Times are a Changin’ – How the Royal Navy copes with clocks going back

JUST in case you’re unsure how to put your clock back one hour at 2am on Sunday to mark the end of British summer time (sob) here’s HMS Sutherland’s Lieutenant Ben Carver to show you how…

It falls to the frigate’s deputy weapon engineer officer to change the wardroom clock – one of a good 30 timepieces peppered around the 4,500-tonne warship… not to mention all the individual watches, phones and other devices used by the 190 men and women on board to tell the time.

Which is a bit of a pain.

But sailors are used to it more than most Britons – apart from the Jet Set – because they’re regularly passing between time zones given their operations around the globe.

Survey ship HMS Enterprise is eight hours ahead of the UK in Japan. Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is five hours behind us. Bahrain – the hub of RN operations in the Middle East – is two hours ahead of the UK now… but three from Sunday as they don’t put their clocks back.

Whereas minehunter HMS Cattistock, operating with a NATO task group in the eastern Baltic, will be putting the clocks back… but remain two hours ahead of the UK.

“The fact that the clocks go back in the UK makes very little difference to us and we purely operate in the local time zone,” explains Cattistock’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Claire Thompson.

Everything in the Royal Navy is based on Greenwich Mean Time (which is the same as Daylight Saving Time in the winter; summertime in the UK is GMT+1)… known in the military as Zulu Time.

 

We always reference Zulu Time as it is common to all and means regardless of where you are in the world, you can work out what time people mean and do things at the same time if you need to.

Lt Cdr Thompson

That’s the technical bit. As for when the clocks are put forward/back, it’s done with typical British sensibility.

“Ships usually put the clocks back overnight – it gives us an extra hour in bed – and forward during the dog watch, between 4 and 8pm, as it makes the working day an hour shorter!” Cattistock’s captain explains. “As an operations officer you can get in lots of trouble if you get it the wrong way around...”

Just in case you think those on duty might get lumbered unfairly with an extra-long watch as the clocks go back, it’s normally split with shipmates so you both do an extra half hour.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the rather prominent parrot in Sutherland's wardroom... it's a stuffed toy...