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Sonar Operator

Non-Commissioned Member | Full Time

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Sonar Operators compile and analyze acoustic intelligence information. The Sonar Operator may be employed in three distinct areas of Anti-Submarine Warfare operations: surface ships, submarines, or Integrated Undersea Surveillance.

As part of the ship’s intelligence gathering team, Sonar Operators have the following primary responsibilities:

  • Operate all active and passive sonars, sonar simulators, communication equipment, bathythermograph equipment, sonobuoys and data transmission systems
  • Perform function checks on equipment by using built-in test equipment, integrated test equipment, and basic on-line fault diagnostic procedures
  • Assist in the development of command decisions by compiling and analyzing sonar and intelligence data
  • Gather, evaluate and identify the significant features of oceanographic data
  • Convert analyzed oceanographic and acoustic data into comprehensive reports
  • Maintain status boards, charts and watchkeeping records, as well as geographical, operational and tactical plots

Work environment

Sonar Operators spend much of their career on board ships with “home ports” in either Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Esquimalt, British Columbia. They experience the unique adventures and challenges that come with work at sea, such as working in small spaces, on open deck surfaces, in a variety of weather conditions.

As with all sea-going personnel, Sensor Operators work with their fellow shipmates in out- of-occupation duties such as sentry or lookout duty, line handler for replenishment at sea, and as ship hand for entering and leaving harbour. They participate in Search and Rescue events and person-overboard emergencies, act as a member of the ship’s emergency response team for security watches, and routinely perform ship maintenance and repair. During emergency procedures, they fight fires as members of a fire attack team, and provide damage control in the case of a breach to the hull. If necessary, Sensor Operators may serve as a member of the naval boarding party to inspect the cargo of suspect vessels and detain the vessel’s crew during inspections.

Career Overview





LEADING SEAMAN GUILLAUME DURAND: I’m Leading Seaman Guillaume Durand from Montreal, Quebec, a Sonar Operator onboard HMCS Regina.

Sonar Operators are underwater operatives who closely examine the marine environment and how sound travels through water. They are part of the operations group that advise the command team onboard Canadian warships and submarines on all activity below the surface. Using sophisticated equipment, they perform target motion analysis, run simulated battle scenarios, and brief command on potential threats to the ship and her crew.

DURAND: We have a lot of sensors on board. We have passive sensors, we have active sensors, we have sonobuoys that we throw in the water and we can listen to.

Sonar Operators are trained specialists who manipulate sensitive audio sensors within a water column to detect, locate and track enemy submarines. Sonar Operators are agile mission planners who use their expertise to create and execute anti-submarine warfare plans. They carefully monitor ocean sounds and are always on the alert for a potential torpedo, the deadliest threat to a ship at sea.

Some of the core skills for Sonar Operators include problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis. Operators must pull together information from oceanographic data and the data from their sensors, to maximize the ship’s detection capability. There’s always a challenge around the next corner, and Sonar Operators must have a high level of concentration and pay acute attention to detail.

DURAND: You don’t just do underwater stuff, you’re also a sailor. When the ship comes in and out of harbour, we do the quarter deck lines. There’s other secondary duties you can do, like I’m part of the naval boarding party.

Sonar Operators work with other nations in the planning and execution of a mission, like assistance to an international task force to stop the illegal trade of narcotics and human trafficking.

DURAND:  I’ve done a lot of exercises and it’s fun, I love doing that stuff. You’re actually doing your job, you’re actually doing the Sonar Op job.  We’ve been through a couple instances where we’ve been to action stations for an unknown threat and it’s pretty exciting.

After their training is completed, Sonar Operators are posted to their first ship either in Halifax, Nova Scotia or just outside Victoria, B.C., where they integrate into a team of Sonar Operators and other professionals. They immediately begin practical training and working towards a qualification that allows them to become an active member of the ship’s duty watch. They become an integral part of the warfighting team in the Ops Room. And Sonar Operators can also volunteer for submarine service.

DURAND: It’s an experience, you know, my job – every day I can be doing something different. There is so much you can do.

Sonar Operators may have the opportunity to specialize as a Shipborne Air Controller. That means being responsible for the control of helicopters and planes operating with the ship. They also operate unmanned aerial vehicles which extend the ship’s surveillance capabilities.

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. When not on duty, sailors have time to exercise and relax with colleagues. They eat their meals together, have personal access to internet and email, and communicate regularly with friends and family back home by satellite telephone.

DURAND: I’ve been around the world once, you know, completely around the world and I’m doing it again this year so it’s going to be my second time.­­ I’m still young, I just turned 30 and I still want to travel. Every deployment that comes up, I’m putting my name in for it.





Related Civilian Occupations

  • No directly related civilian jobs


The first stage of training is the Basic Military Qualification course, or Basic Training, held at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. This training provides the basic core skills and knowledge common to all trades. A goal of this course is to ensure that all recruits maintain the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) physical fitness standard; as a result, the training is physically demanding.

Learn more about Basic Training here.

Sonar Operators attend the Canadian Forces Fleet School in Esquimalt, British Columbia. Training takes approximately 25 weeks and includes the following topics:

  • Operation of active and passive acoustic sonars
  • Analysis of passive acoustic sound sources
  • Operation of auxiliary acoustic equipment
  • Physics of sound as applied to military oceanography

Sonar Operators may be offered the opportunity to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including:

  • Submariner
  • Ship’s team diver
  • Ship’s team diving supervisor
  • Naval boarding party
  • Leadership and management courses
  • Instructional techniques

As they progress in their career, Sonar Operators who demonstrate the required ability and potential will be offered advanced training. Available courses include:

  • Advanced acoustic analyst
  • Sonar control supervisor
  • Under water warfare director
  • Submarine sonar operator
  • SURTASS target processor
  • Target data analyzer
  • Operations watch officer

Entry plans

The minimum required education to apply for this position is the completion of the provincial requirements for Grade 10 or Secondaire IV in Quebec. Foreign education may be accepted.