The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust


In the lead up to HMY Britannia's decommissioning, the Government invited UK organisations to bid to provide a new home for the Royal Yacht and put her on display to the public. This was a major departure from tradition, as Royal Yachts were traditionally scuttled, or broken up following decommissioning. At the time, it was also a relatively high risk approach given the sensitivities associated with Britannia's historical role, and concerns over whether a non-Navy organisation could properly look after the former Royal Yacht.

Whilst organisations were invited to bid to become the new owners, the purchase price was pre-set to all interested parties. Seven bids were initially considered: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Portsmouth, and three from London. Ultimately, the Edinburgh and Manchester bids were short listed for more detailed consideration.

The Edinburgh bid was fronted by Terry Smith of Forth Ports, who saw having a major visitor attraction such as Britannia, as an ideal way to help accelerate the regeneration of the Western Harbour area of Leith Docks. With this regeneration aim in mind, if the bid was successful, Forth Ports also agreed to fully fund all the costs associated with adapting Britannia for public display, and the initial costs of setting up the charitable trust that would become Britannia's new owner. As part of this bid process, it was also a condition that Britannia would have to relocate to the (then) proposed Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre, should it be built.

On 8 April 1998, George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, announced that the Edinburgh bid had been successful. No reason was ever given as to why Edinburgh was considered to be the favoured choice, but we are of the view that it was probably because Edinburgh is such a popular destination for visitors, which in turn, meant there was a greater likelihood Britannia would be a success.

The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust

On 29 April 1998, ownership of the former Royal Yacht transferred from the Ministry of Defence to The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust (a charity registered in Scotland SC028070). Shortly thereafter, Britannia left Portsmouth for the last time and, now decommissioned, began her tow to Edinburgh, arriving in her new home port on Tuesday, 5 May 1998. Following a frantic level of activity to prepare Britannia for display, set up the new organisation, and build a visitor centre, Britannia opened to the public on 19 October 1998, based at what is now the cruise ship arrival/departure centre. Britannia's arrival in Leith proved to be the trigger for Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre to be constructed, and Britannia relocated alongside when it opened in October 2001. 

The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust's overriding charity objective 'is to advance the education of the general public concerning the Royal Yacht Britannia, a vessel of historical significance, and to foster, improve, promote, and increase public knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Royal Yacht Britannia'. And in doing so 'promote the permanent and dignified preservation, maintenance and use of the Royal Yacht Britannia, in a manner consistent with her dignity as a former Royal Palace'.

The first Chairman of The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust was Viscount Younger of Leckie KT KCVO TD DL, fondly know to one and all, as George Younger, the former Secretary of State for Defence and leading Scottish businessman. The other original Trustees were: Sir Timothy Clifford, former Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, Eric Milligan, at the time Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and Terry Smith of Forth Ports. There was also a legal condition, relating to the sale of Britannia, that one of the Trustees had a naval background, so shortly thereafter, Rear Admiral Neil Rankin CB CBE joined the Trust. Sadly, ill health meant that Viscount Younger had to stand down in October 2002 and, at his request, Rear Admiral Neil Rankin became Chairman. Over time the Board was strengthened by the addition of Charles Hammond, Chief Executive of Forth Ports, Wilson Murray, Finance Director Forth Ports (retired 2011), Jonathan Marsden LVO, Director of the Royal Collection, Pat Denzler, former hotelier and restaurateur, and Stuart Paterson, Chief Financial Officer Forth Ports. The Trustees receive no remuneration for undertaking this important stewardship role.

As befits its charitable objectives, the Trust's principal activity is to encourage as many people as possible to visit Britannia, in order to learn more about this iconic vessel and the ambassadorial role she undertook throughout the world. Since opening to the public on 20 October 1998, Britannia normally attracts between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors per annum, usually making it one of Scotland's top 10 paid admission visitor attractions. It is also important that when visitors come to Britannia, they have a high quality experience, with Britannia presented to the very highest standards, as would have traditionally been the case when in service. In this respect, since first joining our national tourist board's quality assurance scheme, VisitScotland has graded us in the 5 Star 'World Class' category. In addition, for each of the last 6 years, Britannia received the highest quality mark awarded that year by VisitScotland, and we currently hold the highest mark ever awarded to a visitor attraction at 95.85%.

Attracting this number of annual visitors means that we are also in the very fortunate position to be able to generate all the funds that are required for maintaining Britannia, without the need for any subsidy or assistance from the public sector or lottery organisations - this is very unusual for a historic ship. Any surplus funds accrued have been reinvested in the visitor experience, for example: putting more areas of Britannia on display, and constructing the Royal Deck Tea Room in the style of how the space would have appeared when the awning was in use for banquets and drinks receptions. Similarly, we were in the fortunate position to be able to purchase the former Royal Racing Yacht Bloodhound which was owned by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in the 1960s, and traditionally accompanied Britannia on her visits to the Western Isles. Bloodhound is now the centrepiece of a Royal Sailing Exhibition that was the catalyst for opening up much of the Lower Deck, enabling the public to view more of the Junior Ratings Mess areas. 

As is fairly common, the Trust has a wholly owned trading subsidiary called Royal Yacht Enterprises Ltd (registered in Scotland No 185472), which undertakes the trading activities; primarily the retail and catering operations associated with visiting Britannia, and hosting evening events. In July 2011 we were delighted to host the pre-wedding reception for Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall, welcoming back on board many members of the Royal Family for the first time since Britannia's decommissioning.

One of the biggest financial challenges the Trust had to face up to was funding dry docking Britannia. This is something that was originally undertaken by Forth Ports when Britannia first arrived in Leith in May 1998, although at the time the Trust was still in gestation and had no employees. We were, however, assured that the works undertaken at that time would last at least 10 years, and annual underwater surveys subsequently meant that the next dry docking could be put off until at least June 2012. To minimise the impact of closing Britannia to visitors, we opted for dry docking in January 2012 and were fortunate that it was a very mild month, with temperatures hitting 10 degrees.

The physical works undertaken during dry docking, coupled with being closed to the public and unable to host evening events for a month (yet having to meet all our normal bills), amounted to a considerable investment. The good news was that the hull is in a superb condition and our insurance company's surveyors estimate it will be 15-20 years before it is necessary to dry dock Britannia again.    

One of the Trust's proudest moments was on 3 June 2012 when Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, stepped back aboard Britannia's Royal Barge, escorted by both of Britannia's fast motor launches at the start of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. All three boats were crewed by members of the Association of Royal Yachtsmen and this was the culmination of over 6 months of tireless efforts by some of the Yottie engineers and our own maintenance staff. The boats were transported to London by lorry and returned the next day, and are now back on display alongside Britannia.
Trust Legal Details

We recommend that all contact with the Trust is addressed to:

The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust
Ocean Terminal

However, for company law, and charity best practice reasons, we are obliged to advise you of our Registered Office. This is the address of our Company Secretary Solicitors, and they then redirect the mail to the above address. So should you require it, our Registered Office is:

The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust
Princes Exchange
1 Earl Grey Street

Company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland No. 185443
VAT No. GB 717 0276 48
Registered Scottish Charity No. SC028070


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