Royal Navy picket boats replaced by futuristic jet boats

The Naval Leaders of Tomorrow began 2022 with new, state-of-the-art training ships for the first time in over 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.

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In their place, eight sleek and futuristic gray jet boats, filled with the same or similar technical officers, will meet as 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 spare parts , 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 trained 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, says 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.

They are quite an upgrade

“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, figuring out how they will be used to teach the basics of seamanship, understanding wind and tide, basic maneuvers.

Each boat can train up to 16 cadets at a time – with basic accommodation (berths, heads, shower, a boiler for beers and a microwave to heat up meals. When training reaches its peak, cadets will live and will 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”.

Vahana boats replace historic picket boats at BRNC Dartmouth
Vahana boats replace historic picket boats at BRNC Dartmouth

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.

“Providing a modern and contemporary platform on which to conduct basic handling and navigation training, however, it is during leadership training and assessments that the craft will provide the most value.

“Going forward, Vahana will support task force-style leadership exercises by ensuring cadets have a task group mindset early in their careers by aligning BRNC training with the requirements of the future navy.

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