminder of all those brave men and women who have sacrificed themselves to enable our freedom of choice and speech away from dictatorship! Missing him dearly while he’s away on deployment and wearing my poppy with pride today : ) xx

  9. My boyfriend is A submariner and is away at the moment, he has been away since October so I really needed to hear some other people’s views as I have no one who can relate to me. I also hate the questions of… Oh hasn’t he wrote to you? Or don’t you know where he is? It gets so frustrating.
    He was supposed to be home by now but they trip has been extended and with the busy festive period out of the way I am finding it harder. I have a lot of respect for anyone in the military and there partners/families xx

    1. Hi Nikki, hope your submariner comes home soon. I know what it is like to have an extended patrol – P isn’t away at the moment, I wrote this post a little while ago but I do remember those feelings. Gosh it is hard work! Hope you can start to feel excited soon and enjoy the reuniting! B xx

    2. Hi Nikki,

      My BF was black watch 6 months away, he is on landside at the moment on duties, due to the manning problem and awaits his leave, he has been away 9 months in the last 14 due to his trade.
      we hope to meet up in March.
      The time does go by, for me, I keep myself busy, sports, learning, getting out and about. Is there something you always wanted to do/take up? maybe now is the time.
      Yes, it is hard but it does get better, one mindset is that you know you love him but you don’t need him to survive.
      Remember to stay positive, he misses you too and will make every attempt to contact you, visit you when his duties allow.

      When my BF comes back he knows that I’m going to cry and blubber on his chest, but I take ownership of my feelings and soon allow him to be the man he is, he becomes the provider and protector. which he loves.
      I hope this helps.

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