Teacher's Guide: Historic Ship Nautilus Tour Frequently Asked Questions and Locations

Historic Ship NAUTILUS (SSN-571) Historic Ship NAUTILUS, decommissioned in 1980, is now permanently moored to the pier at the east end of the Museum. In the glass deckhouse on the bow you will be given an audio wand that will describe each section of the submarine as you move along the tour route. The tour is currently offered in English, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. English-language transcripts are available for people with hearing impairments.

There are a few things visitors should know about NAUTILUS before they come aboard.

  • Due to its unique construction the boat is not accessible to visitors with mobility restrictions. Visitors must be able to ascend and descend several sets of staircases, including one very steep set, and climb through hatches that are a foot or more off the ground.
  • Visitors who have struggled with claustrophobia should be aware that the spaces inside the sub can be tight and since much of the tour route requires guests to walk single file, there is no quick and easy way to exit if the situation becomes overwhelming. We suggest that concerned guests evaluate their level of comfort when they reach the torpedo room, the first stop on the tour, and turn back if necessary.
  • Children’s groups should have, at minimum, one adult at the front of the group and a second at the rear. If chaperones prefer that children not receive the handheld wands they may notify the Sailor on duty in the deckhouse. Please ask children not to run or use loud voices while inside the submarine. You may also want to remind them to duck as they pass through the hatches so as not to run into the solid-steel frames.

Frequently-Asked Questions

  • What are NAUTILUS’s dimensions? How big was her crew?
    NAUTILUS is 320 feet long and 28 feet in diameter. Submerged, she displaced about 4,100 tons. She carried a crew of 11 officers and 105 enlisted men.
  • How deep could she go? How fast could she travel through the water?
    About 700 feet and about 20 knots (23 miles per hour).
  • How far does she extend below the surface of the river? Is she floating or does she sit on the bottom?
    About 21 feet. She floats so that she may rise and fall with tides and storm surges.
  • Were the glass deckhouse and staircases there when the boat was in active service?
    No, both features—as well as the Plexiglas walls that define the tour route and the grating that covers the overhead, or ceiling—were added when NAUTILUS was configured for public access. NAUTILUS crewmembers entered and exited the sub by climbing up and down vertical ladders.
  • What are the numbers and letters painted on the side of her sail?
    The numbers, "571," together make up NAUTILUS’s hull number. The letters stand for awards the boat’s crew received. The white "E" is for battle efficiency (excellence in combat readiness). The red "E" is for engineering excellence. The red "A" is for anti-submarine warfare excellence.
  • What is the red, yellow, and blue flag that flies from the aft end of her sail?
    It is a Presidential Unit Citation, an award given to an entire crew for "gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions." NAUTILUS's was the first crew to receive the award in peacetime; it was given to them after their trip under the North Pole.

Locations on the Tour Route

Torpedo Room

Torpedo room: NAUTILUS was capable of carrying up to 24 torpedoes. Crewmembers lived and worked alongside their weapons—you can see racks, or bunks, along one wall and a toilet, sink, and shower as you move up the stairs to the next stop on the tour. (The bathroom spaces had doors and were not open to view when the boat was in service.)

Wardroom & Officers' Berthing

Wardroom & officers' berthing: The Wardroom was where the boat’s officers ate, held meetings and training, and relaxed. Two or three officers shared each of the surrounding staterooms. Only the commanding officer and executive officer had private rooms.

Attack Center

Attack center: The attack center contains the periscopes. Here the officers and crew planned and directed the sub’s movements and actions. Close by are the navigation center, the sonar room, and the ship’s office.

Control Room

Control room: The first space on the lower level is the control room. From here the crew drove the boat and maintained the desired depth by controlling the amount of water in each ballast tank. The radio room is nearby.

Crew Areas

Crew’s mess: This was the crew’s dining area; it could seat 36 people at a time. The crew also used it for recreation, training, and religious services.

Crew’s quarters: Each crewmember had his own bunk, known as a rack. There was storage space under the racks in which Sailors could store their personal possessions. See the raised rack in the torpedo room for a look at how small that space actually was.

Chief petty officer quarters: Chief petty officers are the senior enlisted personnel on a submarine; they have their own separate living and dining area. On NAUTILUS it is off of crew’s mess.

Galley: The galley, or kitchen, aboard NAUTILUS prepared a meal for 100 men every six hours. Crewmembers could, however, get a snack if they got hungry between meals—coffee, an ice-cream machine, and "bug juice," the Navy’s version of Kool-Aid, were always available.

Scullery: The scullery is the space in which all food-related items—pots, pans, dishes, silverware, etc.—were cleaned. The round container on the countertop is actually a dishwasher.

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