IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
LEADING SEAMAN ALIX BOVAIR: I’m Leading Seaman Alix Bovair from Ottawa, Ontario – I’m a Naval Communicator based out of Esquimalt, British Columbia.
No matter the mission, Naval Communicators, or Nav Comms, enable everyone onboard Canadian warships and submarines to achieve their goals by providing timely communications with other ships and headquarters.
BOVAIR: As a Naval Communicator, we have 3 primary jobs on board. One of which is electronic communications down in the Communications Control Room. Another is working with primary IT systems onboard and troubleshooting them, and the third is working right here on the bridge with various radio communications to communicate with other ships and units ashore.
On the bridge, Naval Communicators handle the voice circuits with the other ships, advising the ship’s captain or officer of the watch on tactical signalling and fleet manoeuvring exercises, where the ship has to turn in sync with the task group. This requires precise movements and quick judgment to keep the ship on track.
BOVAIR: You’re taking in all the signals from other ships, other units, and you are relaying that to the officers of the watch and the people who need to know where we’re going and what we’re doing and how we’re getting there – and that’s kind of our job, to be the middleman of that.
Whenever the bridge kind of gets wild and there’s a lot going on and people are running around and everything gets really loud… it’s really cool just to get in the moment and roll with it.
You need to be able to talk in front of a lot of people – the commanding officer is on the bridge, there are a lot of important people up here and you have to be able to make your voice heard among that because what we’re relaying is really important information.
In the Communications Control Room, Naval Communicators handle all long-range radio and satellite communications and manage the information technology capabilities of the ship. They are also responsible for cryptographic operations and security for all networks onboard ship.
BOVAIR: The coolest part of the job from my perspective is when we’re on the bridge. I love radio communications and relaying messages from other ships to the officer of the watch. Having that presence on the bridge is something I really enjoy and I really thrive in that busy, pressured environment.
Naval Communicators also enable every sailor onboard to connect with the world through personal internet and email access, as well as regular satellite telephone calls home to friends and family. This improves the quality of life onboard and boosts morale on long deployments.
BOVAIR: We work with all the communication systems onboard essentially, so one of the really important parts of that is the internet. That can work through the tactical side of things – we use that for messaging systems – but it also works through… people can use that to contact their families and email back home, so it’s really important for us to keep that up and running.
After completing their initial training, Naval Communicators are assigned to a ship in either Halifax, Nova Scotia or just outside Victoria, B.C. Their first posting lasts two to three years where they put their training into practice and integrate into the ship’s company.
BOVAIR: The biggest challenge as a Naval Communicator is being able to have your hands in 3 baskets at once – because we do IT, we do electronic radio communications, and we do actual VHF voice radio communications. And to try to be able to master all 3 is really challenging. You’re like a jack of all trades when it comes to that.
A typical day at sea for any sailor can include practical experience and team training such as simulated fire, flood or medical emergencies called “damage control”, that involve the entire ship’s company.
Nav Comms also have duties such as watchkeeper or sentry, line handler on the main deck, and as a ship-hand when entering or leaving port. They may also be assigned to take part in search and rescue activities, force protection, and mid-ocean replenishment operations.
When not on duty, sailors have time to exercise and relax with colleagues.
Opportunities to advance include specialty training in advanced computer networking technologies, and cryptographic equipment, as well as the opportunity to become part of the ship’s dive team or boarding party.
BOVAIR: I joined the Navy to get the opportunity to travel, see the world, and do that as a part of my daily job. There’s an immense amount of opportunity for travel with the Navy – I like to refer to it as appetizers instead of full meals, because you’ll be in a port for a couple of days and then you have to go again, and then you’re in a different port. So you kind of get a little bit of a taste for them but not a full experience, but it’s really cool because you can hand-select where you want to go back to eventually.
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES