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I just left the RFA a few months ago after eleven and a half years as an engineer officer. The story from the inside is a sad one – chronic mismanagement, morale in the dirt and the engineers in particular are woefully under remunerated for the work they do. The service is being run off the edge of the cliff and the management are either unwilling or unable to make the changes necessary to stop the outflow of qualified and experienced engineers. I managed to get another job with more money, more leave, better ships and a far more convivial atmosphere and pleasant regime on board.

Tony Gibson

still with the RFA and loving every minute of it. Those that leave think the grass is greener but only a few find better pay and better time off. You can get more time off but not many companies work a 4 and 3, maybe no good for a married man/woman but fantastic for a single life. Money isn’t the best but better than most. Although the company isn’t everyone’s cup of tea the majority stay with and enjoy the lifestyle.


What branch/rank are you Tony? There are some branches/ranks are very well paid for the job they do. However, the technical branch officers are not among them. The only seagoing jobs with less leave than the RFA are the cruise lines. Just about everybody else is 1:1. In terms of money the RFA has been slipping towards the bottom end of the scale. I know one engineer who was the same rank as me (2/O(E)) who left last year to work in offshore oil, is on 1:1 leave and will earn £110k this year. Another guy I know left the RFA as a 3/O(E) and went into a job on the yachts where he earned more than an RFA CEO. Another guy went onto the North Sea supply boats, a bit more money than he was on in the RFA but with 1:1 leave. In my own case I went from £42k with 4 on 3 off to £51k and 1:1 leave. I worked out in the RFA as a “band C” 2/O(E), taking into account my annual salary and the actual hours that I work in a typical week on board I was earning £23.50 per hour. In my new job it works out at £41 per hour. With less stress, better ships, better conditions and a far more convivial atmosphere and regime. If you get put on a course on leave or called back to a ship early from leave you go on double pay too. The problem is when an RFA engineer goes back to college for the first time after his cadetship to do his next ticket, he finds himself sitting in a classroom full of guys from the commercial sector who are earning more money, more leave and getting faster promotion. At this point the scales fall away from our RFA engineer’s eyes just as he gets the higher ticket that makes him extremely valuable and employable outside the RFA.
Bottom line is qualified and experienced marine engineers are increasingly hard to come by. The ones the RFA has are taken for granted and treated like dirt. Outside of the RFA there are umpteen employers who are prepared to pay a lot more and give a lot more leave to those same qualified and experienced engineers. Until the RFA can offer an incentive for those engineers to stay (hint: the £15k taxable and pensionable for a 3 year commitment we were offered in March is woefully inadequate) the service will continue to haemorrhage engineers.
No engineers means no ships available. No ships available means no RFA.


Hi Nick. Your comments ring true. I’ve just left one of the Fort’s after putting her alongside for a while (duration unknown) due to lack of Technical staff. It was sad indeed to see three ships in the same situation, another down south and yet another coming in next month.


DSME were insolvent when the Tide class contract was awarded to them, UK was lauded in the Korean press for saving the company.
It is now in serious financial trouble. Hopefully the ships will not end up as creditors’ bargaining chips.

Trevor Hollingsbee

DSME has now acknowledged bankruptcy and is seeking emergency funding. Watch this space.

Trevor Hollingsbee

I just hope you’re right. I cannot imagine the contract would have been given to a UK company in such a predicament.


The MoD also charters a commercial tanker the 35,000 t MV Mearsk Rapier.
It’s worth adding that the combined replenishment capability of the French, Italian and Spanish navies is only 8 oilers, and most of those vessels will be smaller and less capable than the new Tide-class, or even the Wave-class tankers, so in 2020 the RFA will still provide around 35-40% of Europe’s entire AOR capability. The RFA however does need more investment in personnel, and the 2010 cuts need to be reversed.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Does does anyone know what the delay is with TIDESPRING?

Trevor Hollingsbee
Trevor Hollingsbee

Now DSME are going on strike. Does anyone know what the situation is now with the overdue Tide class?


Just for info, the RFA Black Rover is currently moored along the dock road on the wirral. Apparently it is due to be decommisioned. Does this mean scrapped?

Trevor Hollingsbee

Seems to be a news blackout on the overdue Tide class. CEO of DSME has now been arrested.


The silence on the Tide class continues.

Trevor Hollingsbee

If , even after the retirement of all the old tankers, and Diligence, the RFA still cannot man one new Tide class, the RFA must be experiencing a manpower shortage of crisis proportions.

Trevor Hollingsbee The usually reliable Jane’s seems to have information that the problems are indeed technical. Imagine the howls of protest in the media if a British yard was responsible!

Trevor Hollingsbee
Barry Turner

I cycle past the Fort Austin at the docks here in Birkenhead. Been here a year or two after a £25m refit. What’s going on?

Why dont we just buy off the shelf from Damen across the North Sea and agree for them to built under licence in the UK, perhaps at a non BAE yard or at their yard in Portsmouth or even better get them to open a yard in the UK.