Merchant Navy cadets join Royal Navy ships in new link-up

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. Under international rules, time at sea in either a Royal Navy warship or civilian vessel counts as equal when it comes to training.

Before the pandemic, almost 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, but the Royal Navy has a number of training berths available over the winter, some on river-class overseas patrol vessels and others on survey ships, which are being offered to Merchant Navy trainee officers for three months at a time, after a month of learning navigation at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire. The first batch of merchant officers are due to join their ships this month having completed their navigational training.

The link-up provides a greater understanding of the work of both navies in addition to bolstering the numbers of the Royal Naval Reserve as merchant officers join up to improve security at sea – 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’,” explains 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.”

The exchange scheme will continue to send Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel on board Merchant Navy vessels for voyages that can last from one week to three months on a variety of vessels including cargo and container ships, fast-craft, passenger ferries, Ro-Ros and tankers. While on board, they participate in duties such as watch keeping, loading and discharging cargo, machinery space routines, and domestic activities.

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