HMY Britannia

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Farewell Brittania (1453882710) (3).jpg
Britannia departs Cardiff for the last time.
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgUnited Kingdom
Name: HMY Britannia
Owner: The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust [1]
Ordered: 5 February 1952
Builder: John Brown & Company
Yard number: 691
Laid down: 16 June 1952
Launched: 16 April 1953
Commissioned: 11 January 1954
Decommissioned: 11 December 1997
Identification: IMO number:  8635306
Status: Museum ship open to the public
General characteristics
Tonnage: 5,769  GT
Length: 412 ft (126 m)
Beam: 55 ft (17 m)
Height: 123 ft (37 m) to top of mainmast
Draught: 15 ft (4.6 m)
Propulsion: 2 Pametrada steam turbines, 12,000 hp (8,900 kW)
Speed: 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h; 24.7 mph)
Range: 2,400 nautical miles (4,400 km)
Capacity: 250 guests
Troops: 1 platoon of Royal Marines
  • 21 officers
  • 250 Royal Yachtsmen

Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia, is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in service from 1954 until 1997. She was the 83rd such vessel since King Charles II acceded to the throne in 1660, and is the second royal yacht to bear the name, the first being the racing cutter built for the Prince of Wales in 1893. During her 43-year career, the yacht travelled more than a million nautical miles around the globe. Now retired from royal service, Britannia is permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a popular visitor attraction with over 300,000 visits each year. [2]

A royal yacht is a ship used by a monarch or a royal family. If the monarch is an emperor the proper term is imperial yacht. Most of them are financed by the government of the country of which the monarch is head. The royal yacht is most often manned by personnel from the navy and used by the monarch and his/her family on both private and official travels.

Charles II of England 17th-century King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death.

HMY <i>Britannia</i> (Royal Cutter Yacht) gaff-rigged cutter

His Majesty's Yacht Britannia was a racing yacht built in 1893 for RYS Commodore Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. She served both himself and his son King George V, with a long racing career.



HMY Britannia was built at the shipyard of John Brown & Co. Ltd in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire. She was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on 16 April 1953, and commissioned on 11 January 1954. The ship was designed with three masts: a 133-foot (41 m) foremast, a 139-foot (42 m) mainmast, and a 118-foot (36 m) mizzenmast. The top aerial on the foremast and the top 20 feet (6.1 m) of the mainmast were hinged to allow the ship to pass under bridges.

His or Her Majesty's Ship, abbreviated HMS and H.M.S., is the ship prefix used for ships of the navy in some monarchies. Derived terms such as "HMAS" and equivalents in other languages such as "SMS" are used.

John Brown & Company Scottish marine engineering and shipbuilding firm

John Brown and Company of Clydebank was a Scottish marine engineering and shipbuilding firm. It built many notable and world-famous ships including RMS Lusitania, HMS Hood, HMS Repulse, RMS Queen Mary, RMS Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Elizabeth 2.

Clydebank town in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, UK

Clydebank is a town in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Situated on the north bank of the River Clyde, Clydebank borders Dumbarton and the villages of Old Kilpatrick, Bowling and Milton to the west, as well as the town of Bearsden in East Dunbartonshire, and the Yoker and Drumchapel areas of the adjacent City of Glasgow. Historically part of Dunbartonshire, Clydebank is part of the registration County of Dumbarton, the Dunbartonshire Crown Lieutenancy area, and the wider urban area of Greater Glasgow. Clydebank was founded as a police burgh on 18 November 1886.

Britannia was designed to be converted into a hospital ship in time of war, [3] although this capability was never used. In the event of nuclear war, it was intended for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to take refuge aboard Britannia off the north-west coast of Scotland. [4]

Hospital ship ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility

A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital. Most are operated by the military forces of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones.

Operation Candid: Protection of the Royal Family in an Emergency was a Cold War contingency plan of the British Government to evacuate Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the British royal family in the event of nuclear war. The plan was devised in late 1962 following the Cuban Missile Crisis and approved the following year.


The crew of Royal Yachtsmen were volunteers from the general service of the Royal Navy. Officers were appointed for up to two years, while the "yachtsmen" were volunteers and after 365 days' service could be admitted to "The Permanent Royal Yacht Service" as Royal Yachtsmen and served until they chose to leave the Royal Yacht Service or were dismissed for medical or disciplinary reasons. As a result, some served for 20 years or more. The ship also carried a troop of Royal Marines when members of the Royal Family were on board.[ citation needed ]

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Troop military formation size, generally subordinate to a squadron in cavalry

A troop is a military sub-subunit, originally a small formation of cavalry, subordinate to a squadron. In many armies a troop is the equivalent element to the infantry section or platoon. Exceptions are the Royal Horse Artillery and the US Cavalry, where a troop is a subunit comparable to an infantry company or artillery battery.

Royal Marines Marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom

The Corps of Royal Marines (RM) is the amphibious light infantry and also one of the five fighting arms of the Royal Navy. The marines can trace their origins back to the formation of the English Army's "Duke of York and Albany's maritime regiment of Foot" at the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company on 28 October 1664.


Britannia sailed on her maiden voyage from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta, departing on 14 April and arriving on 22 April 1954. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to Malta in order for them to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in Tobruk at the end of the royal couple's Commonwealth Tour. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on Britannia for the first time in Tobruk on 1 May 1954. [5]

Portsmouth City & unitary authority area in England

Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, England, with a total population of 205,400 residents. The city of Portsmouth is nicknamed Pompey and is mainly built on Portsea Island, a flat, low-lying island measuring 24 square kilometres in area, just off the south-east coast of Hampshire. Portsmouth is the only island city in the United Kingdom, and is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London.

Grand Harbour

The Grand Harbour, also known as the Port of Valletta, is a natural harbour on the island of Malta. It has been substantially modified over the years with extensive docks, wharves, and fortifications.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

HMY Britannia on the Welland Canal en route to Chicago, 1959 HMY Britannia Welland Canal 1959 MIKAN 4821456.jpg
HMY Britannia on the Welland Canal en route to Chicago, 1959

On 20 July 1959, Britannia sailed the newly opened Saint Lawrence Seaway en route to Chicago, where she docked, making the Queen the first Canadian monarch to visit the city. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aboard Britannia for part of this cruise; Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were welcomed aboard in later years. Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, took their honeymoon cruise on Britannia in 1981. The ship evacuated over 1,000 refugees from the civil war in Aden in 1986. [6] The vessel sailed to Canada in 1991 and made a port of call in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario.

Saint Lawrence Seaway Locks & canals in the USA and Canada

The Saint Lawrence Seaway is a system of locks, canals, and channels in Canada and the United States that permits oceangoing vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes of North America, as far inland as Duluth, Minnesota at the western end of Lake Superior. The seaway is named for the Saint Lawrence River, which flows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Legally, the seaway extends from Montreal, Quebec, to Lake Erie and includes the Welland Canal.

Monarchy of Canada Monarchy in Canada

The monarchy of Canada is at the core of both Canada's federal structure, Westminster-style of parliamentary and constitutional democracy. The monarchy is the foundation of the executive (Queen-in-Council), legislative (Queen-in-Parliament), judicial (Queen-on-the-Bench) branches within both federal and provincial jurisdictions. The sovereign is the personification of the Canadian state and is Queen of Canada as a matter of constitutional law. The current Canadian monarch and head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned since 6 February 1952. Elizabeth's eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales, is heir apparent.

Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th president of the United States

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was an American army general and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. During World War II, he was a five-star general in the Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful Invasion of Normandy in 1944–45 from the Western Front.

HMY Britannia, when on royal duties, was escorted by a Royal Navy warship. The yacht was a regular sight at Cowes Week in early August and, usually, for the remainder of the month, was home to the Queen and her family for an annual cruise around the islands off the west coast of Scotland (known as the "Western Isles Tour").

During her career as Royal Yacht, Britannia conveyed the Queen, other members of the Royal Family and various dignitaries on 696 foreign visits and 272 visits in British waters. In this time, Britannia steamed 1,087,623 nautical miles (2,014,278 km). [7]


London, 1997 HMY Britannia in the Pool of London for the very last time, 11-97 - - 144476.jpg
London, 1997

In 1997, the Conservative government committed itself to replacing the Royal Yacht if reelected, while the Labour Party refused to disclose its plans for the vessel. After Labour won the general election in May 1997, it announced the vessel was to be retired and no replacement would be built. The previous government had argued that the cost was justified by its role in foreign policy and promoting British interests abroad, particularly through conferences held by British Invisibles, formerly the Committee on Invisible Exports.

It was estimated by the Overseas Trade Board that events held on board the yacht helped raise £3 billion for the treasury between 1991 and 1995 alone. [8] The new government said the expenditure could not be justified given other pressures on the defence budget, from which a replacement vessel would have been funded and maintained. Proposals for the construction of a new royal yacht, perhaps financed through a loan or by the Queen's own funds, have made little headway.

The Royal Yacht's last foreign mission was to convey the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, and the Prince of Wales back from Hong Kong after its handover to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. Britannia was decommissioned on 11 December 1997. The Queen, normally stoic, is reported to have shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony that was attended by most of the senior members of the Royal Family. [9]


Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Britannia is a visitor attraction moored in the historic Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is cared for by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, a registered charity. [10] There was some controversy over the siting of the ship, with some arguing that she would be better moored on the River Clyde, where she was built, than in Edinburgh, with which the yacht had few links. Her positioning in Leith coincided with a redevelopment of the harbour area, and the advent of Scottish devolution.

Entrance to the yacht is via the Ocean Terminal development, and over 300,000 people visit the Royal Yacht Britannia every year. She is also one of the UK's top evening events venues. On 18 May 2006, the Swiss-born Hollywood actress and first Bond girl, Ursula Andress, celebrated her 70th birthday on board the former royal yacht. On 29 July 2011, a drinks reception was held on board Britannia for Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall to celebrate their upcoming wedding. [11]

A retired Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car, used by the Queen from the early 1960s until 2002, is on display in the purpose-built garage aboard Britannia. The tour of the five decks open to the public includes the Queen's Bedroom, which can be viewed behind a glass wall, and the State Dining and Drawing Rooms, which hosted grand receptions for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers throughout the world. The clocks on board are stopped at 3:01, the time that the Queen last disembarked. [12] The Royal Deck Tea Room was added in 2009.

The 1936 racing yacht Bloodhound, once owned by the Queen and Prince Philip, is now berthed alongside Britannia. Bloodhound was one of the most successful ocean-racing yachts ever built and was also the yacht on which both the Prince of Wales and Princess Royal learned to sail. The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust bought Bloodhound in early 2010 and she is the centrepiece of an exhibition focusing on the Royal Family's passion for sailing. Visitors can view Bloodhound from a specially built pontoon when the racing yacht is in port. During July and August, she is berthed in Oban Marina and is available for private charter, as she sails around the islands once visited by the royal family during their annual two-week holiday in the Western Isles of Scotland. During this period, Royal Yachtsmen (Yotties) from Britannia's original crew sail the yacht for the Britannia Trust.

Commanding officers

See also

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  1. "The Royal Yacht Britannia – The Trust" . Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  3. "1953: Queen launches Royal Yacht Britannia". On This Day. BBC. 16 April 1953. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  4. Simon Jonhson (12 July 2010). "Floating bunker plan to help Queen escape nuclear attack". The Telegraph.
  5. Richard Johnstone-Bryden (2003). The Royal Yacht Britannia: The Official History. Conway Maritime. pp. 30–33. ISBN   978-0-85177-937-9.
  6. Aden: British Evacuation Hansard HL Deb 21 January 1986 vol 470 cc131-4.
  7. Johnstone-Bryden, p. 298.
  8. "Great British Ambassador". The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  9. "Pay for your own yacht, PM tells Queen". The Age. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  10. "Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, Registered Charity no. SC028070". Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
  11. Heppell, Scott (30 July 2011). "UK watches year's second, low key, royal wedding". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  12. Hubbard, Lauren (30 September 2018). "The Story Behind the Royal Family's Yacht, Britannia". Town&Country. New York, NY: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  13. Johnstone-Bryden, Richard (2003). The Royal Yacht Britannia: The official history. London: Conway Maritime Press. p. 297. ISBN   0-85177-937-9.


Coordinates: 55°58′56″N3°10′38″W / 55.9821331°N 3.1773017°W / 55.9821331; -3.1773017