HMY Britannia

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]

Britannia departs Cardiff for the last time.
United 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


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.

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]


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.


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]

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.

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]


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. In December 2019 it was reported that the late Donald Gosling has donated £50 million in his will to pay for it [9].

The Royal Yacht's final 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.[10]


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.[11] 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 then fiance, Mike Tindall to celebrate their upcoming wedding.[12]

An early Land Rover in much-restored shape is displayed in the on-board garage, while a retired Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car is parked on the wharf below the ship. 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.[13] 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

  • Captain J. S. Dalglish, 7 January – 28 April 1954
  • Vice Admiral Sir Conolly Abel Smith, 28 April 1954 – 30 January 1958
  • Vice Admiral Sir Peter Dawnay, 30 January 1958 – 25 January 1962
  • Rear Admiral Sir Joseph Henley, 25 January 1962 – 9 March 1965
  • Rear Admiral Sir Patrick Morgan, 9 March 1965 – 1 September 1970
  • Rear Admiral Sir Richard Trowbridge, 1 September 1970 – 11 September 1975
  • Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Janion, 11 September 1975 – 4 February 1981
  • Rear Admiral Sir Paul Greening, 4 February 1981 – 12 September 1985
  • Rear Admiral Sir John Garnier, 12 September 1985 – 18 September 1990
  • Rear Admiral Sir Robert Woodard, 18 September 1990 – 1 April 1995
  • Commodore A. J. C. Morrow, 1 April 1995 – 11 December 1997[14]

See also


  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. Malvern, Jack (12 December 2019). "Sir Donald Gosling will leaves £50 million to pay for new royal yacht". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  10. "Pay for your own yacht, PM tells Queen". The Age. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  11. "Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, Registered Charity no. SC028070". Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
  12. Heppell, Scott (30 July 2011). "UK watches year's second, low key, royal wedding". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  13. 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.
  14. Johnstone-Bryden, Richard (2003). The Royal Yacht Britannia: The official history. London: Conway Maritime Press. p. 297. ISBN 0-85177-937-9.


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