ST. MARYS -- For years, sailors serving aboard submarines worked a different work day than the rest of the world.
They worked six hours on, 12 hours off once the boats were deployed and didn't return to a traditional 24-hour day until they returned home months later. The logic was it was easier for sailors to give their undivided attention to the electronic equipment they operate if the work shift was only six hours.
While it was never required, Navy officials said it was widely practiced because of a requirement that the maximum number of hours on watch was six. That rule has been relaxed to support the 24-hour model.
The Navy began the transition to the 24-hour watch rotation on submarines in December 2014. All submarine commands were ordered to start a watch rotation that gives every crew member "adequate protected sleep at about the same time each 24-hour day."
"Submarines here have been implementing the 24-hour work day gradually after a December 2014 message was released to all submarine forces that mandates the 24-hour schedule," said Lt. Lily Hinz, a Navy spokeswoman. "The emphasis is on maintaining a fixed watch rotation to allow for proper and consistent sleep on a 24-hour circadian rhythm cycle."
Commanding officers are given the flexibility to implement temporary watch rotations for short periods during extenuating circumstances.
All submarines were directed to start the 24-hour watch cycle by March 31. The advantage is it provides adequate training time and improves crew rest.
When boats deploy, sailors rotate work shifts once a week so they get the same opportunity to train and participate in drills. The decision about how to rotate watches is the commanding officer's decision.
One requirement of safe submarine operations is assuring sailors are working at their highest level of readiness. The 24-hour schedule has proven to support the requirement, Hinz said.
The change has boosted morale significantly, said Master Chief Yeoman Dave Wright, the chief of the boat for USS Alaska (Blue).
Wright was working under the old 18-hour work shift when he was told his boat was changing to a 24-hour watch rotation. He said he needed to see it in practice before he made a personal decision on whether he liked it better.
"My main concern was that there would be sailors who only stood the mid-watch, for example, and were not participating," he said. "The solution to that was to rotate weekly on a designated day, which ensures each watch team has the same opportunity to participate in drills and training. We have found this to be effective on Alaska (Blue)."
He said the change in work schedules increased morale significantly.
"I noticed an increase in the amount of people socializing with each other in common spaces," he said. "In other words, the camaraderie increased significantly and I saw sailors spending more time together, whether working out, conducting maintenance or working on qualifications, by choice."