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- June 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
THE ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA, named and launched by the Queen at Clydebank (Scotland) in 1953, serves as an official and private residence for the Queen and other members of the Royal Family when they are engaged on visits overseas or are voyaging in home waters. The yacht also takes part in some naval exercises and undertakes routine hydrographic tasks while at sea.
The decision to build the yacht as a replacement for the 50-year-old yacht Victoria and Albert, then no longer seaworthy, was announced by the Admiralty (now the Ministry of Defence, Navy Department) in October 1951. Britannia was designed for two functions: (1) the royal yacht in peace time, (2) she has the speed and special facilities which would enable conversion to a hospital ship in time of war. The ship has a modern clipper bow and modified cruiser stern instead of the traditional swan bow and counter stern of previous royal yachts.
Built by John Brown’s (Clydebank) Ltd, Britannia was ordered in February 1952, and completed in January 1954. The total construction cost £2.1 million. Her specifications include the following:
|Length overall:||412 feet 3 inches (about 125.65 metres).|
|Beam:||55 feet (16.76 metres) maximum.|
|Deep load:||4,961 tons (5,041 tonnes)
with 510 displacement tons (518 tonnes) of fuel and 210 tons (213 tonnes) of fresh water.
|Gross tonnage:||5,769 tons (5,862 tonnes).|
|Mean draught:||17 feet (5.2 metres) at load displacement.|
|Machinery:||Geared turbine 12,000 shaft horse-power (8,948 kilowatts) – two shafts.|
|Speed:||On trials – 22.5 knots (11.6 metres per second) at 4,320 tons (4,389 tonnes) displacement.
Continuous seagoing – 21 knots (10.8 metres per second).
|Endurance:||with 510 tons (518 tonnes) of oil fuel:
2,800 miles (4,506 km) at 20 knots (10.3 metres per second).
3,200 miles (5,150 km) at 18 knots (9.3 metres per second).
3,675 miles (5,914 km) at 14 knots (7.2 metres per second).
Merchant ship practice was followed in Britannia’s construction, and the structural plans were submitted to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. In their final form they were approved by Lloyd’s and the Admiralty.
Refits and docking usually take place in the Royal Dockyard, Portsmouth. The first major refit of the ship since her launching took place in 1972 and 1973: the main task completed was the improvement of accommodation for the crew and the installation of an air conditioning system for their quarters.
The royal apartments are aft on the shelter deck and the royal staff accommodation is on the lower deck.
(In wartime the after part would have wards accommodating up to 200 patients). The royal and state apartments contain some of the furniture from the Victoria and Albert. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took a personal interest in the interior decorations, the choice of furnishings and the general fitting-out of the royal yacht.
The yacht is an independent command, administered personally by the Flag Officer, Royal Yachts. He is normally appointed as an extra equerry to the Queen and, as such, is a member of the royal household. Britannia’s crew numbers 21 officers and 256 men when members of the royal family are embarked or when the vessel undertakes a long ocean voyage. Officers are normally appointed for two-year periods of duty. Half the ratings are permanent crew members and remain attached to the ship for the rest of their service careers; the others are attached to the yacht for two-year periods only. They are all volunteers from the Royal Navy, but receive no special benefits in terms of pay, allowances or leave.
Traditions of dress aboard the royal yacht include the wearing by seamen of naval uniform with the jumper inside the top of the trousers, which are finished at the back with a black silk bow. On all blue uniforms, ratings wear white badges instead of the red which are customary in the Royal Navy. So far as possible orders on the upper deck are executed without spoken words or commands, and by long tradition the customary naval mark of respect of piping the side is paid only to the Queen.