IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Petty Officer 1st Class Brent Bethell from Port Alberni, BC. I’m a Sonar Op on board HMCS Ottawa.
And I’m Leading Seaman Korey Tynes from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m a Sonar Operator on HMCS Toronto.
BETHELL: Sonar Operators spend long shifts in intense concentration below decks or on submarines. We’re constantly listening to the ocean around us monitoring ultra-sensitive acoustic sensors and other high tech equipment.
Sonar can be broken down into two different things: there’s Active Sonar and Passive Sonar. An active sonar, you’re actually putting sound in the water to detect various different things. Generally, obviously for us, we’re looking for a submarine and so that sound travels through the water will hit the submarine and bounce back to the ship and we interpret that. Whereas passive sonar is basically, you’re just listening to all the sounds in the ocean, so you tow a big hydrophone behind the ship and pretty much whatever your target is, that’s what you’re looking and listening for. Once the submarine is detected, the operations room gets a little louder and a lot more exciting. Where all the focus now shifts on maintaining contact with that submarine and doing what we need to do once we have it.
TYNES: That’s when it actually becomes exciting and all of a sudden, your 7-hour watch seems to fly by a lot faster when you’re actually utilizing it and sitting on the set and relaying information back and forth to your superiors, so that’ll keep you awake.
BETHELL: But there’s much more to the Sonar Op trade than a headset and a handbook. We’re sailors first, with shipboard duties that range from lookout and sentry watches to search and rescue and fire fighting operations.
TYNES: You always get an opportunity to do secondary duties. I’m a member of the Naval Boarding Party. There are other Sonar Operators that are ship’s divers.
BETHELL: You’re on the upper decks working lines with the boatswains, with other trades, so you really interact with a lot of other trades quite a bit.
TYNES: To me, every day at sea is a good day and being a Sonar Operator puts you right in the heart of the action. If you are a logical and analytical person, then this is definitely the job for you.
BETHELL: I think the coolest part of the job is being an underwater detective cutting through all the background noise and homing in on that one signal that you’re looking for.
When you actually get that submarine and you put him on the defensive and you’re on the offensive and you’ve got him running – it’s really, really exciting.
Being a Sonar Op is one of the most important jobs on a ship. The commanders are relying on us to tell them what kind of vessel is out there, what’s it’s doing and where it’s going.
TYNES: The little pieces of information that you’re receiving and you’re passing on are vital pieces of information that all come into play when command is determining their plans and what they’re gonna do. When your team is successful and you play a big role in accomplishing that feat and you get the pat on the back from your boss that comes down and says, “Look, the captain just said great job from the underwater side. You guys did a bangup job tonight”, so it’s very rewarding.
BETHELL: After your basic military training in Quebec and your Naval Environmental Training in Halifax, Nova Scotia. or Esquimalt, B.C., you’ll spend about six months in the Sonar Operator course at the fleet school in Esquimalt.
TYNES: You’ll learn how to operate underwater acoustic sensors and how to understand and interpret what they’re telling you about ship traffic and oceanic conditions.
BETHELL: Oceanography is a really big thing for us. We really have to understand our environment if we’re going to detect a submarine or attempt to track a submarine, so we’ve got a lot of training, a lot of focus on oceanography. It’s probably one of the most scientific parts of our trade and most people really, really enjoy it.
You’ll begin to experience and understand the ocean as a living environment, how sound travels underwater and how currents and water temperature affect what you hear.
TYNES: Before I got into the Navy, I definitely wasn’t as concerned with how sound travels and definitely not as aware. Oceanography is a lot more interesting than I would have given it credit for.
BETHELL: Sonar Operators spend about three years out of every five during their careers deployed on a ship at sea.
TYNES: There are usually four Sonar Ops working on each watch on a frigate or destroyer, but on a sub, there’s room for only one and that makes you, in many ways, the most important person on board. You are the ears of the commander when you’re submerged.
BETHELL: Your working shifts will be periods of intense concentration listening for every clue the ocean is giving you, using your training to accurately identify the ships in the area and passing that information up the chain of command.
TYNES: When you actually put all the pieces into place and all the things that you’ve learned and you’re utilizing all the equipment that you’ve been trained on and actually watching it perform the job that it’s set to do – it’s a great feeling.
Between deployments, you’ll continue to update your training and proficiency in Halifax or Esquimalt getting ready for your next mission at sea.
TYNES: There’s a lot more excitement to it than I’d initially thought when I got in and it hasn’t disappointed.
BETHELL: For me, the best part has been the travel. Places I’ve seen just, never in my life I would have imagined I would have gone to some of the places out here.
TYNES: You’re seeing the world. I mean, I’ve been to more countries in the last three and a half years than I could rhyme off – a lot more than I’d seen in my previous thirty years.
BETHELL: I’d go home and see my buddies and they initially didn’t believe me until I showed them pictures that I’d been in Thailand or China or Japan. I couldn’t have dreamed of the experiences I’ve had, friends I’ve met, accomplishments – it’s just been absolutely outstanding.
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES