Submarine Warfare insignia

Submarine Warfare insignia

The Submarine Warfare Insignia (usually known as "dolphins" or "fish") is a uniform breast pin worn by enlisted men and officers of the United States Navy to indicate that they are qualified in submarines. The Submarine Warfare Insignia is considered one of the Navy's three major warfare pins along with the Surface Warfare Badge and the Naval Aviator Badge. To earn the right to wear the pin, prospective submariners complete an extensive qualification process that lasts about one year (for both enlisted and officers, though the two programs differ significantly) and covers virtually all of the submarine's systems.


On 13 June 1923, Captain Ernest J. King, Commander, Submarine Division Three (later Fleet Admiral and Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, during World War II), suggested to the Secretary of the Navy (Bureau of Navigation) that a distinguishing device for qualified submariners be adopted. He submitted a pen-and-ink sketch of his own showing a shield mounted on the beam ends of a submarine, with dolphins forward of, and abaft, the conning tower. The suggestion was strongly endorsed by Commander Submarine Division Atlantic.

Over the next several months the Bureau of Navigation (now known as BUPERS) solicited additional designs from several sources. Some combined a submarine with a shark motif. Others showed submarines and dolphins, and still others used a shield design. A Philadelphia firm, which had done work for the Navy in the field of United States Naval Academy class rings, was approached by the Bureau of Navigation with the request that it design a suitable badge.

Two designs were submitted by the firm, but these were ultimately combined into a single design. It was a bow view of a submarine, proceeding on the surface, with bow planes rigged for diving, flanked by dolphins (not the mammal, but the Mahi-mahi, commonly known as the dolphin fish) in a horizontal position with their heads resting on the upper edge of the bow planes.

Today a similar design is used: a dolphin flanking the bow and conning tower of a submarine. On 20 March 1924, the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation recommended to the Secretary of the Navy that the design be adopted. The recommendation was accepted by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Acting Secretary of the Navy. His acceptance is dated March 1924.

Originally, the submarine insignia was to be worn by officers and men qualified in submarine duty only when attached to submarine units or submarine command organizations. The right to wear the pin was revoked if the service member transferred to a non-submarine billet. In 1941 the Uniform Regulations were modified to permit a service member to wear the submarine insignia for the duration of his career, once so authorized.


The officers' insignia was at first a bronze, gold plated metal pin, worn centered above the left breast pocket and above the ribbons and medals. Enlisted men wore an embroidered insignia sewn on the outside of the right sleeve, midway between the wrist and elbow. The device was two and three-quarters inches long, embroidered in white silk for blue clothing and vice versa. In 1943, the Uniform Regulations were modified to provide that

"Enlisted men, who are qualified and subsequently promoted to commissioned or warrant ranks, may wear enlisted submarine insignia on the left breast until they qualify as submarine officers, at which time this insignia would be replaced by the officers' submarine pin."

In mid-1947, the embroidered device shifted from the sleeve of the enlisted men's jumper to above the left breast pocket. A change to the Uniform Regulations dated 21 September 1950 authorized the embroidered insignia for officers (in addition to the pin-on insignia) and a bronze, silver plated, pin-on insignia for enlisted men (in addition to the embroidered device).

In the modern Navy, the submarine pin is either a silver or gold chest pin, worn above all ribbons unless a second superseding qualification has been achieved in which case the submarine pin is worn below ribbons on the breast pocket.

Basic enlisted submarine qualifications

Upon reporting to his first submarine the unqualified submarine sailor, or "nub" (short for "N"on-"U"seful "B"ody/"B"itch"), completes a few days of indoctrination and is then assigned a Qualification Card, a qualification due date, and a Sea Dad (officially known as a "command sponsor"). The Sea Dad monitors the non-qual's progress during the qualification process and his adaptation to life aboard the boat.

No one is exempted from the qualification process and no concessions are made to rank or rate.

Although submarine qualification methodology has changed throughout the decades the basic goal has remained: 1) to provide the submarine sailor with a basic knowledge of all systems on board, their uses, operations, and interrelationships with other systems and 2) to ensure all personnel can operate effectively under pressure in shipboard situations. Submarine damage control techniques are stressed throughout the qualification process.

Progress is tracked by the Chief of the Boat. Each item on the qual card is worth a specified number of points; unqualified sailors must obtain a predetermined number of points per week. Failure to achieve the required number results in placement on a "delinquent list" (also making the sailor being referred to as "dink") and the assignment of additional study, monitored by the Sea Dad. Each system signature is weighted and each phase has a maximum number of points.

The qualifications process aboard the boat uses publications, training videos, computer programs and hands-on training with qualified personnel, but the principal focus is on the actual operation of the damage control, atmosphere control, weapons, countermeasures, reactor, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, and electronic systems on that particular submarine. Once the qualifying sailor feels he has the requisite knowledge for the system he will ask a designated Qualification Petty Officer (QPO — an expert on the system in question) for a "checkout". The QPO will ask prepared questions concerning the system. He will also ask the sailor to draw a line diagram and explain the system in various states and configurations. If the QPO feels the sailor has met his expectations, he will sign the sailor's qual card and those points will be included in the sailor's weekly point count. If the QPO isn't satisfied with the sailor's knowledge level he will require the sailor to study further and return for another checkout.

The qualification structure can be broken down into phases. The example listed below is only a basic guide and is not the rule for all submarines. For most phases of qualification, knowledge of basic rather than elaborate equipment operations is required, with the exception of damage control equipment and procedures. Among the most important goals of submarine qualification is providing each member of the crew - regardless of designated specialty - with the training to combat casualties anywhere on the submarine. In case of fire, flooding, or other casualty, each submarine sailor must be confident that he can trust the man next to him to know the purpose, location, and proper use of each item of damage control equipment, as well as the location and operation of isolations for each electrical/air/hydraulic system.

Indoctrination/Damage Control Phase

This phase emphasizes the construction and support systems for the specific submarine to which the sailor is assigned.

*Internal Communication Circuits
*Sound Powered Phone Circuits
*Emergency Alarms
*Damage Control equipment location and proper utilization is stressed.

Propulsion Phase

*Ship's Propulsion Plant
*Electrical Plant Systems
*Primary and Auxiliary Propulsion Equipment

Auxiliary Systems Phase

*Ship's Main, Service and Plane Control Hydraulics Systems
*Potable water systems
*Ship's Air Systems, Including High Pressure, Ship's Service and Salvage Air Systems.
*Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
*Atmospheric Monitoring Systems
*Depth Sensing Systems
*Sea Water and Ballasting Systems
*Chemical Holding and Treatment (sanitation and waste water)

Electronic Equipment and Navigation

*Electronic Sensor Monitoring Systems
*External Communications Systems
*Navigation Systems

Combat Systems

*Torpedo and Tactical Missile Fire Control Systems
*Ballistic Missile Fire Control Systems (SSBN's only)
*Torpedo Tube Systems
*Sonar Systems
*External Countermeasure Systems and Launchers

Block Reviews and Walkthroughs

Each phase (or "block") of the qualification card has an overall "block review" where the qualifier ties in all the phase's systems and is verbally tested for his level of knowledge.

After completion of all blocks, the qualifier must complete compartment walkthroughs, where a senior, qualified sailor quizzes the qualifier as they walk through the submarine. If all walkthroughs are completed successfully, the qualifier's chain of command recommends that he be examined by a qualification board.

The "Qual Board"

This is the most dreaded part of the New Qualifier's qualification process. The board is made up of a Submarine-qualified Officer, a Chief Petty Officer and a Petty Officer. Submarine Damage Control is the biggest factor discussed during the Board. During the Board, the examinee may be asked to draw and explain any of the systems he has learned about during the qualification process. After the Board the examinee is dismissed and evaluated by the members of the board. If the examinee passes the Board, he is then recommended for qualification to the Commanding Officer of the Submarine.

The Commanding Officer reviews the Board's recommendation and upon his concurrence, the newly-qualified individual is presented his "Dolphins" by the Skipper and designated as "Qualified in Submarines". The Dolphins presentation is considered an important event as it means the newly qualified submariner will be treated as a full member of the crew, instead of an object of scorn and ridicule.

Appropriate annotations are made in the new Submariner's service jacket to reflect his qualification. Submarine Qualified Personnel are designated "SS" after the rate, such as FT1(SS) or MM2(SS).

Post qualification life

After the sailor is designated "Qualified in Submarines", he is now looked upon by the rest of the crew as someone that can, and will, save their lives. He is treated with a greater amount of respect, given more responsibility, and the real learning begins. He is required to continually qualify in areas other than his primary duty. This is to ensure in-depth cross-training is accomplished. This process continues throughout a submarine sailor's tour. In addition to the basic submarine qualification process and his requirement to qualify in his most senior in-rate watch station, a submarine sailor usually will become qualified at numerous in port and at sea watch stations not directly related to his own specific rate.

When a submarine sailor ordered to serve a tour ashore returns to sea duty (or whenever ordered from boat to another submarine of a class on which he has not already sailed and earned his qualifications), he is again required to "re-qualify" on the new submarine, but will never again be a nub. This qualification is normally completed by a walkthrough check with a senior qualified member of his Chain of Command or a Submarine-qualified Officer.

Officer submarine qualifications

In principle, the officer submarine qualifications are very similar to the enlisted submarine qualifications - they are designed to ensure that each junior officer has a basic level of knowledge of all the major systems on board the ship, and is capable of performing damage control efforts throughout the submarine. However, the Officer Qualification goes well beyond the basics of system knowledge and damage control that are required for the enlisted. The Officer Qualification is based heavily on the officer's ability to drive, and fight, the ship.

The newly-reported junior officer (JO) starts with smaller qualifications sometimes referred to as "Basic Ensign Qualifications": Battery Charging Line-up Officer, Rig for Dive Officer and Periscope Operator. These initial qualifications enable the JO to support his fellow officers by performing important (but tedious and sometimes time-intensive) tasks.

While the various qualification cards that comprise the officer's qualification package are usually pursued in parallel, the focus for the first few months aboard is decidedly engineering. After having completed a year of nuclear power training, the new JO will learn the engineering systems of his new submarine and qualify as Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) and Engineering Duty Officer (EDO). These are, respectively, the underway and in-port watch stations ultimately responsible for the supervision, maintenance, and safe operation of the submarine's nuclear power plant and associated engineering systems.

With EOOW and EDO under his belt, the JO can pursue tactical (or "forward") qualifications. First comes Contact Coordinator, the officer or senior enlisted who assists the Officer of the Deck (OOD) track other vessels and maintain safe navigation in accordance with the Rules of the Road while the submarine is on the surface. Next comes Diving Officer of the Watch (DOOW), the officer or senior enlisted who supervises the Ship's Control Party in safely driving the ship and properly executing casualty procedures. Upon completion of EOOW and DOOW, the JO has acquired most of the systems knowledge and will focus on his tactical development.

Finally, the JO will complete his Officer of the Deck (OOD) and Ship's Duty Officer (SDO) qualifications. (The OOD qualification is actually two qualifications, one for when the submarine is surfaced and one for when it is submerged.) Like EOOW and EDO, the OOD and SDO are the officers who supervise the ship's operations underway and in-port. They are at all times the direct representative of the submarine's Commanding Officer, acting on his behalf whether it be tactical employment or in-port force protection.

As with the enlisted qualifications, upon completion of his Qualification Card, the junior officer must complete a Qualification Board. (Although, by this point, he has already stood half a dozen qualification boards for his subordinate qualifications.) In the officer's case, the board is led by the Commanding Officer. If the junior officer passes his Qualification Board, the Commanding Officer recommends to the Squadron Commodore (a post-command officer) that the junior officer be Qualified in Submarines. The Commodore's concurrence is generally somewhat of a formality (traditionally, the final interview is conducted over a cribbage game), and soon the junior officer receives his gold Dolphins.


*MILPERSMAN 1200-010: SUBMARINE PATROL INSIGNIA QUALIFICATIONS, a public domain publication of the United States Navy's Bureau of Personnel

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