Jet boats zoom in to replace Royal Navy River Dart veterans
The leaders of the Royal Navy of the future travel the River Dart in jet boats so sophisticated that they need two weeks of training on dry land before they can take them out on the water.
They are the Navy’s first new state-of-the-art training ships in more than half a century.
Several generations of Royal Navy cadets – including the current First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key – used a flotilla of eight picket boats to learn the arts of navigation, seamanship and leadership at the Britannia Royal Naval Dartmouth College.
The distinctive blue and white boats that have been going up and down the Dart since the 1960s (the youngest was delivered in the early 70s) were retired in late 2021.
In their place are eight sleek, gray, futuristic jet boats, featuring the same or similar technology as kit officers will encounter when they join the frontline fleet.
The new boats are part of a larger program – Project Vahana – to replace an assortment of craft and workboats across the fleet with a small flotilla based on a modular design, to standardize maintenance and parts replacement and to provide more modern and reliable training.
The 15m long boats assigned to the college can reach speeds of 40 knots but are limited to just six on the Dart – although with qualified staff/instructors they can venture beyond the river and in the Channel if necessary.
Because they’re powered by twin jets — like the Navy’s standard Pacific 24 seagoing craft — rather than the propellers of old picket boats, they behave completely differently than their predecessors, requiring two-week training and evaluation. by instructors before cadets are allowed to take them out. on the Dart.
When they do, said Warrant Officer 1st Class Dan Powditch, they will find them “a completely different beast” from their predecessors.
“There is a lot of nostalgia for old boats, which is understandable given how old they are and how many people have trained in them. We love them – they are the closest thing to driving a warship,” said the 38-year-old specialist sailor.
“Vahana boats are the opposite: new, modern – you can steer them with a mouse – more reliable, but we can teach more people, using equipment like ECDIS electronic charting that they will find on warships.
“They will leave more experienced and capable sailors at Dartmouth.”
Dan’s team at Sandquay on the Dart spent the fall familiarizing themselves with the eight new boats, determining how they will be used to teach the basics of seamanship, understanding wind and tide and basic maneuvers.
Each boat can train up to 16 cadets at a time – with basic accommodation including berths, heads, shower, boiler for beers and microwave to heat up meals.
When training reaches its peak, cadets will live and work on the new craft for up to a week.
The seats at the back of the boat have tables, power and network capability for all cadets to plug in their laptops and share data between computers allowing them to develop basic planning and command a work group”.
Lieutenant Commander Patrick Kelly, head of the BRNC’s maritime department, said the advent of the new boats would “undoubtedly” add significant value to the basic maritime training and leadership provided at the college.