Boris Johnson has confirmed that there is to be a replacement for the Royal Yacht Britannia using new green technology.
The surprise announcement came in a statement from 10 Downing Street at the end of May. Rather than purely serving the British Royal Family, however, this new vessel will be a national ship rather than a private yacht – a floating embassy that will be operated by the Royal Navy.
The idea is that the new royal yacht will support working royals and government departments alike, while furthering the nation’s interests abroad, both commercial and strategic.
“Every aspect of this ship, from its build to the businesses it showcases, will represent and promote the best of British,” said Johnson, “a clear and powerful symbol of our commitment to be an active player on the world stage. It will be the first vessel of its kind in the world.”
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Following appropriate consultations with the Royal Family, the Royal Navy, Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury, the Government will put the design and construction out to tender. If all goes to plan the build could start as early as next year with a view to entering service by 2024.
Some critics had suggested that World Trade Organisation obligations would mean the tendering process would have to be open to overseas yards as well as British ones, but the fact it will be operated by the Royal Navy gives it ‘warship’ status and therefore renders her exempt.
Various sources have quoted ballpark figures of £200 million to build the new Royal Yacht Britannia but once a working specification has been drawn up for a suitably large yacht MBY expects this to rise considerably.
Everything will depend on how much space is needed for conferencing and entertainment areas as well as the number of staterooms, guest cabins and crew, not to mention helicopter and tenders, and the high levels of security needed to protect her passengers and guests.
How much will the new royal yacht cost?
So exactly how big will the new yacht be? Length is not the key metric for superyachts; usable volume measured in gross tonnage is the name of the game.
£200 million sounds a lot and could buy an impressive 280ft (86m) quad-deck superyacht with a volume of around 2,500GT from a superyacht yard, but a ship of that length is unlikely to be big enough.
The old Britannia measured 421ft and 5,769GT. The Royal Navy is unlikely to spend less than £100,000 per tonne today for such a vessel and will probably end up spending a significant amount more given that this would be a full-custom project. We suspect the final bill for New Britannia is likely to be more like £600 million.
This isn’t the first time a new royal yacht has been mooted. Businessman Ian Maiden launched the New Flagship Company in 2001 to try and garner private backing for a similar national ship to promote the UK and Commonwealth’s business interests. Superyacht designer Andrew Winch also drafted plans for a new royal megayacht.
As far as we know neither of these designs have been adopted by Number 10, which released its own uncredited rendering of what the new Royal Yacht Britannia might look like . One man that has had a bigger hand than most is Craig Mackinlay, Conservative MP for South Thanet, who recently led a cross-party campaign supported by no fewer than 70 MPs.
Mackinlay is a lifelong sailor and the commodore of the House of Commons Yacht Club, and his most recent submission seems to have influenced the government’s statement. Some have suggested that an alternative to a brand-new yacht could be a keel-up rebuild of the old Royal Yacht Britannia, which is now lying alongside in Leith, Edinburgh.
She was formally retired in 1997 after 44 years of service and over 1 million nautical miles. Until recently she has been open to the public. Any new Royal Yacht Britannia is expected to have a service life of at least 30 years.
The expert view
“The debate about how or even whether to replace the Royal Yacht Britannia has been gong on for as long as I’ve been editor and seems to crop up every few years when there’s no real news to talk about,” says MBY editor Hugo Andreae.
“But this time it’s different, this time it’s government policy – at least until Boris changes his mind, which has been known to happen!
“I sincerely hope he doesn’t because a new Royal Yacht Britannia really could invigorate British ship building and cast fresh light on the amazing leisure boat industry we do still have.
“But if we’re going to do it, please don’t skimp on the budget. We don’t want Britannia being overshadowed by a tasteless megayacht belonging to some shady despot!”