On 16 April 1953, Queen Elizabeth II began her relationship with probably her favourite home with the words, “I name this ship Britannia. I wish success to her and to all who sail in her.” Forty-four years later, on 11 December 1997, when the Queen stepped ashore from the Royal Yacht Britannia after her final trip, her normal composure left her and she shed a tear. The exact moment — 3:01pm — is displayed on all the ship’s clocks.  

a royal necessity

At the ship’s launch, the Queen explained the need for a Royal Yacht, the 83rd in the Royal Family’s history. She felt “that a yacht was a necessity and not a luxury for the Head of our great British Commonwealth between whose countries the sea is no barrier, but the natural and indestructible highway.”  

One Million Miles

Britannia spent forty-four years in the service of Britain and the Commonwealth, making almost a thousand official visits. It sailed more than one million miles and called at more than six hundred ports in 135 countries. It served as a means of transport, a theatre of state and a home.

Palace at Sea

The Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh (a naval officer), participated in the ship’s design and decoration. So the royal apartment was a clear guide to the couple’s interests and tastes. The Queen’s bedroom had a modest single bed, but the dated back linen to Queen Victoria! 

Britannia was over 125 metres long. The Queen’s royal apartment occupied one-third of the ship. The rest was a working Royal Navy vessel, although the ship was really a floating palace, with even telephones identical to those in Buckingham Palace. The crew numbered 220 under the command of twenty-one officers, and included a Royal Marine band.

Specific Ship Rules 

Britannia had its own specific rules. To avoid excessive noise, the crew wore gym shoes, and there was no tannoy system or shouting — telephones and hand signals were used to communicate orders. The yacht also had a garage for the Queen’s Phantom V Rolls Royce, but bumpers had to be removed to permit the car to fit.   

Time for Retirement

By the late 1990s, Britannia was showing its age. On June 30, 1997, it performed its final state role in the handover of Hong Kong to China. It returned to Britain to be decommissioned at Portsmouth. In line with its long, illustrious career, the world-famous ship was allowed a dignified retirement. Britannia sailed into the tourist world and can now be visited in Edinburgh as Scotland’s most popular tourist attraction. More than 350,000 people visit the iconic ship every year.