Confinement lessons from the Royal Navy

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In these extraordinary times where we are all learning new ways of protecting ourselves and our families through ‘social distancing’ and confinement, there are some among us to whom such concepts are not new.  One branch of the British Royal Navy, the Submarine Service, has been practising confinement, if not social distancing for more than one hundred years, something that the BizAv Services Ltd Compliance and Safety Manager Steve Bridgman knows quite a lot about.

Steve served in the Royal Navy for 25 years, 14 of those onboard nuclear powered ‘hunter/killer’ submarines of the ‘Trafalgar’ class.  Just 85 metres long and 10 metres wide, these submarines typically carried up to 130 sailors on submerged patrols lasting up to 3 months.  Steve had this to say about his experiences on ‘boats’ as they are known in the navy:

“When you first volunteer for submarines, thoughts of confinement are very secondary to getting through the intensive training schedule.  Qualifying as a submariner – getting the coveted ‘dolphins’ badge, is the single most important thing that occupies your mind.

While modern submarines are much bigger than their WWII predecessors, they also carry a much larger crew, and are packed full with equipment and machinery.  Squeezed into the 85 metre by 10 metre space are sonar machinery, weapons firing gear, periscopes and masts, oxygen making machines, hydraulic plants, diesel generators, a nuclear reactor, propulsion turbines, provisions for months under the water, and 130 men (at that time – now women also form part of the crew).

Once the hatches clang shut and the submarine sets out on a patrol, it is just you and 129 other people in a metal cigar somewhere in the middle of the ocean, under potentially hundreds of meters of water.  There is no ‘going out’, you can’t open a window, and ‘me time’ is a phase that does not exist.

If you are lucky enough to have your own ‘rack’ (bunk), it will include a curtain that can be drawn, and that is about the limit of your privacy.  If you are a trainee, your bunk will be one of the torpedo storage shelves in the ‘bomb-shop’ (torpedo compartment). You would not experience darkness in that case until you become qualified – the lights in the bomb-shop are rarely turned off”.

How on earth do people stay fit and probably more importantly, sane in such close confines?  Here Steve reminisces about keeping it together in close confinement, and recalls some experiences where confinement did affect crew members:

“You have to remember that we all volunteered for service in boats.  It was not prison – we had pretty good food, could move around the boat and had some free time of course.  Routine was vital. We all worked to a watch or shift system, certain hours ‘on-watch’ followed by ‘off-watch’ time.  Often the ‘off-watch’ time was taken up with machinery maintenance, action stations or drills, but once you got into a pattern life was not bad.

You could never ‘switch-off’ on a submarine, even ‘off-watch’.  Everybody was totally dependent on everybody else, and a serious mistake by anybody could quite literally kill everybody onboard.  That was always a stressor in the back of your mind, but you had to rise above it and do your job.

The worst times were when everything had settled down, and the boat was patrolling silently.  That was when there was time on your hands, and people started getting bored. After a while the mind can start to wander, and friction can spark up between people.  Non-events become big issues – I recall 2 guys having a stand-up, full on screaming argument because one had washed the others mug without asking!

The idea onboard was to try to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible.  Food played a huge part in crew morale, and mealtimes were purposely kept to standard times, wherever the boat was in the World.  The meals themselves were always of good quality, even though after the first week at sea the provisions were either frozen or tinned.  There were areas people could congregate (messes) for social interaction, including the screening of movies, and efforts were made to retain some level of physical fitness by the use of rowing and cycling machines, and due to the minimal space available many people used ‘static’ training type circuits to stay fit (ish!).

A lot of people onboard used the time on patrol to either educate themselves, or to enjoy hobbies to ward off boredom between watches.  Reading of course was extremely popular, and there were always promotion targets to study for, or competence tests to prepare for (in the case of the engineers).  These days submariners have online contact with their families, but the only available method of communications 20 years ago was the ‘family-gram’, a once per month message home of just a few words.  News of the outside world from outside the confines of the boat was minimal, which meant that any individual story from inside usually became the big news of the day – stories of mistakes, personal issues and anybody ‘throwing a wobbly’ being favourite.

No matter how much it was attempted to normalise the submarine routine, the simple fact though was that some crew members could not handle the confinement.  On my very first patrol planned for just 6 weeks a young man tried to leave the submarine while it was 80 metres underwater! Dressed in civilian clothes and carrying his travelling bag, he walked past me, up the ladder to the hatch and tried to open it.  It would not open under the pressure of the water on top of it, but it was a sobering reminder that not everybody was cut out to be a submariner.

My own confinement test came along a few years later.  The submarine had been on patrol for 3 months and was on the way back to base, when the boat came across a new Soviet submarine.  We were instructed to follow the Soviet boat to gather intelligence, and in the end, we did that for another 4 months underwater. Since we were so close to the other boat we could make no noise – no music, no videos, no showers, no unnecessary maintenance and so on.  We could not shave or cut our hair, and towards the end of the patrol we ran out of cigarettes, tea, coffee and were down to basic food only. There was no more studying to do, all the books onboard had been read and re-read, and boredom was driving us all pretty nuts.  In the end we all found our own ways to cope, and mine was to scrape all the years of floor polish layers off each 6-inch square rubber floor tile in the machinery control room, using a tiny penknife, one tile at a time, over the course of about 8 weeks!”

Confinement is something we are all finding our way through, and for those with children to take care of it can be an even more difficult time.  Although none of the following tips offered by Steve are much other than common sense, they are based on his personal experience and are worth repeating:

  • Accept the situation.  No point worrying about those things you can’t change.
  • Stay informed.  Try to listen/watch only the ‘official’ news reports – there is a lot of ‘fake’ news around, and even people taking pleasure from worrying people unnecessarily.
  • Try to keep busy.  Even monotonous tasks can take your mind off your troubles.
  • Establish and stick to routines.  They give you structure and a daily plan to follow, rather than flitting aimlessly from one thing to another.
  • Don’t lounge around in your pyjamas – pride in your dress and appearance helps to maintain spirits.
  • Don’t feel guilty about enjoying the simple pleasure of your hobbies, playing games, watching TV or reading a good book.
  • Try to maintain at least some physical activity – it is good for you and will make you feel more positive.
  • Remember that everybody around you in the same situation and will react differently. If you feel tension rising, go and do something away from the other person for a while.

Steve Bridgman MBE is the author of ‘My Bloody Efforts – Life in the Modern Navy’ describing his naval career from joining aged 16 as a junior mechanic, rising to the rank of Warrant Officer submarine technician, and being awarded the MBE for his actions during a nuclear submarine accident during his time on HMS Tireless.  My Bloody Efforts is available in hard back and for Kindle on Amazon.

Some Photos:

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The Malta Business Aviation Association promises to safeguard the gains made by the business aviation industry in these troubiling times.

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The Malta Business Aviation Association (MBAA) represents the interests of the largest sector of
Malta’s aviation industry by number of aircraft registered in Malta and contributes over €510 million
in economic output. The MBAA has released a statement to the industry regarding the Covid-19
epidemic providing a succinct overview of general precautions and pertinent sources of information
to its members. The business aviation sector in Malta is a crucial contributor to Malta’s relatively recent
success in growing its fledgling aviation sector and as such needs to be safeguarded. The MBAA will be
at the forefront of making the voice of the business aviation sector heard with government and local
authorities and that any relief packages that are offered are relevant and assist business aviation
operators survival in the difficult business conditions resulting from the dramatic curtailment of
worldwide flight activity.

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MBAA statement re COVID-19

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Dear members, friends and colleagues,

Due to the COVID19 epidemic, life as we used to know it,has changed in the last couple of months and dramatically in the last two weeks. It is a reality which all of us have tounderstand. 

Malta Business Aviation Association (MBAA) is closely monitoring the situation, together with the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), the Civil Aviation Directorate (TMCAD), our partners on the business aviationmarket and the local and European authorities. We are strongly convinced, that together, we will go over this health and economical challenge, as human beings and as an industry. 

In a time when everything is changing so fast it is hard to make recommendations and offer best practices and advice. It is also very complicated to even follow and comply with all the flux of restrictions constantly updating.

However, we believe the points below are of outmost importance:• Follow the recommendations in place from National Governments and Health Authorities. Confirmed notices may be found here; courtesy of the EBAA we are working on a direct link from the MBAA website. We have already uploaded some informative/useful documents on the MBAA website which can be found here;• Strictly follow the quarantine, personal hygiene and recommended precautions and constantly remind this to employees; for employees who feel well and have no symptoms, advise them to practice good hygiene at all times as prevention is the best way to fight with the virus; should symptoms appear (dry cough, breathlessness or fever of 38°C / 100.4°F or above)necessary and responsible steps should be followed without exception -> self-quarantine, contact dedicated health centers and hot lines, etc.…• Wherever and whenever possible, apply “work from home” policy or roster flexibility• A special thought and recommendation goes to our colleagues, the crew members, who continue flying and transport our passengers to their destinations, exposing themselves and taking the risks; encourage them to isolate themselves in the hotels during ground times and avoid any unnecessary public activity; and of course, take all necessary hygienic measures at all times, in the air and on the ground; help them protect themselves irrespective of destinations. We remind you that Malta currently allows the carriage of UN1219 – ISOPROPYLALCOHOL (used in disinfectants, among others) in individual containers with a maximum volume of 500ml. • Ensure protection to our passengers• Carry universal pre-caution kits on board of the aircraft and disinfect the aircraft wherever possible, while on ground• Share with us information specifically arising out of the situations that are possibly unfair; there are a lot of restrictions but the interpretation of it might be very wrong• Pay attention to abusive cancelation policies and let usknow of anything you deem to be contrary to fair competition.• Have a look at the government incentives that help the business such as the delayed payment of VAT, social security payments and payment of provisional tax. The Government has also announced incentives for teleworking software. • Have an effective and practical business continuity planin place. 

In these unprecedented circumstances we have to come together, virtually of course respecting the social distancing, as the board is confident that together we will come out of this ‘bruised but not battered’ to be able soar once again.

Should you have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Meanwhile, please find some useful links below:
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EBAA #BSafe | Updated Recommendations for Operators on the COVID-19 Outbreak

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The EBAA is closely following developments regarding the Corona Virus (COVID-19).

This is the latest release from EBAA operational procedures recommendations:


The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) is closely monitoring developments related to the Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak. 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued a revised Safety Information Bulletin outlining recommendations for operators to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading. 

You will find the revised SIB here

EASA is monitoring developments related to the outbreak and is actively engaged with the WHO, ICAO, the European Commission (EC) and the EC DG SANTE. Accordingly, the latest guidance and recommendations issued by WHO, ECDC and ICAO should be considered in the context of this SIB.

You will find the latest WHO situation reports here:

Important to note in this SIB

Aircraft operators and aerodrome operators should collaborate as much as possible:

  1. With the public health authorities by providing support in passenger tracing and epidemiological investigation in the event of flights where the COVID-19 has been confirmed. Additionally, aircraft operators and aerodrome operators are encouraged to be proactive and establish contact with public health authorities prior to encountering a suspected case.
  2. Between themselves, to ensure that passengers are not kept on board of an aircraft without proper ventilation for longer than 30 minutes.

Operational Recommendations

EASA draws the aviation community’s attention to information and guidelines provided by the WHO, ECDC, ICAO, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI). In particular, the WHO recommendations for public health authorities and the transport sector, including operational recommendations for the case of passengers presenting symptoms compatible with an acute respiratory infection.

Aircraft and aerodrome operators should;

  • Provide information to crew members and aerodrome staff regarding the management of a case with acute respiratory infection on board an aircraft.
  • For crews required to lay-over in an affected area (see Note 2 below), aircraft operators should provide the necessary information and materials as recommended by the local authorities for their inhabitants.
  • Aircraft operators performing passenger flights to or from the affected areas (see Note 2 below) should be equipped with one or more Universal Precaution Kits (UPKs). Such kits may be used to protect crew members who are assisting potentially infectious cases of suspected COVID-19 and in cleaning up and correctly discarding any potentially infectious contents.
  • Aircraft operators and aerodrome operators should make readily available hand disinfectant solutions in the lavatories and waiting rooms to be used by their passengers and employees.
  • Aircraft operators should encourage their staff and crew members to identify passengers meeting the following criteria: having signs and symptoms indicative of acute respiratory infections, and having been in the affected areas or in contact with people potentially infected with COVID-19 or with people arriving from an affected area within 14 days prior to onset of symptoms.

Note 2: Affected areas are considered to be in the PRC and other areas where possible ongoing community transmission of the COVID-19 infection has been confirmed without the history of travel to the PRC, in accordance with the latest Situation Report as published by WHO.

In the event such a symptomatic passenger being identified, the crew should; 

  1. use the health part of the aircraft general declaration to register the health information on-board and submit it to the Point of Entry health authorities when required by a State’s representative;
  2. report to the destination aerodrome that they have on board a passenger presenting symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and follow the instructions received;
  3. ask the passengers to fill in the passenger locator card (PLC) forms in order to collect information (see Note 3 below) regarding the passengers’ position in the aircraft as well as other information regarding their immediate travel plans and contact details. The information is intended to be held by public health authorities in accordance with applicable law and is to be used only for authorized public health purposes. A passenger locator form can be downloaded here;
  4. provide a medical facemask for the symptomatic passenger in order to reduce the risk of spreading the potential COVID-19 infection and try to minimize the contact between the suspected passenger and cabin crew members and the other passengers. If a facemask is not available or cannot be tolerated, ask the sick person to cover their mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing. In addition, where possible, the individual air supply nozzle for the symptomatic passenger should be turned off in order not to exacerbate the spread of droplets;
  5. recommend to the passengers to self-report if feeling ill, and if they meet the criteria mentioned above; and
  6. follow the basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections as presented by WHO in their Travel Advice.

Note 3: For an aircraft where the deck is divided in sections using rigid separation walls, the priority is to collect the PLC from all the passengers sitting in the same sections with the suspected case and from the ones using the same lavatory facilities that may have been used by the suspected case.

Aircraft operators should consider increasing the frequency of the aircraft cleaning, especially for aircraft operating to/from affected areas. For this purpose, the aircraft operators and their suppliers should use cleaning substances, approved for aviation use, which were proven efficient during the previous SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks. Furthermore, proper consideration should be given, in this context, to the ECDC interim guidance for environmental cleaning in non-healthcare facilities exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

Aircraft operators and aerodrome operators should follow the specific guidelines provided by EASA partners for the event of suspected communicable disease, including the advice provided by EU Healthy Gateways. The links for specific guidelines can be found here.

You will find all the Corona ‘2019-nCoV’s outbreak updates by EBAA on our website here

We will provide further updates as appropriate.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the EBAA Safety team at

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