I had enough UCAS points and was enrolled on the Foundation Degree course meaning that upon completion of my training I would get a Foundation Degree in Nautical Science from Liverpool John Moore University. The other route for a cadetship is the HNC/HND route, the main difference between that the learning and assessments are more vocational in nature. Regardless of route taken and academic qualification awarded at the end, all cadets are ultimately working towards their Certificate of Competency to be an Officer of the Watch (OOW). The specifics of what being an OOW entail will be covered in an additional post.
The first indication that college was going to be nothing at all like BNRC was realising that there was no requirement to wear head gear around campus, in fact only the RFA cadets were in possession of caps and berets. It’s not the norm for a cadet to have these items or to have been issued with as much uniform as we had been. You find it interesting to know that the ages of the 26 cadets who started the course ranged from 18 to 34. Some had degrees, some had masters degrees, some came straight from school while others came from employment – it’s interesting to see that the Merchant Navy (and the RFA) is open to people of all ages, the stereotypical image of a cadet being 16 years old is no longer true and hasn’t been for some time. There is a 52 year old cadet undergoing training at the moment!
A cadetship is split into five phases spread over three years, is designed to give you the knowledge needed to be an OOW and also the time at sea to put it into practice and consolidate/expand your knowledge. It’s set out like this:
Phase one is just over four months in length and in that time you cover academic topics such as: Navigation & Meterology (weather); Study skills (CVs etc) and Shipboard Operations. Fleetwood Nautical Campus sends its phase one cadets away to North Wales for a week on a ‘Cadet Development Course’, which is basically a week of outdoorsy stuff for team building and developing leadership and communication skills. After BRNC this week was a relative breeze, it was a great opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors and bond with our classmates. We climbed Moel Siabod one day and got some dramatic photographs on the snow capped peak.
A typical day in college will have two lectures, 0900-1200 and 1300-1600 and is a lot like school. There’s a 20 minute break, affectionately known as ‘smoko’ in the morning and afternoon, and you’re with the same group of cadets for each lecture. In our intake there was 26 of us on the Foundation Degree Deck route, made up of cadets sponsored by a wide range of shipping companies.
For me, who only ever considered joining the RFA, it’s been extremely beneficial to meet cadets from the wider maritime industry. I’ve learnt so much about shipping, how big a part it plays in UK industry and just how important the sea trade is. I’ve also made some good friends and I’m sure we’ll bump into each other at sea at some point during our careers.
I should mention that cadets are expected to live in halls of residence for phase one and this is non-negotiable. The halls were nice enough, much nice than the halls I had when I went to University back in the day: Fleetwood halls have a sink, a small amount of storage and a pin board.
Included in the price of halls was two meals a day, the food was what you’d expect from a canteen but the staff were brilliant and would make you a salad if you asked to them. In fact, the staff at Fleetwood have been brilliant throughout my time – whether you’re speaking to catering staff or the head of school, everyone will speak to you with a smile and do their best to help.
In addition to the academic content and CDC, we also had to attend and pass short courses. Some of these short courses are legal requirements before you can go to sea. During the three weeks of short courses I took in so much information and felt much better equipped to actually go to sea. We covered so much during the short courses that it’s too much to detail here but by far and away the toughest part of the courses was the firefighting. Obviously there are no fire stations at sea, so if there is a problem then it comes down to the crew to deal with it. We spent two and a half days learning about the fires, the kit, how to conduct searches in low visibility and then practiced everything. Those blue containers in the background of the photo are used for training: a fire is started at one end (under control) and you and your team go in with full breathing apparatus, locate and retrieve casualties then fight the fire. It’s quite arduous and something I hope to never have to do for real.
As part of the Basic Training for Seafarers, we spent a week learning how to cosxwain (drive) lifeboats, both old fashioned ones and the newer completely enclosed ones that most people would be familiar with. By old fashioned, I mean that the lifeboat was powered by oars, the main discovery with this is that most of us are terrible at rowing! In fact, by boat managed to beach ourselves – no mean feat!
We also did the Efficient Deck Hand course which was all about working on deck and being a sailor: ropes; knots; wire splicing; anchoring; MacGregor hatches; flag identification and much more. This was also a really tough course, mostly because I’d never been to sea before and had to absorb in so much new information. I was rather proud to be able to make a working stage after many, many attempts…
The 19 weeks (4 months) of college flew by, we had exams to sit and pass and then we’d be off to sea to put into practice everything we’d been taught. We had a quick brief on something called Work Based Learning, which was a reflective project we’d have to complete whilst on ship, were issued with our Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) Training Record Books, briefed by our Company Training Officer and then were sent on leave until our next phase began and we joined our first ship.
For more information on a career at sea, have a look at the Careers at Sea website. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is the company for me but it’s not for everyone. I’ve had my eyes opened to the wider maritime industry since starting at college,and that can only be a good thing.
When I first tell people that I work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) the first thing people ask is “Don’t you mean the RAF?”. After explaining what I do, I’m then asked “I thought you said you weren’t in the Royal Navy, so why were you at Dartmouth and what did you do?” It’s a good question and it’s one that I am only able to answer now that I’ve been there and come out the other side. There was very little information available as to what to expect, and those seemingly in the know muttered things about ‘learning how to use a knife and fork’. It was of course much, much more than that and most people weren’t expecting the course to be anything like it was. I write this post in the hope that it will provide future intakes with some useful information.
I’m going to start at the end: the photograph below shows my Passing Out Parade at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth back in November 2013 and it marked the end of an 8 week course that all new Officer entrants to the RFA have to do. It’s a condition of employment to attend this course whether you’re already a qualified Officer, starting a Cadetship or an RFA rating becoming an Officer. It’s worth noting that where relevant, your employment with the RFA starts the day you report at BRNC.
In a very busy 8 weeks the RFA course at BRNC covers: Leadership; Communication; Teamwork; Roles of the RFA & RN; History of the RFA; Seamanship; Etiquette; Ceremonial Training (Drill); Meteorology & Fitness. All very worthwhile and useful stuff but the bigger question is how all this fits together…
EDIT: THIS COURSE HAS NOW CHANGED. THE LEADERSHIP ELEMENT IS NOW MOSTLY BASED ON THE RIVER. THE RFA COURSE IS A CONSTANTLY CHANGING BEAST.
Week 1 You arrive at BRNC on a Saturday wearing a suit and get an introduction to BRNC and both the RN & RFA. Your uniform will be in your cabin waiting for you. From now on, you will refer to BRNC as a ship and apply all appropriate naval terms (get your hands on a copy of ‘Jackspeak’, it’ll come in handy). The RFA course starts two weeks into the first phase of the RN Commissioning course, a phase of 10 weeks known as ‘Militarisation’, you will spend a lot of time with your RN counterparts – talk to them, you have things to learn from them and vice versa. You’ll get talks from various high ranking Officers both RN and RFA, fill in loads of paperwork and you’ll start lectures delivered by Royal Marines from the Royal Naval Leadership Academy. It is crucial that you listen to the lectures and lessons from the Leadership Academy and then DO EXACTLY AS YOU’RE TOLD. There is also the fitness tests… you will be required to complete the Royal Navy Fitness Test (RNFT), which is a 1.5 mile run. Whilst you don’t have to pass it to complete the RFA course, you will find yourself resitting it every weekend until you do. You’ll also get the delights of the swimming test, again you don’t have to pass it but resitting is a tad inconvenient.
Week 2 After applying EXACTLY WHAT YOU’VE BEEN TOLD from the lessons by the Marines you will be heading off with your RN colleagues to complete the Basic Leadership Development package or BLD– Carried out at Okehampton Battle Camp in Dartmoor. You will be staying in an Army training camp and being taught basic infantry skills such as living in the field, why things are seen, rations and making a shelter. Be under no illusions, it will be everything you’ve ever imagined about Army – 20 man rooms, basic shower facilities, wearing combat uniform, and being outside in whatever the weather has to throw at you. Yes, you didn’t join the Army and sure, you’ll be cold but this is how the military ‘does’ leadership. It makes you cold and uncomfortable and then asks you to make decisions, solve problems and lead your team. And yes, I am well aware that the RFA are civilians and I am sure you will hear some grumbling about being cold, wet, hungry, miserable and not ‘signing up for this’. Just remember that you did sign up for this, you joined a very specialised organisation that works shoulder to shoulder with the RN. The RFA cadets have it easier compared to the RN – we don’t carry full bergens, webbing or a weapon. BLD ends with two days ‘bivvying’ in the grounds of BRNC, getting very little sleep and completing two days of practical leadership tasks.
viagra side effects red eyes Week 3 Is mostly about basic boat handling in motor whalers and lectures covering all facets of the Royal Navy operations including Royal Marines, Logistics and Maritime ops. Finally, you’ll get to do some boaty type things, and it’s a very welcome break from BLD the week before.
Week 4 Sees your newly acquired boating skills developed as you learn manoeuvres in a bigger boat, expanding on the basics taught in the previous week. You’ll also get a series of Strategic Studies lectures which cover naval history and the Falklands campaign including lessons learnt and the RFAs role in it. In English lessons you’ll cover basic grammar rules and learn how to present to your peers, culminating in a 5 minute presentation to the group on a defence subject. There’s also a series of lectures out the RFA itself covering:manning levels; career progression and the appointing system.
viagra pfizer Week 5 More time on the River Dart, (I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun) with an introduction to big ship seamanship. anchoring, buoy jumping and a mock light line transfer Replenishment at Sea (RAS). RFA Specific seamanship is also taught to highlight the differences between the two organisations. There’s also a RIB acquaint and clay pigeon shooting.
Week 6 This is pretty heavy academic week with further Strategic Studies, meteorology and Ship Technology lessons and you have to pass a test about the RFA.
how fast does 10mg cialis work Week 7 sees you return to Dartmoor to complete the the Assessed Basic Leadership Exercise (ABLE) which involves a march carrying your bags followed by 3 nights on Dartmoor where you’ll have to lead 2 practical leadership tasks per student. Again, just do exactly as you’ve been told before – if the Marines tell you to sleep in trainers and socks, then that is what you should do. This is the big one of the RFA course and this is the assessment of you as a leader and a team member. It is hard and you will be tired but you’ll also feel a massive sense of pride when you finish it. You will be completing ABLE alongside your RN colleagues, talk to them, help where you can – however hard you’re finding it, they’re probably finding it worse. RFA cadets carry daysacks but RN ones carry full kit at all times including webbing and a weapon. RN cadets regulary get ‘beastings’ from the Marines but because we’re civvies, we don’t. Believe me when I say that having to stand and watch your colleagues get a beasting is a humbling experience. You should feel justifiably proud to have completed ABLE.
Week 8 The time has flown by and every morning this week will see you doing doing ceremonial training practise for the Pass out Parade on Thursday. There is also a Maritime leadership exercise involving up to 3 boats being deployed on the river building stuff you learned in week 3. It may be the last week but there’s still time to work on team building and leadership - you’ll spend a morning dangling from ropes on the high ropes course.
And suddenly you’re on the parade square at BRNC in front of your family and friends having successfully completed the RFA Initial Officer’s course. It’s a proud moment and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Here are my top tips for the RFA at BRNC Course:
There are things that I’ve not detailed here but I don’t want to completely ruin the surprise: Good luck and enjoy!
For those of you who are interested in joining the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the application process is as follows:
1. Call RFA hotline to determine eligibility to apply: 08456 040520, 0900 to 2100 Monday to Sunday except Bank Holidays.
2. Receive application pack, fill it in and post it off.
3. If your application passes a paper sift, you’ll be invited to take the Royal Navy Recruit Test (RT) at an Armed Forces Careers Office (AFCO) near you. You sit the test, leave and the AFCO will pass on your score to RFA recruiting, you do not find out this score.
4. If RT is passed you will be invited down to Portsmouth for a sift interview with RFA recruiting where they will assess your suitability for a cadetship and whether to put you forward for the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB).
5. AIB. Three days of Officer Selection to look forward too and it as at this point you will have a fitness test. Be prepared to sit the bleep test, which is scored by age and gender. Whilst there is no pass mark for the RFA, you are assessed on effort – it’s not too much of a challenge to work on your fitness before going to AIB… You will be told whether you have passed or failed the AIB at the end of the three days but if you pass it doesn’t mean you have been successful in getting a cadetship. It’s a very good sign but you’re not there just yet.
6. Conditional offer of a job from the RFA subject to a few things namely: getting an MCA ENG1 medical with no limitations; a security check; innoculations and getting a discharge book.
7. Once all the paperwork is in and clearance given, the RFA will make you a formal offer and send you your contract. It’s a condition of employment that you attend a two month course at BRNC Dartmouth. These currently run twice a year in September and May.
Presuming you make it that far and once BRNC is a mere memory, you will start the civilian phase of your training at Fleetwood Nautical College.
As many of you know I’ve recently fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining the military, except that I haven’t really because I’ve joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is a civilian manned MOD owned fleet. It’s pretty warry for a civilian job, we go to war zones, wear uniform and have big guns but we’re still civvies at the end of the day. The RFA is a unique organisation that lies somewhere between the Merchant fleet and the Royal Navy, because of this my training will consist of both civilian and military courses. Most people I’ve spoken too are pretty confused as to what I’ll be doing over the next few years so I thought a blog post would be useful.
I’ve joined the RFA as a Deck Officer Cadet and I’ll be training to become an ‘Officer of the Watch’ meaning I’ll be responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship for each of the four hour periods I’m in charge on the bridge. I’ll be trained to use advanced satellite navigation systems, how to assess weather conditions, to conduct Replenishments at Sea (RAS), moor the ship and how to load cargo.
The first stage of my cadetship was a two month course at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, developing leadership, communication and teamwork skills – these two months warrants a whole blog post all of its own! The next stage for me will be to join cadets from other parts of the Merchant Navy (MN) at one of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) accredited training establishments to begin a three-year course. I’ll be studying for a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Nautical Science because I’ve got a few UCAS points in addition to the required GCSE results (I’ll write another post on entry/selection to the RFA). Those without the required UCAS points work towards a Higher National Diploma (HND). Both routes also lead to the Certificate of Competency: Officer of the Watch qualification allowing you to work on a MN ship. The three year course is split into five phases interspersing time at college with time at sea, ensuring plenty of time onboard ship shadowing qualified officers to build skill and knowledge. The course culminates in a gruelling MCA Oral examination and after successfully sitting that, I’ll be qualified and wearing the rank of Third Officer.
My Royal Navy training will also be fitted in as and when is appropriate, as a Deck Cadet (and hopefully a qualified Officer) I will have to do quite a few RN courses as we work so closely with the Navy. It’s certainly going to be an interesting few years and I’m looking forward to it: I’m being paid a decent salary to get a degree, an MCA qualification and to see the world. I’m pretty happy with that.
I should also add that the RFA (and other Merchant Navy companies) offer cadetships in Marine Engineering and Systems Engineering, but why would you want to study them? Everyone knows that Deck is the best department…