Royal Yacht Britannia: what happened to boat featured in The Crown, why was it decommissioned - can you visit?

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Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia, is the former royal yacht of the British monarchy.

It served between 1954 and 1997, and was the 83rd such vessel to hold the name since King Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660.

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Only the second royal yacht to bear the name, the boat travelled more than a million nautical miles across the world during its 43-year lifetime.

But why was it decommissioned, where is it now, and will there ever be a true replacement? Here is everything you need to know.

Why was it decommissioned?

Her Majesty’s Ship the royal yacht Britannia steams past Hong Kong (Photo: DAN GROSHONG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)Her Majesty’s Ship the royal yacht Britannia steams past Hong Kong (Photo: DAN GROSHONG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Her Majesty’s Ship the royal yacht Britannia steams past Hong Kong (Photo: DAN GROSHONG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The yacht’s retirement was announced by the Conservative government in 1994, which cited a projected cost of around £17 million for refurbishment, which would only extend the vessel’s life by another five years.

“In view of her age, even after the refit she would be difficult to maintain and expensive to run,” said Viscount Cranborne, House of Lords Hansard, at the time.

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As a result, it was decided to decommission Britannia in 1997. That year, when running against Tony Blair’s New Labour, the government committed itself to replacing the Royal Yacht if reelected, a move that reportedly angered the Queen for dragging the Royal Family into a reelection campaign.

The government said that the expenditure was justified by the yacht’s role in foreign affairs and promoting British interests overseas, but ultimately, the Tories did not remain in power.

The Labour Party said that it would not commit the use of public funding to build a replacement vessel for at least the first two years of any new Labour government. The new administration did investigate several options for the future of a royal yacht, but decided in October 1997 that Britannia would ultimately not be replaced.

The last foreign mission of the Royal Yacht was to transport the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, and the Prince of Wales back from Hong Kong after its transfer to the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997.

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On 11 December 1997, Britannia was decommissioned. The Queen, who is generally reserved in public, was said to have shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony, which was attended by the majority of the Royal Family’s senior members.

The Royal Yacht Britannia  in Leith’s Imperial Dry Dock in 2018 (Photo: Robert Perry/Getty Images)The Royal Yacht Britannia  in Leith’s Imperial Dry Dock in 2018 (Photo: Robert Perry/Getty Images)
The Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith’s Imperial Dry Dock in 2018 (Photo: Robert Perry/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Where is HMY Britannia now?

HMY Britannia is now a visitor attraction anchored in a dry-dock in the ancient Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is part of the National Historic Fleet, and is cared for by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, a registered charity.

There was some debate about where the ship should be finally sited, with some saying that it should be moored on the River Clyde, where it was built, rather than in Edinburgh, where the yacht had little ties.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is accessible via the Ocean Terminal complex, and over 300,000 people visit it each year.

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The Queen’s bedroom, which can be seen behind a glass wall, and the state dining and drawing rooms, which hosted magnificent dinners for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers from throughout the world, are among the five decks open to be toured by the public.

Will there ever be a replacement?

In May 2021, it was reported that then Prime Minister Boris Johnson planned to announce a new royal vessel named after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with plans for it to be built "within weeks."

Johnson said that the "new national flagship” - a ship rather than a luxury yacht - would enter service within the next four years and would cost up to £200 million.

The next day, it was claimed that government intentions to name the ship after the Duke of Edinburgh had not gone over well with royal sources, and that the plans had been "abandoned."

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By 2022, preparations had advanced to two preferred design teams, but in October, it was reported that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt planned to withdraw plans for a new yacht as part of a spending cut package.

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