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RFA Seamanship Apprenticeship - Application to AB.

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
Having finished the apprenticeship and now finding myself with a bit of time, I thought I'd write a bit of a 'guide' to the process. I appreciate the help I got here and time to pay it forward. Forgive the formatting - I wrote it in Word and copied it over.


I started at Raleigh in the early part of 2018. My application went in roughly in the early spring of 2017. Things may have changed some (in part due to Covid), but I don't imagine much – the RFA doesn't like change!


Application

First part of the process is to fill in the application form on the Royal Navy website. If memory serves, after the previous employment, education, references sections there's a free text box called something like 'Any Other Information.' I used this to write something like a covering letter – talking about how my skills, experience and personal qualities related to my understanding of the job, why I thought I would be a good fit etcetera.

Next step is to book a date for a psychometric test at your local Armed Forces Careers Office. This is a pretty easy test covering English language comprehension, maths and mechanical comprehension. It's all multiple choice and shouldn't be an issue if you put in the revision time to get used to the style of question and exam technique. Best guess and estimation are your friends – better a wrong answer quickly than a correct one that takes you two minutes to get to. Wizz through, getting all the ones you can get quickly then go back to work on the ones you've struggled with. If you're close to running out of time, take a wild guess – you've got a 25% chance of being right!

You'll sit the test probably with a bunch of people applying for the RN and RM. I arrived early, was smartly dressed (I'd come from work) and had a pen. The guys applying for the RN were late and in trackies much to the annoyance of the matelot CPO invigilating! After the test, anyone applying for the RN and RM will get their results. Officially, we're supposed to have them emailed to us by the RFA Recruitment Team... But they're marked there and then. You might have some success convincing the Careers Officer to give you a thumbs up if you've done ok. (I did)

I don't believe the pass mark for seamanship apprentice is very high, but it's worth scoring highly to make yourself stand out down the line.

He'll then stick on a video about the available careers in the RN and RM. I stayed to watch it and had a chat with the Careers Officer. I think he was trying to poach me for the RN. At this stage, I wasn't sure how much the AFCO would have to do with the recruitment process, so I wanted to keep him on side. As it turns out, they've got nothing to do with it. Knowing what I do now, I'd have politely left straight after the test – I was late for work!

Next/before/concurrently with (depending on how long it takes you to book the psychometric test), you'll be sent/emailed a couple more forms. I believe it was something to do with declaring any criminal convictions and a 'Supplementary Application Form', with a couple of questions, namely; “Why do you want to join the RFA?” and “Why the branch you have applied for specifically?” I treated these the same as the free test box on the initial application form. I used them to relate my knowledge, experience and personal qualities to my knowledge and understanding of the RFA and the seamanship role. I think I also attached a covering letter.

You'll notice a pattern so far. At every stage of the application (filling in that extra text box on the initial application, swotting up for the RT and doing really well, writing several drafts of the supplementary application form), I went 'above and beyond.'

There was (and it's probably worse now with the economic effects of lockdowns), lots of competition for limited roles. Lots of people apply and don't even get invited to interview.


Make yourself stand out for the:





Sift


A couple of months after completing the above steps, I was informed I'd made it through the sift process and was invited to attend an interview. Late summer 2017. I think I had a relatively short wait time compared to some of my coursemates. It all depends on when they decide to do the sift – sorting through all the paper applications and deciding who to get up for an interview.

Did any of the above and beyond I did help me get through the sift? I have no idea. I just know I'd have been kicking myself thinking, 'What if I'd just done X?' if I hadn't.





Interview

(
This is probably done by Zoom now? But general stuff will apply)

I think the interview was only a couple of weeks after being informed I'd got through the sift. It was held at HMNB Portsmouth. They're making a significant investment in you in paying for your travel down and home and putting you up in a hotel the night before (though the RFA does love to waste money!), so my impression is at this stage... the job is yours to lose.

In keeping with my theme of doing everything possible, I went suited and booted.

You'll be informed what gate to enter the base. Victory Gate I believe. I think I was given a letter to show the security. They'll phone the Office and someone will come down to escort you up.

Interview itself was with two people. A high up 'HR' type person and the training Bosun from Raleigh. The training Bosun at Raleigh changes every few years, so you'll be getting interviewed (and taught)by somebody with very recent experience at sea and who's been at sea for probably 25 years plus. My impression was that the HR type person was just there to make sure policy and procedure was followed (though she did ask a few questions) and you were really being interviewed by the Bosun. After-all – he's the one that has to teach you and you could end up working for him when he goes back to sea.


Interview was pretty straightforward and I was particularly pleased in the absence of trendy 'trip you up' type interview questions.

Some of the questions were along the lines of;


-How many ships does the RFA have?


-How many people do we employ?


-What does the RFA do?


-What does the deck department do?


-Look at this picture of an RFA and RN ship, what's going on? As a deckie, where could you be working and what would you be doing?


-Give examples when you've worked in a team


-How will you cope with long periods away from home?


-Could you shoot someone if given the order?


-What does being a sponsored reservist mean?


-Where does initial training take place and what does it consist of?


-Etc


Pretty much just things you should know and have considered if you want to be a deckie in the RFA!


My advice here is; do your research (obviously), don't bullshit (if you don't know, own up) and think outside the box. You don't just have to use examples from work. I worked alone in an office for ten years before getting this job. My examples for working in a team, working outside etc came from hobbies. (Clue is in my username)


I believe it was about a week before I got a provisional offer of employment and a start date at HMS Raleigh.
 
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Canoe

Lantern Swinger
Pre-application stuff – Security Clearance, Vaccinations, ENG1 Medical

Pretty soon after you're successful, a member of the Recruitment Team will be in touch. He/she'll act as your point of contact in getting all the stuff you need done, claiming back the expenses and they'll be able to point you in the right direction if you struggle.

Security Clearance – You'll be emailed a link to an online portal for this. Get this done ASAP. You'll have seen posts on here of people being delayed starting because of this. Myself, it was pretty straight forward (never lived out of the country, only lived at two addresses, only a few jobs), so it came back quickly. If you've got a more complicated past, it could take longer. Don't be the reason for a delay by not getting it done!

Vaccinations – You'll be given a list of vaccinations you need. Some of them, you'll probably have. Your GP should be able to provide a print out of this information. I initially had a struggle getting some done (GP said they won't do them for employment purposes, they have to charge... but they can't charge me because I'm a registered patient)... In the end, I got around it by wink wink, nudge nudge with the GP's collusion, claiming I needed them for travel. The only vaccination I had to pay for outright was Yellow Fever, which I got done at a local travel clinic.

ENG1 – MCA website has a list of approved doctors. Ring them up, book in, turn up and pay the £100. (Claimable) It consists of peeing in a pot to test your kidney function, a physical exam, a hearing test and a vision and colour blindness test. Being in perfect health, nothing here was an issue for me. From my coursemates and people I've met subsequently; asthma isn't a problem, nor is being over a healthy BMI (as long as you're not absurdly over.) Ultimately, it's up for the ENG Doctor to decide... But unless you're so fat you struggle to tie your own shoes, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

As you get all this done, send it over to the recruitment team member looking after your application. When it's all done, your provisional offer of employment will become a proper one and you'll be sent the apprenticeship contract to sign.

You're now all set to start.
 

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
10 Weeks at HMS Raleigh

I believe this might now be longer by a week or two, but the format is basically the same.

Your start date will be a Sunday. Your travel down will be booked for you via train/train and plane, or you can take your car if you have one. I drove. If you're arriving by public transport, it's as well to just get the bus from the train station if you haven't got too much kit. Bus picks you up right outside Plymouth train station, rides across on the Torpoint Ferry and drops you off at the front gate. If you've overpacked, use two taxis – one to the ferry, one from Torpoint up to Raleigh. Costs a fortune to get the taxi from the Plymouth side to take you straight over.

Upon arrival, you'll check in at the main gate. They'll be expecting you. They'll issue you with a temporary ID, a car pass if you drove and contact one of the two RFA instructors who'll come down to show you to your accommodation. This'll be either the training Bosun who probably interviewed you, or the Leading Hand Deck who is in the training role.

Accommodation is in Galahad Block, in a shared room. Six beds, though only five were occupied in my room. Our course was ten, so split across two rooms. You'll have a shared kitchen with a washer and dryer, kettle, toaster, microwave, a toilet and shower block, a common room. Galahad Block is pretty new, so it's pretty liveable. Smoking area outside. Short walk up to the bars on base, gym and the Costcutter shop.

As much as possible, they try and keep the rooms 'RFA only'... but there's a risk if there's a shortage of accommodation, they'll move some matelots in. These'll be qualified rates on courses, you won't be mixed in with the sprogs undergoing basic training. If you're female, you're pretty much guaranteed to end up sharing with some matelot females. (We didn't have any women on our course.)

My coursemates, in age, ram the gamut from 18 and freshly out of school to a guy in his mid-fifties.

Scran time on a Sunday is sixish and pretty dire at a weekend, so get a takeaway on the way!

In the morning, you'll be trusted to find your own way to Victory Galley for breakfast. All sorts of weird rules about what you can have as part of the 'core breakfast' and what will incur an extra charge. (50P for a couple of soggy mushroooms!!!) By the till, there's a book with your name in it. Sign for the basic/core meal and pay for anything extra you've had.

First day will start in the School of Seamanship directly across from Victory Galley.

Exact memory is failing me here, so I'll just give a general overview;

1st Week – Induction week. You'll meet your instructors and the overall RFA training officer at Raleigh, fill out paperwork, apply for ID cards,get uniform, get set up on the IT system, lots of death by powerpoint on the course structure, drug and alcohol policy etc.

2nd, 3rd and 4th week – 'Functional skills.' Maths, IT and English. You'll be taken off by a Babcock employed teacher who'll take you through all of this. Each will consist of a week's worth of lessons, followed by a test on a Thursday afternoon. None of it is hard. If you have a higher qualification in a subject than they can offer you (a level 2, which is I believe a C at GCSE), you don't have to do it. A couple of us in my course were exempt from everything so were given busywork of preparing Powerpoint presentations on RFA and Maritime related subjects. Given do-over, I'd forget my GCSE certificates and just do the lessons. Less boring.

Broadly speaking in this time, you'll; start at 8, have a half hour smoko at 10, break for lunch before 12, re-start at 1, another smoko at 2:30?... and it's time to mutiny if you're working past 4. Wednesday afternoons you'll have off at this period for 'sport.'

Friday is a case of turn up and get knocked off.


Remaining six weeks – Seamanship finally! This will be a mix of Powerpoint teaching in classroom covering subjects such as: ship construction and location marking, pieces of equipment, IMO flag signals, types of rope etc. Even when you're doing practical stuff, they'll be quizzing you on this kind of stuff (You'll learn to dread them getting out the 'quiz cards'! Nobody is going for smoko till everyone gets one right!). None of it is difficult. Three or four weeks in, you'll take a 'mock' version of the final exam where they'll identify if you're taking in the material and give you extra help if you're not. Just do some revision, don't be a dick to your instructors and cause them problems and they'll find a way to get you through the final exam somehow. Even if you're the lest academic person in the world, you really won't struggle here.

The other half of the course is practical based. You'll spend a lot of time in the rigging shop learning how to splice different kinds of rope and wire, tie knots, do whippings etcetera. A lot to learn but at this stage it's more an 'overview' and introduction. You won't be expected to be fully competent at everything – that's what your first trip away as a group with your mentor is for.

There will be other practical sessions too; a couple of times on the mock focscle for mooring, throwing (and getting laughed at) heaving lines, an anchoring practical on HMS Brecon (if it isn't broken), a go on a ship steering simulator (if it isn't broken) and a week on the RAS rigs, learning how to set up and operate a RAS (if they're not broken). Again, I felt all of this was more an 'introduction' to the topics. This will all be cemented on your first/second/third/fourth trips. You're always learning.

You might at some point get a visit to an RFA ship if there's one in Plymouth. We didn't.

At some point during the final weeks at Raleigh, you'll probably meet your Mentor. He'll be going away on your first trip with you and basically taking over your training. They'll have as much to do/probably even more with you passing your EDH (Efficient Deckhand Certificate) after your first trip than the training team at Raleigh.

You'll also be given your Merchant Navy Training Record Book. More on this in another part.

Final written exam is a 70% pass mark, with an opportunity for a retake if you need it. Again – if you're not a dick, they'll get you through it somehow if you struggle.


Some general stuff about life at Raleigh



  • You can go home weekends. Likely, you'll be on the road 10am Friday morning most weeks if you do decide to. You'll get concessionary trips where you can claim for this. I believe we had two we could use in training. Otherwise, it's out of your own pocket.
  • 'Working' life is pretty relaxed. After the initial functional skills, all your training will be done by the RFA Bosun and Leading Hand Deck. Expect plenty of banter, early knockoffs etc.
  • 'Don't take the piss' and 'Play the game.' You are not RN and you don't have to abide by the same rules, but you are using their facilities. Keep your cabin tidy, hide the beer for rounds, wear your uniform in some semblance of order, keep your hands out of your pockets (they hate that) and don't use your phone walking around. You shouldn't have a run in with anyone shouty.
  • Ditto above when it comes to drink. You are technically under the threat of the breathalyser. You have to get the training team really gunning for you before they'd use it. Don't have a mad one before going on the RAS rigs in the morning and you'll be fine.
  • Take plenty of going out clothes, books, gaming systems, laptop, gym kit etc. You'll have a lot of free time to kill.
  • Be prepared to be 'messed around.' Things will change. Things will be broken and not available for training. You might not find out where and when you're going away on your first trip till really late. This uncertainty only gets worse down the line (though it gets better when you're fully qualified), so get used to it now! Ultimately, it will all work out in the end.







(More to come on Basic Sea Survival Training, first, second and subsequent trips)
 

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
BSSC – Basic Sea Survival Training.

Pretty soon after finishing at Raleigh, (we had a weekend between the two), you'll be off to HMS Excellent for Basic Sea Survival training. Probably before or after, you'll do a one day course called PSSR or something (don't really remember this, think it was some powerpoints on don't slam doors in accommodation, take showers) and 'Manual Handling Training' (lift with a bent back in a sharp, twisting motion I think), a one day first aid course and get fitted for and given a gas mask. I think this was all linked – BSCC one week, the other stuff Monday/Tuesday the week following.

BSSC was actually really good fun. You're taught by a mixture of RN instructors and former RN Babcock contractors. It's a bit of a conveyor belt/factory course with the amount of people they throw on it – everyone needs it before they can go to sea. You'll take in a lot, but forget a lot – and it's all a bit hectic Don't worry so much, you'll pick it up on ship when you're qualified. Apprentices can't take part in firefighting and exercises, it'll be a year or so before you're touching a BA (breathing apparatus) again – everyone forgets!

The instructors in the heat of the moment might forget that you're RFA and not to be screamed at and shoved around like they do with the young matelots, but take it in stride. It's kind of the nature of the beast when you're in 'high stress' situations, even fake ones.

Structure is;

3 days of firefighting. A day in a classroom learning basic firefighting theory, dress, how to put on a BA, different hoses and nozzles etc. Two days in a ship mockup fighting gasfires, getting soaking wet, dragging around hoses.

1 day jumping from a diving board into a freezing lake in a survival suit wearing a lifejacket (RFA had to do it twice due to the two different lifejackets we use), paddling around, righting and entering a liferaft. I believe due to a tragic case of an RFA old boy passing away from a heart attack from the cold shock, we now do this part of it on a civilian course in a swimming pool.

½ day getting dressed in your gas mask and a NBC oversuit and getting 'gassed' in a chamber. (Make sure you put your phone on silent, it'll be quite awkward when it starts ringing in your pocket and you can't get to it to silence it).

½ day in the DRIU, a sinking ship simulator that floods and rolls around, banging in wedges into holes, building shoring etc. Really good fun.

First Trip

We found out where we were going in the last couple of weeks at Raleigh. We had a couple of weeks off after BSSC before our first trip. Our first trip was out in the Gulf on the Cardigan Bay.

Don't expect anything at this stage, plan nothing! You could wait three months after BSSC before going away on your first trip... or three days. You're basically at the whim of the appointer at this stage in your career. (To give the appointer her due, I think there's a lot of negotiation/horse trading between her and ships/captains/bosuns about taking what could be ten plus deck apprentices. You're viewed as a bit of an nuisance unfortunately.)

If you're lucky enough to fly somewhere foreign, you'll get the tickets emailed to you. If you're not blue-eyed, it'll be on you to book train tickets to the exotic locales of Plymouth, Falmouth, Loch Striven etc.

Either way, your Mentor who you've met will have joined the ship a few days before you to organise things.

Accommodation on board will be sharing. Depending on ship and what it's up to, you could be in anything from double cabins, four man cabins, eight man cabins, 24 man troop dorms. We were in the troop dorms on the Cardigan Bay and it was ok. Same room split as at Raleigh, one 24 man dorm between each group of five. More room and 'privacy' than if you were sharing a double cabin with one other person.

If you're in a 'better' class of cabin to start with, expect to be downgraded the second anyone – Matelots, Marines, Contractors, cadets, Steward Apprentices, Chef Apprentices, Motormen apprentices, convicted murderers and paedophiles – deemed more important than you comes aboard. First trip deck apprentices are the bottom of the totem pole. (Do I sound bitter?)

While you're away, your job is to get as much of the Merchant Navy Training Record Book signed off as possible. Plenty of tasks to do with the job – (take part in a mooring party, let go an anchor ya-da-ya-da.) Your Mentor will guide you on this. You also need to get a Steering Ticket and a Nav Watch Rating, which will involve you going up on a watch for a period of weeks.

For me, I felt the trip was divided into 'stages.' Experience may differ depending on the Mentor you end up with.

The Duckling Stage – You'll probably spend the first couple of weeks following your mentor around like a line of ducklings. First time anything goes on (mooring, anchoring, a RAS, launching a boat) you'll probably just be stood around, watching, out of the way. The next time it happens, you'll start to get involved, working under the guidance of the rest of the department with your Mentor keeping an eye out. You'll be tempted to rush around and try and do everything at a million miles an hour. Don't. Very little we do requires rushing – that's how accidents happen. Take things slow and if you have no idea what you're doing, ask!

A little more 'independence' – At turn to in the morning, you'll be split up. Some will go off and practice wire splicing etc, some might get a run in the FRC if it's being launched, some of you will go and work with Abs doing some painting, chipping etc. And there's always accommodation (cleaning and mopping!) when they can't find anything else for you to do. You'll still do plenty of stuff as a group, practising your EDH skills. Depending on the Bosun, you might even get a little more independence, trusted to do jobs by yourself. Strictly speaking, I believe this is against the rules and as an apprentice, you always need 'supervised.' But it does happen.

'Watch' stage – Depending on how many of you there are, you'll be split up between the three watches to get your steering tickets and nav watch rating. You'll probably be up there with one of your coursemates, a Third Mate, one or two Abs, a cadet, possibly a Marine. They'll give you as much wheel time as possible. My advice here is, hammer it. If they're happy for you to do four half hour stints on the wheel in a watch, do it. You never know when plans chance and you won't be able to get wheel time – and if you don't have your steering ticket, you can't sit your EDH. Nav watch will come after you get your steering ticket, probably consisting of a short, easy onboard exam on navigation lights, bouys etc.


Some general tips on first trip
  • Expect to be messed around again. They'll move your cabins. They'll change your meal times. Generally, you're just going to be seen as a nuisance (not so much by your own department, they're mostly really helpful and if you're decent, glad of an extra pair of hands) You might end up on a ship that isn't doing much and you'll barely get any of your MNTB done. It might not go to sea much and you won't get steering ticket/nav watch. This has happened before to groups – and it gets sorted down the line. You might end up doing a split first trip, couple of months on one ship, couple of months on another You can rant and rave about it and it won't change anything, so just go with the flow.
  • Try and branch out from your group. Socialise with the crew, go to the crew bar, go ashore. It helps to turn you into a person rather than an 'apprenti.'
  • Listen to the Abs. They can be really helpful in teaching you EDH stuff. I struggled with wiresplicing until one of the Abs who'd also struggled demonstrated it in a way that just 'clicked' with me. Don't expect it, it isn't really their job to be teaching you stuff – but most are more than happy to skive from their jobs for half an hour with a reasonable excuse of 'helping the apprentices!'
  • Try to be less of a nuisance, have good habits. Never miss ditching gash or a beer lift!
  • On drinking. Don't try and keep up with the seasoned RFA veterans. They'll drink you under the table and turn to for work apparently fresh as a daisy while you look like death. As at Raleigh, don't take the piss and play the game. You've probably got a little more latitude as an apprentice, but apprentices have been breathalysed and sacked. Not worth it.
  • Skiving is an art from in the deck department. If you're working with an AB and finish the job half an hour before smoko and he suggests sliding away and 'hiding', don't see them off by going and asking for another job! Hide.
  • If you're asked to do something you don't know how, ask. There is nothing worse than someone pretending to know what they're doing and causing a disaster.
  • Slow down. Rushing around when you're working with cranes, winches and mooring lines etc. is how you get hurt/put yourself in a position where you can get hurt.

So, hopefully after your first trip, you've got your Steering Ticket, Nav Watch and a lot of your MNTB signed off. (If you haven't, they'll sort it - eventually)

It's time to go back to Raleigh for EDH.
 
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Canoe

Lantern Swinger
EDH

After your first trip, you'll probably have some time off. You've earned a month's leave if you did a full four months. You'll get this at some stage. You might get more, 'continuous pay' – sat at home, supposed to be at work, getting paid!

I believe they time EDH/Phase 2 to coincide with the start of a Phase 1/initial training course (you probably saw the Phase 2s hanging around the back of the classroom, before you got sent off to be bored to death with maths, english and IT.) Again, expect nothing – you might be at Raleigh a week after paying off your first trip, or two months. It all depends when the course is due to run.

One of the good things about getting back in the RFA Classroom was seeing all the pictures of previous courses, picking out the Abs you knew from your first trip, realising the salty sea dog you'd thought had been at sea since Nelson was a lad actually only joined five years ago.

You'll be back at Raleigh for four weeks. It was split up something like;

Week 1 – Group practical 'assessments'. Assessments in the loosest sense of the word – your instructors will tell you they're not going to get involved and tell you what to do... but they will! The assessments are; a mooring practical on the mockup focsle, rigging and coming down on a bosun's chair and plank stage from about six foot off the ground, dropping the anchor on HMS Brecon (it if isn't still broken!) I believe the first day was taken up by powerpoints on what to expect over the next month and checks on our MNTBs, each of the practicals took a day... and as you'll come to expect, turn up and get knocked off on the Friday.

Weeks 2 and 3 and come in different orders – they split you up into two groups.

Week 2 – At Jupiter Point, just down the road from Raleigh. Doing a 'displacement boat' course. Basically, learning to drive a small fishing boat type thing with a prop. You don't get a ticket from this. It will also involve a navigation exam which isn't hard. Your instructor (might be the RFA instructor down there, might be a Matelot, but they're all good and chilled unless you get Shrek!) will probably get bored of the little ferry boat and take you out in a jetboat for a day/half a day, throw you around and even give you a chance to drive. It's all good experience for when you do your lifeboat course and jetboat course down the line, but I got the impression it was really just to get half of us out of the way, while the other half of the group got more focused attention for:

Week 3 – EDH Practice Week. Back in the rigging shop, practising all the stuff you'll need for the EDH test week. Splicing; multi-plait, three strand, natural fibre and wire. Mousing hooks and seizing shackles. You'll get to chose to work on anything you're weak on, more than likely with your mentor there and at least one of the RFA instructors. If you're anything like our group, you'll quickly run through the other stuff (at this point, you'll be able to splice rope in the dark behind your back) and spend most of your time swearing and on the verge of mental breakdown, splicing wire.

Week 4 – EDH Week. They'll get a Bosun who lives nearby who hasn't had anything to do with your training so far to come in. He's the one who'll invigilate the practical assessment and sign your EDH when you pass. Format was, I believe something like;

Day 1 – Produce all the splices in rope you've been taught, including whippings and dogging. Probably also seized shackles and moused hooks here.

Day 2 – Wire Splice. When I got through this, I felt for me the EDH was over – definitely the bit everyone was dreading.

Day 3 – One on one verbal assessments with the Bosun in the RFA classroom. They'll have plenty of props, pictures. It'll be a quite chilled out 'Tie me a bosun's chair', 'What's this piece of metal work called?' 'How are lifeboats numbered on ship?' 'Talk me through dropping an anchor'. etcetera. They're not expecting you to get everything right.... Just give a good account of yourself. I believe at this time we also did our 'Bends and Hitches' practical, getting pulled aside by one of the Instructors and asked to demonstrate the 16(?) bends and hitches we had to learn. It might have been on another day though – only takes two minutes.

Day 4 – A morning of revision, then the Theory Exam in the afternoon. Basically a re-run of the exam you took in week 6 and week 10. Pass mark is the same. As long as you've glanced at the revision book at some point in the last four months, you'll be fine.

Day 5 – Think the morning was kept free in case anyone needs to do a re-sit of the exam. Nobody on our course did. I think we generally just hung around till after lunch, got to sign our EDHs (and give them back – you don't have the seatime to actually take it away right now), got our picture taken for the course photo, shook hands and were off before afternoon smoko.

(I've subsequently heard of people failing their EDH, doing another trip as an apprentice and going back for another shot at it... Again, if you're not a dick and you've struggled, they'll usually find a way to get you through it.)

Second Trip as an Apprentice

As is the theme, expect nothing here! You could be sat at home for three months, kicking your heels and waiting for it. Or you could be there three days after you finish phase 2. You won't be told how long you're going to be sat around for.

Your second trip, you'll go away in a smaller group/a pair/by yourself. All depends on how many second trip apprentices need a ship, which ship will take how many etc. Best thing that happened to me was going away on my second trip by myself – people forget you're an apprentice when you're by yourself and you can just get on with the job.

I've heard from coursemates/seen it myself that if there's a couple of you, you'll still be the 'apprentices' as in, 'Dave, take the apprentices and do X.' If you're really unlucky, you'll go where the first trip apprentices are and there's a high tendency for you to be just lumped in with them.

Accommodation again will likely to be sharing – anything from two in a double cabin to ten (mixture of other apprentices) in a troop dorm. You might be lucky and get a single cabin... If you join a 'quiet' ship and there's empty 'rating cabins' and you're not put in them... It's worth being a squeaky wheel and asking! (Now, I'd probably just move into them and wait to be told to get out – better to beg forgiveness than ask permission) Some LSOs etc have the mindset that as an apprentice you have to share/have a shit cabin even when there's better ones available.

Your objective this trip is to get the six months total seatime (from your last trip and this trip) you need to go back to Raleigh and pickup your EDH ticket and get your MNTB completed. You'll be running your MNTB yourself. Don't expect the Bosun to do it for you. They'll help (they might not.) Keep your ears open and don't be afraid to ask to get involved if there's something going that you need to get signed off.

I actually enjoyed my second trip much more than the first (despite the first being foreign and exciting... and the second being on the wall in Falmouth) because I wasn't being shepherded around by a Mentor and dumped in with all the other apprentices. When the Bosun and PO Deck realised I wasn't a complete numpty, I was mostly just used 'as another AB' and got on with jobs.

Some general tips for 2nd trip


  • Don't expect to constantly be doing things you need for your MNTB. You're still under training but you're here to work, too! Expect to do plenty of accommodation, general RFA 'moving things around three times before they finally stay where they are', be involved in lifeboat routines, etc.
  • Anyone from Leading Hand up can sign your task book if it's relating to their department/area of expertise. Don't bother heads of department to sign off something that a Leading Hand, PO or Third Off could sign off.
  • Say yes if asked to do something you're confident in. Say yes with proviso of 'happy to do that if someone could just show me quickly' if you're not. Best way to learn is to get stuck in.
  • On the above, some Bosuns/PO Decks have a terror over the paperwork involved if an apprentice hurts themselves/breaks something. Give them confidence that you're the kind of person that owns up when you've got no idea what you're doing! They'll trust you to do more.
  • Most of the time, you don't know what you're doing! Listen to the Abs. If you're a hard worker, listen to what you're told and do it, most people will bend over backwards to help you learn the job.
  • Like on your first trip, be a good member of the crew. Turn up to ditch gash, help with beer lifts, if you see someone struggling with something, help. (This is just general 'don't be a dick')







(next part, picking up EDH, lifeboat ticket, life as an SG1A(T))
 

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
Picking up EDH, Lifeboat Ticket, Signing Contract

After I paid off my second trip, I had I think a couple weeks off before my lifeboat course.

To sign your contract and become an SG1A(T), you need to have picked up your EDH and done your Lifeboat and Rescue Boat Ticket.

The T in the above stands for Training. You're no longer an apprentice, but you don't have the seatime for an AB ticket (twelve months from the date of your Nav Watch Rating) Bit of a bone of contention that we go to 'T' and other branches go straight to 'C' on a couple grand more than you. I've had the experience of meeting Band C Motormen as a T who started in the RFA a year later than me... and having Steward Apprentices made up partway through a trip going from earning 10k less to earning 2k more! Annoying, but we get to drive jet boats.

Lifeboat course will be a civilian course. If you live close to Southampton, they'll send you to Glasgow for it. If you live close to Glasgow, they'll send you to Southampton. (Think I'm joking – the RFA loves to waste money on travel and accommodation) To be fair, I think they just get you on the first course available as they know we're all keen to get that 10 grand pay rise as soon as possible.

Five days, mix of classroom stuff, launching and puttering around in a lifeboat and little put-put type rescue boat. Very easy – you've been messing around with lifeboats every Sunday with a hangover for the past three months. Nobody struggles.

(Next two bits might have changed due to Covid and we might be in the 20th century and do the below via post or even in the 21st century and do it electronically)

Either before or after Lifeboat course, you need to get booked in with Raleigh to go pick up your EDH ticket. It'll take half an hour. Pop in, they check over your MNTB, give you your ticket and the contact details for the guy you need to contact to get your contract signed, the apprenticeship manager/appointer. (Probably the first you'll have to do with him , it's a suspicious quirk in the system that every other apprentice – steward, cook, motormen, comms – comes under him, but deck apprentices are still 'looked after' by the deck appointer.)

Apprentice appointer is a really nice guy working from Portsmouth, makes it easy to get your contract signed. If you're at Collingwood for a course, he'll pop over to you. I was on a course in Portsmouth straight after getting my EDH picked up and he met us in a pub around the corner to sign the paperwork. (Signing your contract over a pint, typical RFA)

Now, the next step... varies. Some people will do their lifeboat course, have a couple of weeks off and get fired straight back on a ship. Others will do a couple more courses and then join a ship. Other people will do a ton of courses and not be on a ship for six months. It varies. There's lots of SG1A(T)s knocking around and limited billets on ship for them.

Courses you can do in this type run the gamut; jetboat, flight deck, guns, health and safety, forklift, first aid etcetera.

I did a couple of courses (we do so many, I can't remember what I did when), I think; forklift, GPMG, first aid, interspaced with periods of a week here and there, hanging around at home... then was back on a ship within two months of my second trip.

Again – plan nothing. You'll be treated like a mushroom at this stage, kept in the dark and fed bullshit! You could ring the appointer Friday and be told there's no ship for you on the horizon, then get joining instructions Monday to join a ship Friday.
 
Last edited:

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
First, Second and possibly Third Trip as a T

Your objective now is to get twelve months seatime from the date of your Nav Watch Rating to enable you to apply for an AB ticket.

I needed I believe 8.5 months. (Got Nav Watch two and a bit months into the first trip) First trip as a T was just under four months, second I extended by a month to do five months (it was when Covid kicked off and they were worried about not having enough crew, so I even got a bonus for it!), so I was a couple of weeks over the required sea time.

As a T, you're now a fully integrated member of the deck department with (almost no) restrictions on what you can do. You'll stand duties now (gangway/nights for us) and be expected to take part in exercises and respond to alarms. If you're anything like me, it's been over a year since you did BSSC, you haven't been allowed to go anywhere near firefighting stuff... and you'll have no idea what you're doing!

It's to be expected. Talk to the PO(Q) when you have your new joiners tour, they'll probably be more than happy to run through putting a BA on again. Before you do your first duty, ask the Abs to talk you through it.

My biggest piece of advice is always – when you haven't got a clue what you're doing, ask! We do so many different things, you can be in ten years and come across something you haven't done before/ only did once 8 years ago. The only people that are looked down on are those that try and fake it and cause near accidents/don't do what they're supposed to.

You don't always have to run to and ask the Bosun or PO Deck about things. A lot of the things you might ask about, the Abs are in a better place to answer – the Bosun hasn't been on the gangway for years, for example.

More than likely, as a T (and even later on in your career), you're going to join a ship and go straight up on watch. Don't moan about it. Everyone has spent long periods on watch. If you're lucky, you might do half the trip on watch, half the trip as daywork. But don't expect it – if the ship is doing a lot of flying and the Bosun needs people with flight deck and boat tickets and you don't have them, there's a high chance you'll be up there for your full trip. Very rarely do we spend more than a week or two at sea, so when we're alongside, you'll be down on deck as daywork.

I've been pretty lucky and spent the majority of my two trips as a T as daywork. Watch isn't that bad though – four hours on, eight hours off. Get in your own little routine with the gym, stop in for a can in the crew bar (depending on watch). Time actually really flies by on watch (in terms of days/your trip, the actual watch can drag)... and the banter and weird conversations you'll have at 4am with your watchmate and Officer of the Watch can be great.

My trips as a T, I felt that I was given equal responsibility/possibly even greater than some of the fully qualified Abs. If you're keen, willing to learn and not a numpty, you'll just get on with the jobs like you're an AB.

Be keen. If you're on watch and you want to come down, show up for things outside your watch. Come out on deck when there's a RAS. If the FRC is going out and you've got a ticket, ask to go out in it. When you're alongside, ask to drive the cranes. If you're sat in your cabin at lunchtime and you hear a pipe for 'Stores Gang, close up' and you think 'He didn't job off a stores gang, did he?', turn up! If you're on the buoy, show up for the gash barge at 6:30am (I swear, they book it before 8 on purpose every single time)... It will be noticed who's showing up and who's doing the bare minimum.

You'll hear stories from some of the old and crusty/young and disgruntled that 'I used to put in loads of effort and got nothing from it, so now I just stand around with my hands in my pockets as much as possible.' In my limited experience so far and I've maybe been lucky, but I've been recognized/rewarded for being willing, volunteering and putting myself forward.

I'd much rather spend a trip being the 'go to' for driving the cranes, dangling from the RAS rigs in a bosun's chair, driving the FRC... than spending the trip staring out of a window or being in the goon gang, trying to drag out soogeing a patch of deck all day. (You'll still do plenty of all this!)

I'll give here a snapshot of a 'typical' day at work for me as a dayworker on a reasonably busy, UK based ship. Might be busier if you're doing FOST or foreign, might be 'slower' and involve more cleaning and carrying things around if you're on a ship coming out of refit and alongside for most of the trip.

-Turn to at 8.
-Stations for coming into harbour at 8:30, so probably just go down to the poop and lay out the ropes, test the winches, secure a tug.
-Hang around and banter for 45 minutes while we make the passage in.
-Half an hour tying up, moving between different jobs as required. Driving the winches, throwing heaving lines, running the drum end, putting on stoppers, turning up lines. You can get away with doing the bare minimum if 'you're one of those' by not standing in the right place at the right time.
-Go and help the sideparty finish rigging the gangway. (You have to do this quickly or the comms queuing up at the top to go ashore and the matelots away for weekenders get angsty)
-Go for a late smoko.
-Ditch gash to the shoreside skips. Deck department evolution with a token motorman, maybe an officer and if the stars are in perfect alignment, a steward will turn up! During this, I'll either be; driving the crane, moving the gash around on deck and slinging it, unslinging and ditching it in the skips, moving it around with a shore-side/or the ship's diesel forklift.
-Get on with a job after smoko. Could be anything – refresh some lines, soogie the spot of deck the gash was stored on etc. If you have one of the standing jobs (Fire Chief, Nile Man, Water Man) you'll usually just be told to carry on with whatever you've got to do.
-Lunch from 11:30 to 1.
-Turn to again at 1, get given a job/carried on with previous job/standing job, but listen out for 'pipes for stores.'
-Stores turn up. Again, could be driving the crane, a forklift, slinging on the deck or jetty.
-Bosun realises the FRC needs run in the water. Help launch it (if you're lucky and you've got the ticket, maybe get to go out in it.)
-Smoko at 3.
-Turn to at 3:30. Get on with a job for ten minutes before they pipe you to recover the FRC (they'll have made sure they don't get back during smoko)!
-FRC all secure by about 4. Pack away the gear you were using, slowly wash your hands... and vanish by 4:20.

As I said above, a snapshot. Some days you could just be soogeeing without interuption all day. Down in a paint cat alongside the ship, painting. You might be in the middle of FOST and running around doing exercises all day, before laying out the rigs and doing a double RAS in the evening for an 18 hour, non-stop day. Out in the Gulf, you could be launching and recovering boats all day, interspaced with getting 'normal jobs' done, then rafting up with a minesweeper in the evening.

It is really difficult to give a typical day as an RFA deckie – it really does vary so much,
 

Canoe

Lantern Swinger
Some general tips/thoughts

  • As before, say yes to everything. Put yourself forward. If you've got the ticket, ask to do it! With the proviso of – make sure you know what you're doing, ask someone to show you.
  • The deck crowd will tend to be made up of; a couple of idiots, two or three 'slightly below average' hands, 5 or 6 decent enough Abs, two or three guys that really know their stuff. The guys that know their stuff are the ones you want to be asking to show and teach you stuff. If there's anything difficult/complicated going on, they're the ones the Bosun and PO deck will be grabbing to do it. Their band doesn't necessarily relate to their competence. Two of the best Abs I've met so far were band Cs, the biggest idiots Band As.
  • There's a lot of grumbling in the RFA. I've noticed it tends to be concentrated in two places; those who've been in donkey's years and are still Band Bs/Cs... and younger guys, that maybe haven't ever had a 'proper' job before the RFA. The old and bold forget what working life outside is like and the younger guys have never experienced it... We have it pretty damn easy most of the time. Don't buy into it and let it get you down.
  • Never admit you like the food or were getting bored on leave and ready to come back! That's like admitting as a kid you like school.
  • I personally really like the culture in the RFA and the deck department specifically. With a few exceptions (some pretty notable ones), the culture is 'don't see each other off' and 'look out for each other.' We cover for each other, help each other out when you see someone doesn't know what they're doing (quiet word in the ear rather than 'Bosun! Bosun! I'm just going to tell X how to do Y, he doesn't know, look how good I am!' - though that happens), turn up early for watches, make sure we leave cabins spotless for the next guy, etc.
  • You'll meet some really colourful and weird individuals. Just because someone is a complete lunatic doesn't mean they're not pretty good at their jobs. To me, the characters make the RFA.

  • Form your own opinion of people/Bosuns/PO Decks. Someone might tell you the 'Bosun is shit! He's a ******, he's picking on me blah-blah...' Normally, that'll be a useless lazy tosser! I've been dreading certain bosuns, only to find out they're actually great if you're not lazy and shit at your job.



Timeframe to go from SG1A(T) to SG1A(C)


As a T, this is where the messing around can really come to bite. Below is fairly typical – some get on quicker, some get on faster. There's lots of Ts and few billets on ships – be prepared to be sat at home, on continuous pay (theoretically on 24 hours notice to join a ship, so you can't really plan anything) with no idea when it's going to end (you can ask, but the appointer will not tell you)... and doing lots and lots of courses.


Finished my second trip as an apprentice middle of Jan 2019.


Lifeboat course, picked up EDH, contract, couple of courses.


First trip as a T middle of March 2019.


Paid off mid-July 2019. Three months leave.


Picked up my first course mid October 2019. Did maybe five or six courses back to back (some week long courses, some two or three days one), interspaced with periods at home until late/mid November.


Did absolutely nothing from mid November 2019 to Feb 2020, with nothing on the horizon. (No courses booked, so no safety in thinking I could get away – appointer couldn't/wouldn't even guess whether I was doing any more courses or going on ship.


Got fired on an two week FRC course mid Feb 2020, immediately followed by the MCA equivalent course. (Only two courses I've actually wanted to do... and I did both in the middle of a couple of named storms in driving hail and almost going down with hypothermia in a leaky dry suit in a freezing quarry!) While on the first course, I got the letter through for my next trip.


Joined my next trip as a T mid-March 2020. So – that was more or less 8 months off, made up of three months of leave and the remaining being probably 10% courses, 90% sat at home on continuous pay waiting for the next course, or with no idea whether I was getting another course... or being told to join a ship in three days.


Did five months taking me to Mid-August 2020. Got my AB ticket pretty much straight away upon paying off, the £200 quid a month payrise the next month.


--------------------------------------------------------------------

Lot of information there I wish I knew when I started. It might be a little garbled and disorganized – I've just hammered it out while I'm sat under lockdown in Tier 3 area.

By any stretch of the imagination, it isn't a short process completing the RFA apprenticeship! I think my timeframe was 3.5 years from filling in the initial application to getting my AB ticket back in August. Timeframe from starting at Raleigh to AB was probably 2.5 years.

I'm hoping – and hopeful – now that I'm done with the apprenticeship, I'll get a little more 'stability' in life. From what I can see and talking to people, Band C Abs are going back reasonably on time. Loads of extra paid time off sounds great, but it's practically impossible to make any long term plans (Yes mate, I'll come to Australia in April next year) when you don't know whether you're going away again a week from now or five months from now!

A lot of the specifics will have changed with COVID and I've probably missed things out or put them in the wrong order, but hopefully I've managed to give a good idea of the experience.

Lots of negatives, but to me, the positives more than outweigh the negatives... And I'd probably have found the whole experience a lot less frustrating if I'd known to expect to be messed around so much!





If anyone has any questions, happy to help.
 
Last edited:
Some general tips/thoughts

  • As before, say yes to everything. Put yourself forward. If you've got the ticket, ask to do it! With the proviso of – make sure you know what you're doing, ask someone to show you.
  • The deck crowd will tend to be made up of; a couple of idiots, two or three 'slightly below average' hands, 5 or 6 decent enough Abs, two or three guys that really know their stuff. The guys that know their stuff are the ones you want to be asking to show and teach you stuff. If there's anything difficult/complicated going on, they're the ones the Bosun and PO deck will be grabbing to do it. Their band doesn't necessarily relate to their competence. Two of the best Abs I've met so far were band Cs, the biggest idiots Band As.
  • There's a lot of grumbling in the RFA. I've noticed it tends to be concentrated in two places; those who've been in donkey's years and are still Band Bs/Cs... and younger guys, that maybe haven't ever had a 'proper' job before the RFA. The old and bold forget what working life outside is like and the younger guys have never experienced it... We have it pretty damn easy most of the time. Don't buy into it and let it get you down.
  • Never admit you like the food or were getting bored on leave and ready to come back! That's like admitting as a kid you like school.
  • I personally really like the culture in the RFA and the deck department specifically. With a few exceptions (some pretty notable ones), the culture is 'don't see each other off' and 'look out for each other.' We cover for each other, help each other out when you see someone doesn't know what they're doing (quiet word in the ear rather than 'Bosun! Bosun! I'm just going to tell X how to do Y, he doesn't know, look how good I am!' - though that happens), turn up early for watches, make sure we leave cabins spotless for the next guy, etc.
  • You'll meet some really colourful and weird individuals. Just because someone is a complete lunatic doesn't mean they're not pretty good at their jobs. To me, the characters make the RFA.

  • Form your own opinion of people/Bosuns/PO Decks. Someone might tell you the 'Bosun is shit! He's a ******, he's picking on me blah-blah...' Normally, that'll be a useless lazy tosser! I've been dreading certain bosuns, only to find out they're actually great if you're not lazy and shit at your job.



Timeframe to go from SG1A(T) to SG1A(C)


As a T, this is where the messing around can really come to bite. Below is fairly typical – some get on quicker, some get on faster. There's lots of Ts and few billets on ships – be prepared to be sat at home, on continuous pay (theoretically on 24 hours notice to join a ship, so you can't really plan anything) with no idea when it's going to end (you can ask, but the appointer will not tell you)... and doing lots and lots of courses.


Finished my second trip as an apprentice middle of Jan 2019.


Lifeboat course, picked up EDH, contract, couple of courses.


First trip as a T middle of March 2019.


Paid off mid-July 2019. Three months leave.


Picked up my first course mid October 2019. Did maybe five or six courses back to back (some week long courses, some two or three days one), interspaced with periods at home until late/mid November.


Did absolutely nothing from mid November 2019 to Feb 2020, with nothing on the horizon. (No courses booked, so no safety in thinking I could get away – appointer couldn't/wouldn't even guess whether I was doing any more courses or going on ship.


Got fired on an two week FRC course mid Feb 2020, immediately followed by the MCA equivalent course. (Only two courses I've actually wanted to do... and I did both in the middle of a couple of named storms in driving hail and almost going down with hypothermia in a leaky dry suit in a freezing quarry!) While on the first course, I got the letter through for my next trip.


Joined my next trip as a T mid-March 2020. So – that was more or less 8 months off, made up of three months of leave and the remaining being probably 10% courses, 90% sat at home on continuous pay waiting for the next course, or with no idea whether I was getting another course... or being told to join a ship in three days.


Did five months taking me to Mid-August 2020. Got my AB ticket pretty much straight away upon paying off, the £200 quid a month payrise the next month.


--------------------------------------------------------------------

Lot of information there I wish I knew when I started. It might be a little garbled and disorganized – I've just hammered it out while I'm sat under lockdown in Tier 3 area.

By any stretch of the imagination, it isn't a short process completing the RFA apprenticeship! I think my timeframe was 3.5 years from filling in the initial application to getting my AB ticket back in August. Timeframe from starting at Raleigh to AB was probably 2.5 years.

I'm hoping – and hopeful – now that I'm done with the apprenticeship, I'll get a little more 'stability' in life. From what I can see and talking to people, Band C Abs are going back reasonably on time. Loads of extra paid time off sounds great, but it's practically impossible to make any long term plans (Yes mate, I'll come to Australia in April next year) when you don't know whether you're going away again a week from now or five months from now!

A lot of the specifics will have changed with COVID and I've probably missed things out or put them in the wrong order, but hopefully I've managed to give a good idea of the experience.

Lots of negatives, but to me, the positives more than outweigh the negatives... And I'd probably have found the whole experience a lot less frustrating if I'd known to expect to be messed around so much!





If anyone has any questions, happy to help.


An extremely interesting and informative set of posts. Nice one for sharing
 

Skylarker

Midshipman
Is there a chance this could be pinned to the top of the RFA section? just think this right here answers so many questions i had when i applied and with steps along the way, im sure it would be very beneficial to everyone joining or thinking of joining.
 

Knocks555

Newbie
Really appreciate this post thanks. Had my formal offer for Comms Apprentice Jan start last month. Anyone know what happens between now and then? I havent heard anything and the formal letter only gave me a date and a place and not much else info wise.
 
Really appreciate this post thanks. Had my formal offer for Comms Apprentice Jan start last month. Anyone know what happens between now and then? I havent heard anything and the formal letter only gave me a date and a place and not much else info wise.

You'll be contacted by the RFA at either Collingwood or Raleigh detailing joining instructions about a month in advance, what to bring with you, travel arrangements etc.

You'll be called a week or so before your job date to confirm your participation and be given the opportunity ask to any questions you might have.

Your first 2 weeks are likely to be at Raleigh where you'll undertake an induction alongside apprentices from deck and engineering, including functional skills courses if you aren't exempt.

If you have any questions about the apprenticeship just ping me a message.
 
Last edited:

Knocks555

Newbie
You'll be contacted by the RFA at either Collingwood or Raleigh detailing joining instructions about a month in advance, what to bring with you, travel arrangements etc.

You'll be called a week or so before your job date to confirm your participation and be given the opportunity ask to any questions you might have.

Your first 2 weeks are likely to be at Raleigh where you'll undertake an induction alongside apprentices from deck and engineering, including functional skills courses if you aren't exempt.

If you have any questions about the apprenticeship just ping me a message.
Thanks for the info!
 
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