The Royal Navy is in a ‘crisis’ on personnel, says its commander

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Navy has begun deploying less experienced sailors to operations and eliminating some positions altogether as it grapples with an unprecedented personnel shortage.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Navy Commander Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee said about 17% of Navy positions were vacant. This equates to approximately 1,400 sailors, which the Royal Canadian Navy needs to reach full strength.

« Crisis is probably the right word to describe the current shortages in aircrew and personnel across the Navy, » Topshee said. We need more people. We need it as soon as possible.”

The shortfall comes amid a recruiting crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces, with officials recently admitting that the number of candidates turning up each month is about half of what the military needs to achieve its goals. This year.

This equates to thousands of vacancies across the Armed Forces at a time when it is expected to expand to meet increased demand at home and abroad.

While Mr Topshee stressed the importance of bringing in a new generation of sailors, there is a particular problem regarding the shortage of more experienced personnel like NCOs, Lieutenant Commanders and Commanding Officers.

These personnel not only fulfill key roles aboard Canadian warships, but are also essential in the training of new recruits.

“When you run out of teachers, what do you do? You increase the size of the groups, underlined Mr. Topshee. We have therefore increased the size of the groups. What does it do? This diminishes the quality of education at all levels. But we take the risk.”

Additionally, Topshee said new sailors are being deployed to operations with less experience and training than would otherwise be ideal. The hope is that the additional experience at sea will make up for any shortcomings in their classroom training.

“We have very good command teams and we rely on the command teams to provide the experience and mentorship necessary to guide the more junior ones,” said Topshee, who took over as commander of the navy in may.

Work organization

The Navy crisis is very similar to the challenges the Royal Canadian Air Force faced to have enough experienced pilots to teach in the classroom and fly missions in the air.

It is also causing the Royal Navy to take a hard look at how the organization treats its sailors, as well as assessing which jobs are essential to navy operations and which are not.

Mr. Topshee recently announced that the Royal Canadian Navy is eliminating the military occupation of stewards, whose primary role is to serve officers and provide logistical support on warships, and the commanding officer indicated that further changes of this type could follow.

The Navy is also considering changing the way it assigns crews to ships to avoid additional burnout and stress, especially when it comes to short-term deployments such as sea trials and tests that it says Mr. Topshee, are often very disruptive to sailors’ schedules.


The current deficit also coincides with a marked effort by Armed Forces commanders – including Mr. Topshee – to change the culture of the military to make it more attractive as a place to work, in hopes of increasing recruitment and retention rates.

The navy has struggled in recent months with the replacement of several ship commanders due to investigations or complaints about their conduct.

While the Navy has tried to better assess officers in conduct before assigning them to key leadership roles, « the sad reality is that no system is perfect, » Topshee said.

He nevertheless suggested that the wave of recent replacements was an indication of a lower tolerance for inappropriate behavior, a greater willingness to report such acts and greater transparency.

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