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Sonar Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotAll submarines and other ocean-going vessels such as frigates and warships use sonar to navigate through the water. Sonar, which stands for sound navigation and ranging, maps the features of an environment by transmitting sound waves and measuring them as they're reflected back.

The pulse transmission of sound waves is used to detect and track targets, ocean features and other subs and surface ships in the area.

dotSonar technicians, also called naval electronic technicians, are trained to repair, maintain and operate sophisticated acoustic detection equipment on modern ships and submarines. A sonar operator reads the display screens or listens to sounds made by other underwater vessels.

dotTwo types of sonar detection are used. Active sonar is used in non-combat situations -- the sonar operator sends out signals for detecting others in the area. Passive sonar only listens to sounds emitted from other underwater vessels, such as propeller noises, for defensive and offensive missions.

dotIn most cases, sonar technicians and operators work in the navy. They first become trained sailors before receiving additional education in the electronics field.

dotBecause ships and submarines travel 24 hours a day, sonar technicians must be available at all hours. They work irregular hours and perform watch-keeping duties. "When we're at sea, there are always people awake," says Brad Browne. He is a sonar technician. "We take shifts, but the days are a lot longer." They may work at sea, in the harbor or on land.

While at work, sonar technicians must be able to withstand cramped living quarters. They must work above and below the waterline.

At a Glance

Repair, maintain and operate sophisticated acoustic detection equipment

  • In most cases, sonar technicians and operators work in the navy
  • You have to be able to withstand cramped living quarters
  • Join the navy, then get additional training