Keeping families in touch - submarine style

Published on Defence (author), LSIS Bradley Darvill (photographer)

Topic(s): Submarine Force

Petty Officer Electronic Warfare Analyst-Submarines Tony Mahony is greeted by his wife Felicity and daughter Audrey as HMAS Waller returns to her home at Fleet Base West, Rockingham, Western Australia. (photo: LSIS Bradley Darvill)
Petty Officer Electronic Warfare Analyst-Submarines Tony Mahony is greeted by his wife Felicity and daughter Audrey as HMAS Waller returns to her home at Fleet Base West, Rockingham, Western Australia.
In this digital age, methods for keeping in touch with loved ones can be taken for granted – but for submariners, for whom communication is kept to a minimum, the most brief of contact is vital. 
 
Australian submariners use a simple and effective method to keep in touch with those important to them when emails and phone calls are not available, keeping their minds on the task at hand.
 
‘Familygrams’ is a military messaging system for deployed submariners with a crew member is limited to one message per week to a maximum of 26 words or codes.
 
With 157 codes to choose from, messages are limited only by a respondent’s creativity. 
 
Families are provided with a code booklet to create and decipher messages with the system working both to sea, and ashore, with a ‘Reverse Familygram’ often responding to the original message.  
 
Deborah Paterson runs the program from the Submarine Force Headquarters at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.
 
“Familygrams are so important for enabling loved ones to be able to stay on touch, it not only makes the family’s day when they receive one, but the members at sea love getting them also,” Mrs Paterson said. 
 
“It makes people feel connected even though they aren’t with together.”
 
Codes are used as replacements for more common sentences and phrases, such as greetings, health, finances and travel.
 
Some examples of these codes are:
3.            Hello
4.            Hi Sweetheart
25.          Happy Easter
55.          Am fit and well
75.          Can’t wait to hear your voice
119.        Thinking of you always
 
Lieutenant Dean Taylor, Staff Officer Personnel, at the Submarine Force Headquarters, said that the Familygrams were just one of the methods used in assisting deployed personnel. 
 
“Our small team works hard in ensuring our members are support administratively, assisting them with more complex administrative issues as well as family liaison,” he said.  
 
“This allows the crew to stay focused on their job, knowing support is always readily available ashore.”
 
The Australian Navy currently has six Collins class submarines based in Western Australia which run of crew of approximately 48, with the capability set to grow with the introduction of the 12 future submarines from the 2030s.