Royal Navy Officer

The Job and What's Involved

The Royal Navy exists to maintain the security of the UK and its citizens worldwide. It also helps to create a peaceful environment in which the UK's foreign policy and trade can develop. Its activities include:

  • Involvement in conflicts and peacekeeping, both national and UN (United Nations) operations.
  • Humanitarian work.
  • Anti-drugs patrols.
  • Search and rescue.
  • Patrolling UK fishing grounds and oil fields.
  • Oceanographic surveys and protecting the marine environment.
  • Helping the UK community.
  • Providing the nation's nuclear deterrent.

The Royal Navy operates ships of different sizes including aircraft carriers, patrol boats and submarines as well as ship-borne aircraft.

Officers are the senior managers of the Royal Navy. They manage, lead and are responsible for the welfare of the people in their division. They work for a particular branch such as medical, logistics or warfare, and specialise in one of the following roles:

Aircrew officer pilots fly fast jets or helicopters on a variety of missions.

Observers (aircrew officers - navigation and weapons systems) operate the complex surveillance, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare systems on helicopters.

Warfare officers in the surface fleet work on ships as fighter controllers, mine warfare officers, mine clearance divers or hydrological, meteorological and oceanographic officers. They may become principal warfare officers and command a ship. Male warfare officers also work in the submarine service.

Air Traffic Control officers use radar and communications systems to control aircraft in congested airspace, both ashore and at sea.

Engineer Officers specialise in weapon, marine, air engineering or information systems.

Logistics Officers manage the delivery of equipment, food and other supplies needed to support the Navy.

Training Management Officers manage and deliver training to Royal Navy personnel at all levels.

Medical officers are Royal Navy doctors who work on ships, submarines and ashore.

Dental Officers are based mainly ashore as Royal Navy dentists, although some larger ships carry a dental officer.

Nursing Officers care for patients, mainly ashore. They may go to sea in times of war.

Chaplains support the spiritual, moral and social well-being of Navy personnel and their families.

Officers based ashore generally work normal office hours from Monday to Friday. There may be occasional weekend and evening work.

Depending on their branch, officers at sea work either normal office hours or a shift known as a watch. The watch system covers 24 hours for certain roles. There is often a relaxed working routine at weekends.

Officers work in a range of environments including ships, submarines, aircraft and shore-based offices. When at sea, they share living quarters with colleagues and space is limited.

Officers work all over the world, sometimes in dangerous conditions. They wear a uniform and use safety equipment according to their role.

A midshipman starts on £15,268 a year, increasing to £24,132 on completion of basic training. A graduate sub-lieutenant starts on £29,006. A lieutenant earns between £37,172 and £44,206. A captain earns between £79,716 and £87,655.

Some officers with specialist skills and qualifications are paid extra, as are some on special service, for example in submarines.

Living costs are heavily subsidised ashore and are free at sea.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 6,560 Royal Navy officers. About 500 are recruited each year. All jobs are open to men and women, except mine clearance diving and working on submarines, which are open to men only. Armed forces careers offices and officer career liaison centres have details of vacancies.

Officers normally join on an initial commission of 12 years but may have the opportunity to transfer to longer commissions. Qualified doctors who enter as medical officers can join on a short commission of three to six years.

Officers are able to leave during initial training. After this, they must give 12 months' notice of their intention to leave, having served for at least three to five years (depending on which branch they are in).

Education and Training

Entry is with at least five GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths, and at least 180 UCAS points from A levels. Equivalent qualifications may be accepted for some specialisations. Many entrants have a degree. Specific degree subjects are required for some roles. Engineer officers, for example, must have an accredited engineering degree.

Applicants must be British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens, although some careers are open only to British citizens.

A limited number of scholarships is available for sixth-form and college students. There is a Defence Sixth Form College especially for students planning to become engineer officers.

Sponsorship and bursaries are available for some university applicants. The Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme also sponsors an engineering degree at selected universities for around 70 students each year who are planning to become engineer officers.

All candidates must pass a two-day assessment called the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) at HMS Sultan in Hampshire. Before attending the AIB, those who have applied to become pilots, observers or air traffic controllers take flying aptitude tests at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire to assess their potential for training.

The AIB includes:

  • Tests of fitness, reasoning, numeracy, mental agility, written communication, spatial orientation and knowledge of the Royal Navy.
  • A practical leadership task
  • A planning exercise
  • An interview

Successful candidates have to pass a medical examination. Final selection for training depends on the numbers of vacancies and successful candidates.

Candidates must be no older than the upper age limit for entry on the first day of the month they begin general basic training. The upper age limit varies between specialisms:

25 for pilots, observers, warfare officers and air traffic controllers.

29 for engineer officers and training management officers.

31 for logistics officers.

38 for nursing officers.

39 for chaplains.

46 for dental and medical officers (54 if already qualified).

The Royal Navy recruits professionally qualified staff for some roles, such as dentists, doctors, nurses and chaplains.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

General basic training for Royal Navy officers takes place at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and lasts for up to one year. It includes:

  • Physical training, parade training, boat handling, leadership and teamwork.
  • Navigation and the marine environment, strategic studies, basic sea survival and ten weeks' deployment to an operational warship.
  • Further development of command, leadership and management skills.

After completing basic training, officers undertake specialist training for their role. It is possible in some specialisms to go on to study for professional qualifications.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A Royal Navy officer should:

  • Be able to manage and lead people.
  • Be able to work as part of a team.
  • Have strong communication skills.
  • Be able to take responsibility for decisions.
  • Have a good level of physical fitness.
  • Be self-confident.
  • Be able to deal with stressful situations.
  • Be able to live and work with the same people every day when at sea.
  • Be prepared to work in dangerous conditions and spend long periods away from their family.

Your Long Term Prospects

Every 18 months to three years, officers move to a new ship or shore base, which allows them to add to their skills, qualifications and experience.

All non-graduates join as midshipmen.

Graduates or professionally qualified entrants start as sub-lieutenants or lieutenants, depending on the branch.

Promotion is from midshipman to sub-lieutenant, then to lieutenant, lieutenant commander, commander, then captain.

Additional promotional opportunities continue up the ranks for some who may achieve the position of commodore, rear admiral, vice-admiral, admiral and admiral of the fleet.

Get Further Information

Further information is available at
Applicants can also visit any local armed forces careers office or call 0845 607 5555.

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