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I am trying to keep the jargon to a minimum. Please bear with me, I will begin filling in nodes with more information to make things at least as clear as mud. 1

Emergency Blow

This is the actual terminology used in both the official orders and the slang discussion of the United States Navy Submarine Fleet.

The phrase "Emergency Blow" is one of a series of orders that is passed when the Captain (or any of a number of less senior officers who currently has the "Conn") orders the boat to "Emergency Surface". Using this phrase triggers the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the same title.

The string of orders flows something like this:2

  1. Conning Officer - "Emergency Surface!"
  2. Diving Officer (usually a senior enlisted man) - "Emergency Surface, Aye Sir!"
  3. Diving Officer - "Helm, all ahead flank and cavitate , full rise on the fairwater planes!3 Stern, full rise on the stern planes; reach and maintain a forty degree up bubble! Chief of the Watch, sound the diving alarm and pass the word on the 1MC 4 'Emergency Surface!"

  4. (At this point, the ship is rapidly reaching that aforementioned "forty degree up bubble", the diving alarm is going off (aaaaOOOOgggAAAAHHHHH, aaaaOOOOOgggAAAAHHHhhh), at least three people are repeating the Diving Officer's commands back to him, the ship is shuddering as the 15,000 shaft horsepower torques the screw fast enough to literally dig holes in the water 1000 feet below the surface, and sailors are falling out of their racks from either the angle or the knowledge that something VERY wrong is happening. The entire evolution above takes MAYBE 7 seconds.)

  5. Diving Officer - "Chief of the Watch, EMERGENCY BLOW!" (Insert whatever dirty sailor joke you have here. Go ahead. I'll wait.)



Now it gets mechanically interesting: The Chief of the Watch will stand up (at a 40 degree angle) and reach above his head to two valves, one for the forward Main Ballast Tanks, one for the aft Main Ballast Tanks. These valves are wired shut, but have a quick release mechanism. The Chief of the Watch will rotate the "T" handles of these valves 90 degrees counter-clockwise and push them through 90 degrees vertical.5

The valves release air that has been compressed and stored in two separate clusters of air tanks (yes, these are also our "breathing air" tanks) located forward and aft, cross connected and pressurized to 4,500 p.s.i.6 When this air is released, it immediately flows through several one-way "check" valves7 with a bang that will make you jump half out of your skin, even when you expect it.

This air is dumped into the Main Ballast Tanks, forcing the seawater out of these tanks through vents in the bottom. Air go in, water go out, boat is very quickly positively buoyant.

Positive buoyancy + forty degree up-angle + flank speed = Seriously high speed elevator!

You DO NOT ever want to experience this unexpectedly!

Very few things will cause a submarine commander to reveal his position by either making noise or putting his boat8 on the roof (surfacing).

To give you an idea of how serious it has to be:

  • Nuclear reactor shut down? Fix it. We are staying under.
  • High pressure air leak? Nope, find it with a broom and fix it.
  • Electrical fire? Put it out. We are staying deep and dark.
  • Smokey air from the electrical fire? Put on an Emergency Breathing Apparatus (EBA) and suffer.
  • Hydraulic leak? Plug it. Don't forget to clean up and degrease everything. While you are at it, polish the rest of the boat.
  • Raging fire from a hydraulic leak? Nah, we have fire teams for that.
  • Water in the people tank? Also known as "Hole in the hull" or FLOODING! Well, that depends... how bad is it exactly?

Yeah, having to use an "Emergency Blow" is some serious shit. However; if you are conducting training, on a "Dependants" cruise or performing an inspection, this is possibly the most fun you can have in 45 seconds on a Submarine.

Side bar - The Submarine Fleet and the sailors who serve in it are often referred to as the "Silent Service". This phrase refers to the vessels themselves; as they are exceedingly quiet.9 It also refers to the sailors that crew them, as they tend have unusually high security clearances and have a legal responsibility as well as an internal code that forbids speaking about the vast majority of things they do. See? one phrase, two meanings! Isn't the Navy smart and funny?

1Yes, I am trying to be a good citizen and write some factual nodes in addition to other things. AKA earning my bullshit.
2Please work with me here, or set me straight if you know these better. It has been a LONG time since I have heard these, they may have changed and my memory is fading. Thank god.
3In this instance the diving officer is allowed to give a speed command. Direct speed, heading and depth commands are almost always the responsibility of the Conning Officer.)
4Ship-wide announcement system...we are not playing "Silent Service" at this point)
5The valves are spring loaded to shut if he releases them. Yes, the very life saving valves that are only used in dire life or death situations are wired to FAIL SHUT and therefore not allow the submarine to surface. I personally believe this is bass-ackward.
6Oh god...there's a zillion other nodes, "Backup, Redundant and Double Redundant systems on Submarines. For now, let's leave that at: I cannot think of a SINGLE system on a submarine that does not have a backup, from individual lights to the main reactor. Also, list of anything you can screw up on a submarine that will immediately kill you.
7We don't want seawater in our breathing air, now do we?)
8Submarines being referred to as "boats" (not ships) could be attributed to a variety of reasons: they were first called "Submarine boats" and the name was shortened, that vessels deployed from a ship (as the first submarines were) are technically called boats, that it remains a demeaning slang term for them, or that the Sailors who crew them take pride in being a bit off-kilter from the rest of the Navy.
9Quiet as in: there is a running Sea Story about whales bumping into submarines because it is dark and they can't hear them!

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