Thirty Merchant Navy officers will sail around the world with the Royal Navy this winter in a new link-up between the two.
They will spend three months at a time on patrol and survey ships to help with their training – and to give them a greater understanding of the Royal Navy’s role.
It follows a long-standing agreement which has given trainee Royal Navy officers the opportunity to sail on merchant vessels, giving them extra time at sea, especially on the bridge.
Before the pandemic, nearly 150 Royal Navy officers spent time with the Merchant Navy – including helping to crew cross-Channel ferries for an insight into safely guiding a ship through busy waters.
Having benefited hugely from sending trainee officers to sea under the Red Ensign, the Royal Navy wanted to offer something in return.
Until now it’s largely been on an ad hoc basis.
Officers such as 20-year-old Engineering Cadet Harry Bell, who spent two months aboard HMS Mersey around the UK, earned the experience and skills which helped him towards a professional qualification, while Deck Cadet Scarlett Barnett-Smith is currently serving aboard patrol ship HMS Tamar.
She says the time attached to the patrol ship on a “once-in-a-lifetime passage” – Tamar has just entered the Pacific via the Panama Canal – has been a hugely rewarding experience.
“The immensely dedicated crew have been extremely welcoming and helpful, allowing me to grow and understand the responsibilities as a sailor of the Royal Navy,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to one day seeing HMS Tamar from the bridge as an Officer of the Watch in the Merchant Navy, and will think fondly of her throughout my career.”
The pandemic has left it with a number of training berths over the winter – berths on River-class overseas patrol vessels, deployed from the Falklands to the Far East, and survey ships which are being offered to Merchant Navy trainee officers for three months at a time, after a month learning the art of navigation at HMS Collingwood in Fareham.
Under international rules time at sea in either a Royal Navy warship or civilian vessel counts as equal when it comes to training.
The first batch of merchant officers are due to join their ships this month having completed their navigational training.
The link-up should lead not just to a greater understanding of the work of both navies, but also bolster the numbers of the Royal Naval Reserve as merchant officers are lining up to join and improved security on the high seas – crucial in an industry worth £46bn to the UK economy, more than air and rail transport combined.
“This is something of a novel concept for the Royal Navy but it runs alongside several strands of the Merchant and Royal Navy coming closer together in the maritime sphere for multiple ‘wins’,” explained Lieutenant Commander David Carter, the Royal Navy’s Merchant Navy Liaison Officer.
“All the Merchant Navy cadets who have sailed with the Royal Navy so far have loved it and these cadets will be the next generation of influencers who will have the Royal Navy close to their hearts.”