The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum: An Unforgettable Experience

The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum is located on 11 Arizona Memorial Dr, Honolulu, HI 96818, and is truly an unforgettable experience. The museum consists of a main building that houses exhibits describing the history of submarines and their use in warfare, the USS Bowfin docked outside, a small food court, a gift shop, and many smaller items scattered throughout the plot of land. Items include a few different models of anti-aircraft gun, a conning tower, a kamikaze submarine used by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and plenty of types of torpedoes and missiles on display. 

The Ship

The first section of the museum we visited was the USS Bowfin. After purchasing the tickets to board the ship, we went up the ramp to board the bow of the ship’s deck. Once we boarded the ship, there were stairs to enter the hull. Walking down the stairs into the hull of the USS Bowfin at Pearl Harbor,  I was immediately struck by the intense nature of what I was experiencing.  Knowing that sailors once defended our nation from the small confines of this submarine was awe-inspiring. When I brought myself back to reality, I began to notice the actual space I was standing in. The room that was at the end of the stairway was the forward torpedo room. The stairway was actually not present prior to the ship becoming part of the museum as it was located where the tube for restocking torpedoes during a resupply was. The staircase was cut to avoid any injury that could happen by visitors going down the submarine’s hatches, which were sadly closed. The forward torpedo room had six torpedo bays and multiple racks for storing ammunition. Due to the limited space available on a submarine there were bunks for crew on top of the racks to conserve space. Overall the space was well-lit, the air smelled like old diesel fuel, and the interior of the sub was cool unlike the outside temperature

Visiting the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum (Liam Wilcox)

Although I could go on about the many positives of being on such a historic and beautiful craft, there were a few issues someone could encounter. While I do not have a problem with claustrophobia, being on the Bowfin may be uncomfortable for some people who do not like small spaces.  Additionally, because of Covid protocols, the number of people on the ship was limited. In the future, if these protocols are lifted, the additional people on the ship may contribute to people feeling cramped. Some of the ship’s rooms were off limits, which was a disappointment. While I understand the need to keep people out of certain areas of the ship to preserve the quality of the displays, I would like to have been able to go into some of the rooms and look around. The main ones that were off limits were the conning tower, the captains room, and the officers room. The captain’s room and the officers’ room were only blocked by a chain or plastic screen, so it was possible to see inside.The conning tower was completely off-limits though. This is mostly likely because of safety reasons as it is only accessible via a single ladder in the middle of the submarine’s hull. There is a conning tower that can be entered on the museum grounds so it is possible to look in one, even if it’s not on the Bowfin itself.

Service and Staff

The service before the Bowfin was pleasant, the employees were nice and welcoming. The tour was unguided however, so we were given a black and white two page handout before entering the submarine by a friendly staff member. This handout was the only guide to the ship.  This may seem like an oversight, however, having so little to distract a visitor’s attention from the details of the actual ship lent itself to the overall experience. The sailors who had made this ship their home had little comfort for the time that they were on board and at war. I liked the choice to keep the guide simple. The museum staff I encountered during the tour were quite nice. 

While the handout we received at the beginning of the experience was helpful in understanding the Bowfin’s capabilities, it would have been nice if there were a docent or guide available to ask more detailed questions, this may be due to the pandemic however. Since the handout was still quite informative and useful, this was more of a nitpick rather than any real complaint. 

Products and Souvenirs

Before entering the ship, my family and I were given the opportunity to have our picture taken beside the Bowfin.  This picture was turned into a souvenir made to look like a newspaper printed on the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing.  It was a great way to capture and remember the day and the experience of being on the Bowfin. Sadly, due to time constraints, we were unable to enter the souvenir shop. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, it was a very enjoyable tour and experience, and was definitely high quality. The submarine was a joy to explore . If given the opportunity, I would go back and visit again the next time I am in Hawaii.