Staying cool under pressure and tackling surprising problems are vital skills for an engineer. A specialist team at BAE Systems have found these strengths stretched to the limit with an unusual restoration project.

Working with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, BAE Systems are helping preserve the world’s oldest commissioned warship for future generations.

Launched from Chatham’s Royal Dockyard in 1775, HMS Victory was kept in reserve until 1778. She set sail on her first commission with 116 guns and 960 crew, marking the start of an unusually long career. The years to come would see her leading fleets in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War, and of course, the Napoleonic War. In 1805 she gained lasting fame as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Although the battle was Nelson’s last, HMS Victory was patched up and returned to sea, later heading to the Baltic. Her active service finally came to an end in 1806, where she was relegated to Portsmouth Harbour as a depot ship. In 1922, after 144 years at sea, HMS Victory moved permanently into her dry dock. Here, she stands as a museum of the sailing navy, hosting 350,000 visitors every year.

Since her instalment into No. 2 dock at Portsmouth Naval Base, the ship has rested on 22 steel cradles and a concrete plinth. In a bid to preserve the ship for future generations, engineers will replace the cradles with 134 precisely positioned props. These props will spread the ship’s load evenly, recreating the natural stresses experienced by the hull in water.

Andrew Baines is the project director at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Speaking about the restoration, he said: “HMS Victory is a unique museum object of international importance. This type of support is a first for any historic ship, and it’s essential we get it right.

The new support system design and the installation process has been painstakingly developed over the past five years. The expertise we have gained, and will continue to gain in the delivery of this project, will not only safeguard Victory’s future, but help us to support other historic ships around the world.”
The unique restoration project began in 2011, with the masts and booms removed to allow for essential repairs. As well as preventing water damage and reducing rot, Admiral Lord Nelson’s cabin and the Great Cabin have both been refurbished. Outside, the ship is returned to her former glory with a refresh of her iconic yellow and black paintwork.

A new walkway from the dockside affords visitors easier access to previously unseen areas. Inside the museum, a new fire detection and suppression system has been fitted. At 252 years-old, HMS Victory remains in service and is the flagship of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones.

The restoration work is due to complete in 2018.


Photo credit: National Museum of the Royal Navy