History of Royal Yachts

Britannia's Binnacle on the Verandah Deck.

Britannia's Binnacle © Marc Millar

When Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, it marked the end of a long tradition of British Royal Yachts, dating back to 1660 and the reign of Charles II. In total, the British Monarchy has had 83 Royal Yachts. Britannia was the first Royal Yacht to be built with complete ocean-going capacity and designed as a royal residence to entertain guests around the world. Previously Royal Navy warships or passenger liners were commandeered for overseas Royal tours.

Victoria & Albert III

Britannia's predecessor was the Victoria & Albert III - the first Royal Yacht not to be powered by sail. It was built for Queen Victoria, but she never stepped on board, concerned about the yacht's stability. King Edward VII did sail on the Victoria & Albert, mainly in local waters and the Mediterranean. Having served four sovereigns over 38 years and not left Northern Europe since 1911, the Victoria & Albert was decommissioned in 1939. She was eventually broken up for scrap at Faslane in 1954.

The last Royal Yacht

It was decided that a new Royal Yacht should be commissioned that could travel the globe and double as a hospital ship in time of war. It was also hoped a convalescence cruise would help the King's ailing health. The John Brown shipyard in Clydebank received the order from the Admiralty for a new ship on 4 February, 1952. Sadly King George VI, The Queen's father, passed away two days later. Not only did The Queen now have to prepare for her new role, but she also had responsibility for the commissioning of the new Royal Yacht.

Built in Scotland

John Brown & Co was one of the most famous shipyards in the world, having built the famous liners Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. The keel of the new, as yet unnamed, Royal Yacht was laid down in June 1952. One of the last fully-riveted ships to be built with a remarkably smooth painted hull, she was finally ready to be launched on 16 April, 1953. The ship's name was a closely guarded secret, only being revealed when the Queen smashed a bottle of Empire wine (Champagne was considered too extravagant in post-war Britain) and announced to the expectant crowds "I name this ship Britannia… I wish success to her and all who sail in her".

Britannia Commissioned

After the launch, Britannia's building work continued as her funnel and masts were installed, before beginning sea trials on 3 November 1953 off the West Coast of Scotland. On successful completion, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 11 January 1954.

You can read more about getting Britannia ready for Royal service by downloading Letters from a Fish to his Admiral, a series of notes and letters written by Acting Captain J S Dalglish, the Officer in charge of commissioning Britannia.

John Brown continued as a shipyard until they sadly closed in 2001.

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