Majesty's Yacht Britannia is the former Royal Yacht of the
British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She was the 83rd such
vessel since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. She
is the second royal yacht to bear the name, the first being
the famous racing cutter built for The Prince of Wales in
1893. She is now permanently moored as an exhibition ship at
Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland.
HMY Britannia was built at the shipyard of John Brown & Co.
Ltd in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, UK, being launched by
Her Majesty 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 20 feet (6.1 m) of the foremast and
mainmast were hinged, to allow the ship to pass under
Britannia was designed to be converted into a hospital ship
in time of war, although this capability was never used. In
the event of nuclear war it was intended that the Queen
would take refuge aboard Britannia along the North West
coast of Scotland
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 drafted as volunteers
and after 365 days' service could be admitted to "The
Permanent Royal Yacht Service" (upon volunteering and
subsequently being accepted) 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 platoon 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 14 April and arriving 22
April 1954. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to
Malta in order for them to meet the Queen and Prince Philip
in Tobruk at the end of the royal couple's Commonwealth
Tour. The Queen and Prince Philip embarked on Britannia for
the first time in Tobruk on 1 May 1954.
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. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aboard
Britannia for part of this cruise; Presidents Gerald Ford,
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also were later welcomed
aboard the Yacht. Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess
of Wales, took their honeymoon cruise aboard Britannia in
1981. The ship also evacuated over 1,000 refugees from the
civil war in Aden in 1986.
According to journalist Andrew Marr in his book The Real
Elizabeth (2012), at least as of 1965, the British
government planned for the Royal Yacht to serve as the
Queen's refuge in the event of nuclear war. Peter Hennessy
wrote, "It was her floating nuclear bunker... it would lurk
in the sea lochs on the north-west coast of Scotland; the
mountains would shield it from the Soviet radar and at night
it would go quietly from one sea loch to another."
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)
In 1997, John Major's Conservative government committed
itself to replacing the Royal Yacht if re-elected, while the
Labour Party declined to disclose its plans for the vessel.
Following Labour's victory on 1 May 1997 it was announced
that the vessel would be retired and no replacement would be
built. The Conservative government argued that the cost of
the vessel was justified by its role in foreign policy and
promoting British interests abroad, particularly through
conferences held by British Invisibles. When canceling the
replacement of the vessel, the new Labour government argued
that the expenditure could not be justified given the other
pressures on the defense budget (from which it would be
funded and maintained). Proposals for the construction of a
new royal yacht, perhaps financed through a loan or by the
Sovereign's own funds, have since made little headway.
The Royal Yacht's last foreign mission was to convey the
last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten (now The Lord
Patten of Barnes), and the Prince of Wales away from Hong
Kong after its handover to the People's Republic of China on
1 July 1997. Britannia was decommissioned on 11 December
There was some controversy over the siting of the ship, with
some arguing that she would be better moored on the Clyde,
where she was built, than in Edinburgh, with which the yacht
had few links. However, her positioning in Leith coincided
with a redevelopment of the harbour area, and the advent of
The Queen was reported to have wept at the decommissioning
ceremony, which she attended along with most of the senior
members of the Royal Family.
Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core
Collection, Britannia is now permanently moored as a
five-star visitor attraction in the historic Port of Leith,
Edinburgh, Scotland, and is cared for by the Royal Yacht
Britannia Trust, a registered Scottish charity.
Entrance to the yacht is via the Ocean Terminal development,
and over 250,000 people visit 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
Royal Yacht. On 29 July 2011, a cocktail party was held on
board the Britannia for Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara
Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall to celebrate their
upcoming wedding; the yacht had been hired for the occasion.
A retired Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car, owned by the
royal family in the 1960s, is on display in the
purpose-built garage aboard Britannia. Other highlights of
the tour of the five decks that are open to the public
include the Queen's Bedroom (behind a glass wall), and the
State Dining Room. The Royal Deck Tea Room opened in 2009.
The 1936 racing yacht Bloodhound, once owned by the Queen,
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
centerpiece 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.