Marking 70 Years of Britannia

Next weekend we mark 70 years since the launch of The Royal Yacht Britannia. Read on for the fascinating history of this iconic ship.

Commissioned in the hope of boosting the King’s ailing health, the order for the build of Britannia was signed two days before the passing of King George IV. Amongst the new monarch’s responsibilities, was now a new Royal Yacht. Alongside Sir Hugh Casson, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were able to choose the designs for the yacht with their style clearly seen through the refined country home furnishings that adorned the State Apartments.

© Estate of Hugh Casson
Sketch by Sir Hugh Casson of the State Drawing Room.

Launched on 16 April 1953 from John Brown & Co Shipyard, the crowd cheered as The Queen announced the ship’s new name, “I name this ship Britannia… I wish success to her and all who sail in her.”

A global ambassador, Britannia was a palace at sea, a location for the Royal Family to entertain Prime Ministers and Presidents all over the world, calling at over 600 ports in 135 countries.

The Royal Yacht Britannia sailing to Gibraltar.

The Yacht was also a home for summer holidays for the Royal Family, sailing to the Western Isles where they could enjoy picnics on the local beaches. Queen Elizabeth II once famously said that Britannia was ‘the one place I can truly relax’ showing a close personal affection for the ship.
Queen Elizabeth II, Barbados, 1966.

Although never required, Britannia was built to double as a hospital ship. The Royal Yacht was however involved in the evacuation British and foreign national refugees picked up on Khormaksar Beach, Aden on 17 January 1986.

Britannia was not only home to the Royal Family but to over 3000 Royal Yachtsmen who worked aboard during the years of Royal service. Affectionately nicknamed 'Yotties', promotion on Britannia was slow as so many turned down their natural promotion on to other Royal Navy ships to stay in their existing rank on board Britannia.

You can read more about life on board for the 'Yotties' here.

Queen Elizabeth II with the Royal Yachtsmen on deck.

Travelling over 1 million nautical miles in 44 years, Britannia was decommission in 1997. A new second life began in 1998 when Britannia opened as a five-star visitor attraction in Leith, Edinburgh. Owned and cared for by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, we have now welcomed over 5 million visitors in the last 25 years. All funds generated are reinvested to ensure that Britannia is maintained for future generations.

Britannia arriving in Leith, 1998.

Guests can see from the State Apartments to the Crew’s Quarters and learn about this ship’s role in history. In keeping with her entertaining past, Britannia is available for exclusive use evening events, the gold ropes removed and the candles lit for a dinner of your own in the State Dining Room or a drinks reception across the decks.

The State Dining Room.


Image copyright
Estate of Hugh Casson
British Pathé
Crown copyright
Marc Millar