HMS Severn pushes Navy’s future navigators on rigorous training

Sailors who will guide the Royal Navy’s biggest ships through the most challenging waters have been tested aboard HMS Severn.

The Portsmouth-based warship took navigators hoping to serve aboard carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales – or pass on their valuable skills and experience to a new generation of sailors – through challenging training in the narrow waterways around Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Orkney Islands.

Students on the Specialist Navigator Course spend eight weeks in the classroom and two weeks at sea with HMS Severn. 

Routinely deprived of technology to assist them – like GPS, gyro and radar – the students were tasked with guiding patrol ship Severn and a mock task group through dangerous waters. 

The course trains navigators to the highest degree the Royal Navy can. It pushes students’ mental capacity and situational awareness to the extreme, making sure they can easily handle the most difficult waters around the world.

“Training the very highest standards of navigation for the Royal Navy’s premier navigation course isn’t easy, but it gives the service a battle-winning edge,” said Commander Phil Harper, Commanding Officer of HMS Severn, who has previously completed the course and passed on some sound advice to the student during their training.

“This has been a stunning professional highlight for the ship and for me personally.”

Severn steamed at high speed throughout the highlands and islands of Scotland, the Orkneys and off the coast of Northern Ireland. 

At times the weather encountered was appalling, with the wind over the deck reaching as high as 78 knots and turbulent seas to match. 

This added to the challenge for the student navigators who had to plan and execute some highly complex navigation for a ghost task group consisting of Severn and up to three imaginary consorts.

The weather calmed for the second week and the highland scenery could be fully appreciated, although not for the students, who were being tested relentlessly.
During the course, Severn charted a course around the isles of Mull, Bute, Arran and Skye. 

In the Orkney Islands, home of the Grand Fleet in the Great War and the Home Fleet in the Second World War, Severn paid her respects to HMS Royal Oak – the battleship torpedoed at anchor in Scapa Flow by a German submarine in 1939, killing 835 people – all while conducting high speed runs. 

In the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyle Rhea she encountered treacherous tidal streams when surrounded by imposing mountains and in Loch Fyne she exchanged waves with some friendly otters. 

As soon as the specialist navigators had completed their time aboard Severn took more students aboard, this time for the general Fleet Navigating Officers’ course.

Training the very highest standards of navigation for the Royal Navy’s premier navigation course isn’t easy, but it gives the service a battle-winning edge.

Commander Phil Harper