Learning exchange between the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, 1940s to 1990s: Conclusion to the Series

Part 7/7 of the Blog Series: Life Safety and Survival at Sea: Learning between Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, 1940s-1990s

Thursday, January 18 2024

Learning exchange between the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, 1940s to 1990s: Conclusion to the Series

The evidence reported in this series of blog posts has corroborated the proposition that we learn most about safety and survivability at sea from disasters or military conflict. This research project for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage & Education Centre (LRFHEC) Learning from the Past programme has explored how learning about safety at sea has been exchanged between the Royal Navy (RN) and the British Merchant Navy (MN).

It has focused on the experiences of the two services operating together in the Second World War (WWII) and the Falklands Conflict in 1982. Both written and oral histories from survivors of shipwreck in warfare have provided vivid accounts of the consequences of fire and flooding at sea, and the hazards of ship abandonment. Interviews have provided rich evidential material from people with wide experience of both RN and MN culture and practice, as well as referrals to further research opportunities.

In alphabetical order, many thanks are due to Sir Jonathon Band, [1] David Carter, [2] Dr Jonathan Earthy, [3] Graham Hockley, [4] David Squire, [5] James Stride, [6] and Vaughan Pomeroy [7]. Here is an attempt to encapsulate their wisdom about life safety and survivability of disaster at sea in only a few words.

Sir Jonathon Band encapsulates survivability of disaster at sea as being about effective “kit, fitness, and shipmate support”. David Carter suggests that “we only really learn when things go wrong” and then focus on capturing and sharing that learning. Jonathan Earthy advocates “human and technical resilience needs to be designed in” to safety systems. Graham Hockley notes the difficult but essential task of “transferring the techniques and workarounds learnt from warfare” from one generation to the next. David Squire recommends that “training the team” is the most important factor in effective safety and damage control at sea. James Stride considers it to be crucial to “avoid lessons lost” through unintended consequences of cost savings and organisational change. Vaughan Pomeroy advocates the need for rules and standards to reconcile differing cultural perceptions of marine safety risk, afloat and ashore. 

The highlights of this series of blogposts on how learning about sea safety has been shared from the 1940s to 1990s between RN and MN are as follows:  

  • Royal Navy and Merchant Navy safety culture and training: operational safety training centred around Damage Control (DC) for survivability of the ship, primarily fighting fire and flooding; learning about firefighting, damage control and communications systems from the “wake-up call” of loss of ships in the Falklands in 1982, notably from the Board of Inquiry into the loss of the requisitioned container ship Atlantic Conveyor
  • Post-war developments in Life-Saving Appliances: huge casualties in the Second World War (WWII) Atlantic convoys led to understanding the fatal dangers of immersion in cold water, with consequent RN research and development in life-saving appliances (LSA) including self-inflating, tented liferafts, inflatable life-jackets designed to float the wearer face-up, and subsequent SOLAS accredited civilian applications of these. 
  • Royal Fleet Auxiliary as conjunction of Royal Navy and Merchant Navy cultures: civilian accreditation of the RN’s firefighting instructional units, enabling commonality of training and competence qualifications between RN and MN, and increasing potential for career mobility between the two services.  
  • International sea safety regulation arising from civilian maritime disasters: development of international SOLAS conventions in response to major disasters and adoption of international Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) and increased focus on human and organisational factors in safety at sea.  
  • Lloyd’s Register as translator to the Royal Navy of civilian ship safety experience: progress in alignment of RN and civilian safety systems and subsequent construction of all new British warships to class rules stimulated by learning from the HMS Ocean project since the 1980s. 
HMS Ocean at the 2005 International Fleet Review, showing Landing Craft on davits and Stern Ramp dep

HMS Ocean at the 2005 International Fleet Review, showing Landing Craft on davits and Stern Ramp deployed.

This series of blog posts should have provided not only general interest for all those interested in naval and maritime matters but also stimulus and resources for historians of safety culture and technology. Many thanks are due to Louise Sanger and Barbara Jones of Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre and Paris Agar of the Imperial War Museum who have also provided the stimulus and encouragement for this project and help with suggestions of additional reference material. The research project has connected the various domains of ship safety, firefighting and damage control, human factors in survivability, personal safety, training, regulation, and assessment. The RN and the MN, although reduced in scale since the 1980s, remain vital and interdependent collaborators in industrial and technological development, keeping seafarers and seaways safe and open for international trade. 

The full bibliography and database of research references gathered for this project is made available through the Heritage and Education Centre’s Learning from the Past online resources. 


Adams, Thomas A., and James R. Smith. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary: A Century of Service. UK: Chatham, 2005.

Admiralty, Great Britain, ed. A Seaman’s Pocketbook: June 1943, By Authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. London: Conway, 2006.

———. Manual of Seamanship 1932 By Authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Volume Two. BR 68. London: HMSO, 1932.

———. Manual of Seamanship 1937 By Authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Volume One. Reprinted 1943. Vol. One. London: HMSO, 1938.

Badsey, Stephen, Mark Grove, and Rob Havers. The Falklands Conflict Twenty Years On: Lessons for the Future. London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.

Baker, A.P. ‘NBCD Training for the Royal Navy’. TRANSACTIONS-INSTITUTE OF MARINE ENGINEERS Series C, no. 110 (1998): 139–46.

Bennett, G.H., and R. Bennett. SURVIVORS - British Merchant Seamen in the Second World War by Bennett, G. H. and R. London: Hambledon Press, 1999.

Brooks, Dr Chris J. ‘Survival in Cold Waters: Staying Alive’. Ottawa, Canada: Transport Canada, Marine Safety Directorate, 2003.

Brown, Paul. Abandon Ship: The Real Story of the Sinkings in the Falklands War. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.

Chauvin, Christine. ‘Human Factors and Maritime Safety’. The Journal of Navigation 64, no. 4 (October 2011): 625–32.

Edwards, Bernard. Quiet Heroes: British Merchant Seamen at War, 1939-1945. Reprint edition. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2010.

Eriksen, J.H. ‘Safety Regulation in Navies’. London: The Royal Institution of Naval Architects, 2005.

Faulkner, S, D.L. Cooke, P.W.M Jacobs, and et al. ‘Fire Fighting in the Royal Navy’. London: IMarE Conferences and Symposia, 1972.

Golden, Frank, and Michael J. Tipton. Essentials of Sea Survival. United States: Human Kinetics, 2002.

Grech, Michelle, Tim Horberry, and Thomas Koester. Human Factors in the Maritime Domain. United States: CRC Press, 2008.

Harding, Richard. The Royal Navy 1930-1990: Innovation and Defence. Cass Series--Naval Policy and History. London: Routledge, 2005.

Hart-Dyke, David. Four Weeks in May: A Captain’s Story of War at Sea. London: Atlantic Books, 2021.

Hastings, Sir Max. Operation Pedestal: The Fleet That Battled to Malta 1942. London: HarperCollins, 2021.

Hetherington, Catherine, Rhona Flin, and Kathryn Mearns. ‘Safety in Shipping: The Human Element’. Journal of Safety Research 37, no. 4 (1 January 2006): 401–11.

Hoehling, Adolph A. Great Ship Disasters. Cowles Book Company, 1971.

Howarth, Stephen. The Royal Navy’s Reserves in War & Peace, 1903–2003. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword Books, 2003.

Hurford, Laura. ‘Hindsight Perspectives: Fire at Sea’. Lloyd’s Register Foundation, 2020.

Inge, J. R. ‘The Safety Case, Its Development and Use in the United Kingdom’, 2007.

James, Tony. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary 1905-1985. Liskeard, Cornwall: Maritime Books, 1985.

Keatinge, W.R. Survival in Cold Water: The Physiology and Treatment of Immersion Hypothermia and of Drowning. Oxford and Edinburgh: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1969.

Kelly, Thomas J. Damage Control. A Manual for Naval Personnel. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1944.

Lavery, Brian. All Hands: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy since 1939. London: Conway Maritime Publishing, 2012.

———. Churchill’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1939-1945. London: Conway Maritime Publishing, 2006.

———. Hostilities Only: Training the Wartime Royal Navy. London: National Maritime Museum, 2004.

Liwång, Hans. ‘The Interconnectedness between Efforts to Reduce the Risk Related to Accidents and Attacks - Naval Examples’. Journal of Transportation Security 13, no. 3–4 (December 2020): 245–72.

Medical Research Council. ‘A Guide to Preservation of Life at Sea after Shipwreck - M.R.C. War Memorandum No. 8 by Medical Research Council: Committee on the Care of Shipwrecked Personnel’. HMSO, 1943.

Parry, Chris. Down South: A Falklands War Diary. Harmondsworth: Penguin UK, 2012.

Puddefoot, Geoff. No Sea Too Rough: The Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the Falklands War: The Untold Story. Chatham, 2007.

———. Ready For Anything: The Royal Fleet Auxiliary 1905-1950. Seaforth Publishing, 2010.

———. The Fourth Force: The Untold Story of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary since 1945. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2010.

Rattenbury, N. ‘Classification Process and the Safety Case for Naval Ships’. In The Modern Warship - Management of Safety in Peace and War. London: BMT Defence: Ship Safety Management Office, 1999.

Richards, Phil, and John J. Banigan. How to Abandon Ship: The World War II Classic That Can Save Your Life. Skyhorse + ORM, 2016.

Shipping, Lloyd’s Register of. Rules and Regulations for the Classification of Ships. Part 6, Control, Electrical, Refrigeration and Fire. London: Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, 2001.

Watson, Nigel. Lloyd’s Register: 250 Years of Service. Edited by Barbara Jones. London: Lloyd’s Register, 2010.

———. Maritime Science and Technology: Changing Our World. Edited by Barbara Jones. Text only Online version. Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Heritage & Education Centre, 2017.

Weintrit, Adam, and Tomasz Neumann. Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation: STCW, Maritime Education and Training (MET), Human Resources and Crew Manning, Maritime Policy, Logistics and Economic Matters. CRC Press, 2013.

Wells, John. The Royal Navy: An Illustrated Social History 1870-1982. Stroud, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994.

Wise, Jon. Royal Fleet Auxiliary in Focus. Maritime Books, 2002.

Woodman, Richard. The Real Cruel Sea: The Merchant Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939–1943. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2011.

Yates, David. Bomb Alley: Falkland Islands 1982: Aboard HMS Antrim at War. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2007.

  1. [1] Admiral Sir Jonathon Band GCB, DL, RN ret’d., conversation on 07 February 2023. Past First Sea Lord, who served in the RN 1967 to 2009 and subsequently as a non-executive director of Carnival Corporation & plc, owner of P&O Cruises and Cunard, and as past Chair of Trustees of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
  1. [2] Lt. Cdr. David Carter RNR, conversation on 16 Mar 2023. The Royal Navy's Merchant Navy Liaison Officer, Master Mariner and LNG carrier Master with 34 years experience at sea of which 16 in command; member of Maritime Advisory Board (MAB) of CHIRP, the Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme.
  1. [3] Dr Jonathan Earthy, conversation on 10 February 2023. Lloyd’s Register expert on human factors in safety systems. Technical adviser to The Nautical Institute’s Alert! the International Maritime Human Element Bulletin.
  1. [4] Commander Graham Hockley LCVO, RN ret’d. conversation on 19 Jan 2023. Graham Hockley served as a junior engineer officer aboard HMS Antrim ‘Down South’ in the Falklands Conflict in 1982 and after leaving the RN he became Technical Director for the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST), and subsequently Secretary to the Corporation of Trinity House until 2019.
  1. [5] Commodore David Squire, CBE, FNI, FCMI, RFA ret’d. conversation on 23 February 2023. Ex Chief Executive of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary served in the RFA 1963 to 1999 and subsequently Secretary of the Marine Accident Investigator’s International Forum and a Fellow of The Nautical Institute for whom he edited Alert! the International Maritime Human Element Bulletin, sponsored by Lloyd’s Register.
  1. [6] Commander James Stride RN ret’d, conversation on 06 March 2023. Past joint commander of Fleet Operational Sea Training for the Royal Navy (RN) in 2015, now Head of Maritime Governance at Carnival UK plc, the owner of Cunard and P&O Cruises.
  1. [7] Vaughan Pomeroy, conversation 03 March 2023. Senior ship surveyor then Marine Technical Director of Lloyd's Register 1980-2020, subsequently Visiting Professor at Southampton University.
Stephen Bradley