AS social distancing becomes the new norm, who better to explain the ins and outs of isolation than submariners?

Those involved with the ‘Silent Service’ know a thing or two about lockdown-like situations; Royal Navy personnel regularly spend months under water while on patrol, rarely surfacing, and with only limited contact to the outside world.

While the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues, and communities across the globe adjust their lives accordingly, we’ve got some top tips and expert advice to help you cope over the coming weeks and months.

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SUB Lieutenant Andrew Rose, a qualified submariner who recently patrolled with HMS Artful, has described the training undertaken by submariners to prepare them for life beneath the surface.

“No amount of classroom training can prepare you for what it’s like at sea,” he said.

“You must learn on the job, and learn quick.

“It can take many weeks to learn what you need, and prove your knowledge to the specialists on board.

“It ends in an oral board to prove your knowledge and if you pass you’re presented with your ‘dolphins’ – the mark of a qualified submariner.”

What about the daily routine when on patrol?

Andrew explained: “The submarine keeps a watch system, so for me that’s six hours on, six hours off.

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“During my six hours on I’m busy doing jobs such as keeping lookout on optronics (the modern-day periscope) or, for my department, it could mean managing defects or just general rounds of all the kit such as weapons, explosives, sensors or computer systems.

“During the six hours off is when you get a chance to wash, exercise, catch up on any admin, relax and sleep – or study, if you’re not yet qualified.

“You tend to lose track of the days quickly as you end up going to bed and waking twice a day.

“I was second watch, so worked 1am to 7am and 1pm to 7pm. It was very strange having breakfast just before going to bed and waking up for lunch!”

The importance of maintaining morale and regularly exercising cannot be underestimated, according to Andrew.

He added: “I was very lucky to have a good crew, with some excellent people I could have a laugh with.

“If I ever did feel down, I know I could talk to them about it. It helps to keep busy, too, because it keeps your mind focused.

“On board we have a few weights, some mats and an exercise bike. It’s impressive how creative some people can be with such little space.

“There’s plenty of exercises that you can do without moving from your mat – sit-ups, press-ups and squats just to name a few.

“Exercise was massively important for keeping healthy, and being able to exercise really helped morale for a lot of people.”

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What about the separation from loved ones?

“It sounds odd, but I found it easier knowing that I would have no contact with home, rather than maybe sometimes having contact. No contact meant that I could focus solely on my job.

“Again, it really helped having a routine that I had to stick to and keeping busy.

“Get a routine and stick to it. There’s plenty we could do in the house such as cleaning, exercising, contacting family or friends, learn a new skill et cetera.

“Also, remember that just like being at sea, isolation won’t last forever.

“Have something to look forward to and try not to get too downhearted. Think of the things you and your friends will be able to do once it’s all over!”

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THE Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a 3,000-mile rowing race beginning in La Gomera in the Canary Islands and ending in Nelson’s Harbour, Antigua.

In December, a team of submariners competing as ‘HMS Oardacious’ became the fastest serving military team to cross the Atlantic, and raised nearly £100,000 to provide mental health and wellbeing support to their submarine community for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health has arrived back at the forefront of many discussions with friends, family and even at government level.

Lieutenant Hugo Mitchell-Heggs, who is due to move up to HMNB Clyde later this year and was part of team Oardacious, said: “As a Royal Navy Submariner we are well versed with spending extended periods of time deployed, isolated from society, our loved ones and what most would consider home comforts.

READ MORE: Royal Navy's 'HMS Oardacious' rowers share story of Atlantic challenge

“Settling into a routine and being creative is fundamental to one’s own wellbeing.

“It’s never easy settling into a new pattern, and even for submariners, the first week at sea is often the most challenging.

“We also observed this on our ocean row, adapting to each other and our team’s dynamic, to our new diet, safety culture and challenging environment.

“Twenty-foot waves and gale force winds from day one was challenging, but with the right mindset we adapted and found ways to not just survive but also thrive.

“The benefits of a routine, building things to look forward to in your day, are a fundamental tactic for maintaining motivation and positivity while self-isolating.”

Hugo, who helped the team complete the Atlantic challenge in just 37 days and six hours. also said nutrition, exercise and mental stimulation are vital.

He added: “During the ocean crossing, physical stimulation was aplenty but keeping our mental stimulation took being both creative and adaptable and most importantly, conversation with our crew mates – whether it was jokes, banter or deep and meaningful.

“If we can do it isolated in the middle of an ocean, anyone can do it from the luxurious comfort of their homes and with that constant connectivity.”

*Thanks to HM Naval Base Clyde and Gordon Ritchie Marketing for words and pictures.

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