Interest in Royal Navy surges by one third during pandemic

Interest in joining the Royal Navy has surged during the pandemic – prompting a third naval base to begin turning civilians into sailors.

Applications to join the Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary are up by around one third on 2019 figures – 34 per cent for officers and 28 per cent who want to become ratings or join the ranks of the commandos.

To meet the growing demand, from January an additional 500 men and women will be turned from civilians into sailors at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, where they will complete their initial naval training package.

This is in addition to Britannia Royal Naval College, the spiritual home of the Officer Corps in Dartmouth, which has just taken a second intake of junior ratings on the ten-week initial course after already successfully delivering one entry.

It’s a task traditionally performed at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint but, even though it’s ramped up capacity by taking on an additional 330 raw recruits – delivering more than 3,000 fresh sailors in the next 12 months – more are needed.

It’s turned to Collingwood, the Navy’s Warfare and Weapon engineering school – and its largest training establishment – to assist, while further intakes are also planned to go to Dartmouth as well.

“We’ve clearly seen an increase in interest in people wanting to join the Royal Navy – and that’s across the board: the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary. A 30 per cent rise in applications is really healthy,” said Captain Pete Viney, the Service’s head of recruiting.

In all over the past 12 months 5,944 people have applied to become officers across the Royal Navy – one in nine wanting to become an F-35 or helicopter pilot, although the figure would have been higher as recruiters expected a spike when Tom Cruise’s Top Gun sequel was released… only for it to be delayed by Covid.

And applications to become a rating or join the Royal Marines ranks have risen from 14,757 to 18,872.

A 30 per cent rise in applications is really healthy

Captain Pete Viney

Beyond the relative security a military career offers in uncertain times and the desire to help out in a crisis, Captain Viney attributes the extra applications to the broad range of apprenticeships offered to all specialist branches and in all trades, which gives them a prospective career in the civilian world. He also said the recent advertising campaign targeting the Submarine Service sparked renewed interest in life beneath the waves.

However, despite the success, recruiters are still actively seeking new applications, not least in the Reserves, both Royal Navy and Royal Marines. They have been heavily called-upon and mobilised during the pandemic, but applications to join the Maritime Reserve have not matched those to become Regulars.

Royal Navy training has continued throughout the pandemic, with the service continuing to perform the tasks expected to – as well as providing support and assistance to the government’s Covid response.

“We’ve not stopped for a single moment – we have continued to provide the Navy with the people it needs to do its job both today and tomorrow,” Captain Viney explained.

“Covid has had a marginal impact on some training availability, but in good naval fashion, we’ve adapted. In fact, the pandemic has also allowed us to break free from the way we’ve done things for decades, to better use technology, to do things differently to meet the realities of the 21st Century.”

The Admiralty Interview Board – which determines whether applicants have the ‘right stuff’ to become Naval Officers – is now delivered in a fully virtual manner, using video conferencing. This was rapidly adapted in response to the pandemic and is still being refined, with a fully-online digitised version expected to be in place by the summer of 2021.

“We are looking to now make use of the best practices in the commercial recruiting sector to aid us selecting 21st Century officers – while at the same time continuing to recognise the different strengths and attributes we need in our men and women, who will go on to serve and lead in the modern Royal Navy of tomorrow,” Captain Viney added.