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Also the last line of this is very important” trained and qualified ” the simple fact is the Navy only offer bespoke courses so people end up not being formally qualified to do anything outside the scope of the Navy, the attitude is if we get you qualified you’ll just leave these man and woman are not stupid, they know the even the do the full term of service they know that they are going to have decades of working life left so this is a big factor in the retention problem
To quote Richard Bransom “you train people to a level were other organizations want them, but you treat them well enough so they don’t want to leave”.
The Navy has a lot of catching up to do!


So why not let veterans that are still fit enough back in then?? If people have tried three times with 24yrs experience why say he’s not qualified enough. I mean how much more experience do you actually want!!!!!!!


And what job would the people with 24 years experience do?


Considering how old most of the T23s are, and how old they’ll be before they’re replaced, your 24 year veteran could probably go back to his or her old ship!


As with the R.A.N, until the pay rates at least are compatible with or surpass the Merchant Navy or civvy street; personnel will keep leaving


He might but again what job would he do? You expect someone with 24 years experience to come in as a Able Seaman? For Able Seaman pay? I think not, I think they’ll be wanting to come in as Chief Petty Officers. Which I’m pretty sure is not what the Navy needs at the moment.


They tried to just that with the “street to fleet” iniative where people with relevant experience could rejoin up to the age of sixty but it hasn’t worked because of fitness and insurance issues.

David Woolterton

Fitness and insurance a joke, there are many already in are not fit. Me at 57 have made enquiries and have been told no. But I would go back to sea on a Submarine tomorrow if they let me.

Richard Broniman

Back around 1979 there was a dire shortage of personnel. The navy allowed shortage categories who were past retirement to re-enter, but into shore positions. They were categorised as Extended Service. Mostly technical they filled shoreside roles such as Ship Maintenance Authority, (No longer now a department I expect) allowing younger men to fill the seagoing role. This has to be balanced to ensure men are not doing back to back sea service. How the navy would get on today with no women in seagoing roles is a worry. In fact it wouldn’t survive.

Henry Piecrust

“Clearly, while additional recruitment would be desirable, the far more pressing challenge is to retain people who are already trained and qualified.”
Laughable. Perhaps they should actually start to do something about retention then. They are streaming out and civvy street is welcoming this flow of highly skilled personnel. Morale at Rosyth has improved now that QE has finally set sail but the rot that set in 18 months / 2 years ago will take some time to work through. Any anecdotal twaddle to the contrary is just that. Sad but this is the position on the ground not viewed from a desk in London or elsewhere.

Michael Lewis

The readiness chart is a stark and grim illustration of the status of the Senior service.


” Clearly, while additional recruitment would be desirable, the far more pressing challenge is to retain people who are already trained and qualified.”
With respect I would completely disagree with this, recruitment is the main problem.
2400 leaving out of 30k implies about 12.5 years service which as it includes the RM is a reasonable average. BUT only 1640 in would need then to average over 18 years each to fill a force of 30,000.
The big question is why the navy is an unattractive career to the young people of the UK. The answer, unpalatable as it will be to some, will probably involve radical change to the way the Navy uses and treats its manpower. The Navy will need to adapt to today’s youth as they have no need to adapt to yesterday’s Navy.


Completely agree with this. I did the minimum term between 2001 and 2005 and, sorry to say it, could not be persuaded to stay by man nor beast. The gulf patrols came around quicker and the more social ‘global’ trips were disappearing by the year. If you ask a young person to volunteer to spend nine months on a ship, year in year out, whilst his peers are elsewhere perhaps working towards their futures at colleges and university’s etc, the Navy needs to start making it attractive. And not reliant on propaganda promotional videos when the reality within the service is starkly different (hence minimum terms like mine). My issue was ‘jam tomorrow’, if the ships company puts the effort in down the gulf this year, they’ll be rewards next year. This was of course, nonsense. And no amount of old school sticklers whom still believe that the youth of today should pull their socks up and serve their country is going to help. The scaremongering of ‘it’s difficult outside, you’ll struggle’ Won’t fill ships, it won’t persuade young people to stay….it does the opposite. They say ‘f*** you, I can do better than this’. And let’s be honest, most do.


Recruiting was always a problem – Your too young to remember the Press gang and Rum.??

Ray Veysey

most of today’s youth from the previously large social group of potentional recruits have no idea of the sense of duty, self pride, and loyalty that used to be required. As for Team work forget it, the governments and their reckless slashing of care for the armed forces and veterans is coming home to roost, and no amount of on board Macdonalds and nail bars is going to change that.


not surprised man power is an issue not just with the navy but the armed forces as a whole..when mp,s get an 11% pay rise armed forces and other public sector get nothing or 1% and given they don,t visit foreign countries enough the old serve in the forces and see the world has nephew left the army because he was sick of being stuck in a camp either in the falklands or in scotland in his 3 years of service,don,t know whats it,s like for the navy these days…plus todays generation would rather play with a touchscreen or keyboard then do anything physical….maybe my old RSM was right the next major war we have we will loose unless the older generation are aloud to fight

Donald MacIver

How’s about realising that we’ve bred a generation of people who have a sense of entitlement, self importance, greedy, no respect, rude, lazy/ want everthing for nothing/ no work ethic, are very precious, soft. The fault lies with in this order goverment, school then parents who’s kids can do no wrong( not my little Jimmy). How the fck are the armed forces make these beings into a disciplined fighting unit. Not all the same, but the majority are. Human Rights Act has made MOD scared to even shout ar them in case they get prosecuted. I had an attitude when I joined up January 79, but soon had it knocked out of me thank God. I was well brought up/ disciplined at home( old man was ex PO GI ), but school was a joke and run by kids even in 70’s. Our Government needs a wake up call, or we’ll be surrendeing to Luxembourg next, never mind the embarrassment of it being to an Iranian gunboat. Rant over. God Bless the Royal Navy.

Serving Sailor

As a member of that generation of people, I resent what you’ve written. I joined the Royal Navy some time ago because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and serve my country. Careful that you don’t tar us all with the same brush.


You are probably a good person to ask.
1. What’s the biggest obstacle to getting more young people to join up.
2. What would you do to shift this obstacle?


The problem isn’t so much about getting them to join, there’s tons of false promises and propaganda for that it’s about once and when they realise it is bullshit and they understandly get itchy that’s the problem.
As is mentioned above the best incentive in the absence of good pay is qualifications properly recognized and accredited ones spaced out over a reasonable time frame.
That way everyone gets something out of the deal.

Ian McIsaac

I joined in 1972 at 15, left in 77, RNR 79 – 82 – Destroyer, Conventional (real) Submarine, various Nuclear Bunkers then a Ton Class Mine Sweeper….it was the making of me.
Having spoken to other more recent ex RN there is no way I would join now….
No fleet, nowhere to go but worst of all becoming like the Americans….DRY!!

John Potter

I joined straight from school in 1958. HMS Ganges, proper discipline, taught all manner of Naval matters, including of course my trade as a communicator, which stood new in good stead on completion of my time.
These days it appears to me that all three of the armed forces services actually ponders to the youth of today, rather than treating them as belonging to an organisation which requires order and obedience in carrying out work which might result in using firepower to protect our country.
I bet Russia and China are able to amass considerable force if necessary, and Russia in particular are probably laughing at our poor efforts to “rule the waves”


It’s all well and good to complain about the “youth of today” BUT non of this represents any kind of practical suggestion of how to move forward.


Spot on. A person can shout this until the end of time, whilst ‘the youth of today’ shrug their shoulders and go and do something else.


The current issues are a result of decades of declining investment, coupled with a change in social attitudes.
The current ships in the fleet are all ‘lean manned’ ships and the shore side support was supposed to have supplemented reduced manpower. This worked in the early nineties (I took a T23 from build in ’91) as the support was plentiful (as were the spares) and this gave the ship’s company downtime.
I feel the ’95/’96 redundancies were the beginning of the decline and every set of redundancies since have compounded issues further.
The increase in operational tempo of all ships coupled with reduced manpower increases the pressure on the remaining staff. We are now ‘one brick thick in terms of personnel’ and the stresses placed on ship staff to ‘do more with less’ (I hate that phrase!) continues to move apace.
The lack of investment within the MoD and specifically at DE&S has resulted in a continual decline of available spares has left engineers extremely frustrated.
Sadly, there appears to be no end to the decline despite 1SL’s confidence that “we are a growing Navy for the first time since WWII”.
The recruitment doors are open but the issue remains with the retention of the Navy’s people.


My question is what changes does the Navy need to make to get 2,500 new people in through the recruitment door each year. Any less than this and thinks can’t move forward.


1. Reduce operational tempo by reducing the number of operational commitments world wide.
2. Increase “Harmony Time” – the RN has, by a massive margin, the greatest number of personnel with LSA days in excess of 2500 days.
3. Stop thinking we’re the RN we were 3 decades ago.
4. Provide internet access while at sea (we need to keep the youngsters happy thus improving retention).
5. A massive financial investment in equipment. Engineers need reliable equipment, and if it does break down, the spares to fix it.
(current equipment is unreliable and outdated).
6. A massive financial investment in training. The current T45 CBT method of training is ludicrous and maintainers are afforded very little hands on training nowadays. The training pipelines in Collingwood and Sultan are factories churning out engineers that do not have the necessary skills set to maintain equipment in high tempo theatres without OEM support.
7. Completely overhaul the MoD Logistics system. It is outdated and not fit for purpose.
8. Drastically reduce beaurocacy.
9. Streamline the Officer Corps into the same “pyramid” that is being applied to the Ratings Corps. There’s too much top brass in the job. When you have over 1000 Commanders in the RN and only 19 FF/DD’s there’s something wrong somewhere. The money saved could go into other streams/requirements.
Apart from that, I think we’re fine ?


I joined the RN in 2003 and was medically discharged from the submarine service last year. I’m an engineer by trade and even after virtually begging them to keep me on the medical board still let me go under a P8 category saying I was unfit for service. Funny thing is now I’m working for Babcock and some of my work means going on the submarines to do my work. I have known a few people that have been discharged like myself and still doing the same job for an outside company. In my eyes this is a shortfall by the Navy because people like myself who wanted to stay can still be an asset instead of letting them go.
And if they rang tomorrow and said they’d change my med cat if I came back in. I’d be at their front door tomorrow


Two cheers to you sir.


The harmony time is a must. Because, in truth, it was always a fallacy for most. Empty promises as the service plucked you from Drake after three weeks shore time due to ‘operational commitments’. And a crusty WO offering you nothing more than ‘life in a blue one’ as you got back on board. It simply isn’t good enough. I watched most of my peers leave as son as they possibly could because in truth, they were being screwed. And there wasn’t any good reason for them to stick around and be screwed.


The Royal Navy needs 25 major escorts not 19, that would hugely help with operational tempo and help with time ashore and with families. The RN, like the rest of the Armed Forces, also needs a pay rise to help with recruitment and retention. Where to find the money? Drastically cut the bloated British Overseas Aid budget and direct a high proportion of that money towards Defence with the aim of a full 3% of GDP going to Defence by the early 2020’s. How on earth does UK expect to manage as a global trading nation post Brexit with a Navy this weak? It is appalling that this situation is under a Conservative Government.

Neil Clarke

One or two of the old school ( joined 1961 left 1 1988) saw this coming why has this sad state of affairs been allowed to continue it was plain to see that there was a need to retain experienced senior rates, extend their engagement options and bonus payments by what used to be known as 5th and 6th fives. Their pension options are then or can be much more attractive if the will is there to retain experienced and valuable assets.
Retain them until they are 55 pay them a pension they can live on very comfortably.
Most are not in the employment age bracket and they know that. I found it very difficult to get employment so set up my own business and was fortunate to hit on a good idea that filled a requirement and was very profitable.


Great; you’ve solved a minor issue. Problem is, EVERYONE in the Navy or joining now who go on to do a full career will hit an age where they have to leave and are unemployable because there are no decent civilian qualifications in many branches, and there is no longer an immediate pension. There is a wealth of information that people are exposed to today and they aren’t stupid enough to have not figured out that they need to get another career to survive post Navy to get to their real retirement and pensions start to pay. When they need to retrain and fight for jobs against younger people, they realise they are better off leaving younger and getting that next career now. No amount of small measures will work to combat the Navy’s issues; unfortunately the whole thing is now set up to reduce loyalty and longevity, there is no incentive to stay and people are voting with their feet.

Anon Bubblehead

We are using a career model which is very outdated. As serving RN for the last 20 years on boats (I know sprog), the light is at the end of the tunnel and I will leave after turning down ES3 for pastures new. I believe a 22 year career model is no longer the answer. A career should be around the 12 year mark as it looks as though quite a few leave around this point. Pay them more as they will not be getting an immediate pension but allow them to transfer their ‘accumulated pension’ to their next employer. So when you leave the RN/RAF/ARMY after 12 years you can transfer your pension pot to your new employer such as BAE/Thales/NHS/BT whoever. Those who wish to stay beyond 12 years can apply for Extended Career and go if selected go along the ‘old school’ career route.
And as a side note which is a little tongue in cheek – stop sending every resettlement magazine under the sun to every mess deck in the RN each month!


Your lucky these days to get a job with a half decent pension. No way will you get a job outside the public services with any sort of defined benefits. It may well be better to leave your service plan in place if it has a reasonable deferred pensions.


Given that people live longer and tend to stay fitter, why not also design RN careers that allow people to serve up to say 60, obviously with later service in less physically demanding roles, with appropriate improvements in pensions, etc for long service? So that a Sailor who signs up at 18-25 can have a long career and a pension they can live on, without scrimping, when they retire, if they stick with the Navy?
One thing I strongly suspect the return of Carrier Strike, and Carrier Task Groups, may well do for the RN is to bring back a wider range of travel opportunities for sailors and that will not hurt, especially for younger people.


I really do think wages play a big part, they have been stagnated for years by you know who for all of us. Moral is pretty bad also at the moment as a lot of guys and girls have told me.

Dave Jones

I work as a volunteer on HMS Warrior. You could say that the conditions that would tempt people to join and remain in the Navy are the opposite to today.
In 1862, a young man joining the Navy as a rating is joining a job which gives him at least 10 year’s security with good, regular pay. He will be well fed, will have a roof over his head and, if married, money to send home to the wife and children. He will have access to a professional medical care (state of the art sick bay aboard Warrior), for free; long before the days of the NHS and, after 20 year’s service, will be eligible for a pension.
Life in civvy street today for anyone bright enough to be suitable for the Navy is much more tempting than a life in the Navy, I would guess.


Money is the root of it all. Money doesn’t solve everything but nothing will be resolved without more of it. Lot of other actions listed on this thread to work alongside but will make very little difference without the cash.
Aid is up though. I am pro Aid but here’s my take on it:
In 2007 the Aid budget was c£5.8bn and the UK was one of the most generous large economies in the world. The country was broadly solvent then but still running a small deficit and debt was c40% of GDP.
Then came the crash. The country is poorer than it was in 2007 and wages are lower. Debt to GDP ratio is now closing fast on 90%.
Since then, in an age of austerity the Foreign Aid budget has tripled in relation to most UK departments which have been cut by an average of 28%.
We borrow 100% of the Foreign Aid Budget.
Applying the same austerity to 2007 Aid budget as to most UK departmental budgets would increase available funds by c£10bn pa for essential UK services such as*;
10,000 more police officers £0.4bn
10,000 more community police £0.3bn
10,000 more fire-fighters £0.4bn
New Carers Allowance £0.6bn
Free School Meals 5-11 £1.0bn
10,000 more soldiers £0.5bn
5,000 more sailors £0.3bn
Lift Nurses Pay Cap 2.5% £1.3bn
Reintroduce Nurses Bursaries £0.8bn
Education Maintenance Allowance £0.6bn
Student Maintenance Grant £1.7bn
Nursery Access for all children £0.4bn
Fill School capital gap (over 5 yrs) £1.25bn
New Advanced Research Agency £0.1b
1 Type 31 Frigate £0.5bn
This list wouldn’t be all my choices, but I list a spread to show scale so feel free Switch or replace budgets to political taste. However, any such list would make a significant difference to UK public life whilst boosting desperately needed growth.
May & Cameron are / were UK Prime Ministers, not Presidents of The UN or Save The Children.
I am pro Aid, it is good and it is human but this is insane at this time.
Aid at the same level as the second term Blair / Brown Govt would not make us ungenerous or mean spirited. Restoring sanity to the Aid budget would absolutely not solve all our problems but alongside other measures it would put some balance back into Govt budget and spending priorities including our armed forces.
*All figures approximate but taken from manifestos and published docs.


Ian, a very coherent, reasoned summary. I am sure most people would think what you suggest is desirable and you would definitely attract votes in an election – just like Corbyn did.
The elephant in the ointment is what you say at the beginning “We borrow 100% of the Foreign Aid Budget.” So if the Aid spend is £15bn and you propose redirecting £10bn to these worthy causes we are still borrowing £15bn each and every year.
The reality is much worse since the total annual borrowing is £50bn, which politicians euphemistically call a deficit. (Doesn’t sound quite so bad) Call it austerity or anything you like, people must realise that the Government is spending beyond its means hence the National Debt is now t £1,400,000,000,000,000,000 and rising each year by another £50,000,000,000,000. Yes, that is a lot when you include all the zero’s!
If/when interest rates rise then a 1% increase in borrowing costs comes pretty close to that whole £15bn……What do we cut then?


Is this all that bad? Consider the oft quoted peacetime 1/3 of ships deployed, 1/3 in training/minor maintenance and 1/3 undergoing refit. We have 6 out of 19 deployed, 6 undergoing training/maintenance periods, and 7 in refit/laid up. The only real anomaly is with the type 45s, with one more ship laid up rather than on training/maintenance period. The real issue is lack of hulls.


Just a couple of things:
I have to say that out of 19 escort, 6 deployed, 6 working up/short term maintenance, 7 laid up/long term refit is close as you like to what any navy could ask ( one in three deployment).
710 people short is a lot of money saved from the wage bill (I’m betting somwhere around the £25million mark). So who gets the money ? Does it stay on the bottom line of the RN budget, if it does then you may actually be looking at some form of systematic gapping in staffing and retention by the service to keep the budget balanced ( NHS hospitals and organisations do this all the time when faced with impossible budget questions)
More hulls will not answer the question of more deployments, it looks like more people is the real pinch piont, with three escorts laid up it looks to me that the navy could get a 7th deployment out of its escort hulls if it had the right manpower levels/skill mix. The problem it I clearly has not which means it’s got a very long job in opening. The right training piplines up to get there ( let’s call it up to a decade for some roles). Let’s be honest recapitalisation is always quicker than restaffing if you have messed up on strategic workforce planning (and they have).

The Ginge

As non Military person but an interested Member of the General Public (a rarity these days) in the Armed Forces the Military has got in to the same trap that most major businesses have in the UK.
1. There are not that many kids with the intelligence to operate sophisticated kit sitting “bored in the club” as the recruitment add goes. If you’ve got brains you’re on the way to Uni or Training at 18. If you haven’t got the brains to do the above, apart from the Marines or Infantry you’re not much good to technical services.
2. Wages. Sorry but starting on £16k a year is not great and then only rising incredibly slowly to mid to high 20’s is not good enough. People are going to get a job in the City or Town somewhere is going to be earning that. When the minimum wage goes to £10 ph for a 40hr week on a 52 week salary you are looking at £20,800 minimum. Heck in my provincial rural Town a Grad Student is looking at £24k a year starting Salary, even if they have a Degree in Media Studies. If you want to recruit engineers these are the people you should be looking at saying you will be earning £25k by 21, and £40 by 30yrs old as an engineer.
3. Terms and Conditions. Stop building and putting people in stupid out of the way places. nobody wants to live in Scotland or Devon Port. You are young and free you don’t want to waste your life stuck in some back water in the UK. Second you can not expect people to deploy for 9mths a year, we must urgently look at rotating Crews in to overseas deployments. Spending 3mths out of 9 sailing from the UK to the Gulf is a waste when a 6hr flight gets you there. You need 24hr Satellite Internet connectivity people do not want to be disconnected from Friends and Family for 9mths. You need to stick to the rules on deployment times and need to reduce them to RAF levels. As an example a friend was deployed for 9mths, returned and within 2mths was back out for another 6mths on another ship because of a lack of trained personnel. This happens regularly its just not good enough.
That is the tip of the iceberg. But the young are not prepared to bugger up their life chances to afford a home, get married, keep a relationship etc for the privilege of saying “I was in the Navy” the current generation are the most switched on and informed generation when it comes to their futures, they have to be with an average house costing £300k, paying £60k to go to Uni and no decent pensions around . The RN need to make the offer attractive, because unlike the private sector they can not for a lot of high skilled jobs cry wolf because of their poor terms, wages and training and import experts from overseas. This problem is entirely the making of the RN Senior Command, as stated above ditch 75% of the Senior Commander level and act like a navy with 19 Escorts and not still staff the Senior offices Corp as if we are running 6 fleets, 3 Different Submariner fleets etc etc.
The difference is the youth of today are making informed choices, the fact that they know how poor a choice the RN Career is, is not their fault.


Every single element of this is spot on. This is exactly what myself, and every other young man that has left will tell you. The Navy’s offer is woeful. And, if they’ve persuaded you to join, successfully delivers on that woeful offer.


I don’t think salary is a major factor in the retention crisis. Most Royal Navy personnel earn more in the service than they would outside – and most of them known it as well. Combined with the various allowances, bonuses and perks I think the Navy offers a very competitive financial package. The problem is with the conditions; whenever you speak to someone leaving the same complaints come up: less time off, increasing numbers of long deployments, fewer ratings in key areas meaning the one who are left get worked to the bone. The only way to really increase retention is to increase recruitment and ease the pressure on everyone.
I’m slightly surprised at the suggestion that the Navy (and the Armed Forces in general) don’t lead to widely recognised qualifications, they’ve really developed this over the past few years and people leaving after ten or twelve years end up with a list of (civilian) qualifications as long as their arms. For example: most petty officers will gain a foundation degree purely through their work and have the opportunity to top it up to a full degree at a subsidised rate. I cannot think of another job that offers as much opportunity for gaining university-level qualifications as the armed forces.

Norman Adshead

I have been saying this for over 25 years. ‘The Andrew’ (Royal Navy) has not had a truly balanced fleet since before I left the service in 1981. It started to go adrift in the 70’s and as usual those who know better 9Othan the serving perssonnel. (Civil servants and MP’s). They have always been short-chsnged in every DEFENCE REVIEW. Until more common sense is used by the Polititionns,, then I hold out no hope for any of the services.


Does the total liability (the maximum number of personnel the RN is permitted to have) refer to full timers only or does it include the reserves?
If the answer is yes, does the liability include all reservists or only those on Full Time Reserve Service?


The fact that this article has only been online for four days and already has 40+ replies just proves that this issue is the most important issue facing the Navy by miles. Until this issue is sorted talking about what weapon system we used or what maritime support aircraft we buy is small potatoes in comparison to this
Save the Navy your site needs to update this issue weekly because manpower is THE Navy that you are trying to save


The hostility shown by the Teaching profession to armed forces recruitment generally does not help. Young people are being positively discouraged not to join any branch.
Secondly the university royal naval units could be more welcoming, especially to those who are not considering an officers career. My experience was the culture in my university unit was not welcoming and overwhelmingly male and upper middle class, set up for those bound for the officer ranks.

Gram king

How do you retain manpower. Well I think the RN has a very big problem. That problem is the wardroom or more to the point the officer life style compared to ratings lifestyle. Yes ratings notice the much better lifestyle officers lead. I served in the eighties and gord help the navy if they still treat ratings as they did back then.
The new generation will not stand for second best treatment. I also hope the old school tie bullshit in the upper officer ranks has gone as it held back some who could have done real good and change were held back for lack of the right tie.

Bill Buchanan

I was kicked out after 24 years at age 40 as SNLR due to my branch being made redundant (W.E) Short sighted civil service arseholes.

Serving still

Two comments only. In the past when wage demands in the public sector outstripped government pockets, the government explained it was supply and demand – more people wanted the roles so therefore the pay must be OK. Doesn’t the oppposite also hold true.? The Royal Marines , until last year the only fuly subscribed part of HM forces, are now facing a manpower crisis. Why? Because, despite being told what the effect would be, the RN cut their recruiting budget!