Return of the Royal Canadian Navy?

On 16 August the government of Canada announced its decision to restore the historic names of the three environmental commands of the Canadian Forces; Maritime Command is now the Royal Canadian Navy.  Those of us wearing naval uniforms are all members of the Canadian Forces first, but we have always identified with “the navy.” Renaming Maritime Command the “Royal Canadian Navy” restores a connection with our heritage and tradition, but what does it really mean for the navy?

No structural changes in the Canadian Forces are associated with the announcement; the RCN will continue as one of the three environmental commands of a unified Canadian Forces.  This means that the RCN of today will be somewhat different than the RCN before unification.  Most importantly, the RCN will be a command with the Canadian Forces, not a distinct military institution.  The implications are significant, for example, the RCN will not reconstitute a fleet air arm distinct from the RCAF and tri-service occupations such as Medical Technicians will still work in all three environments regardless of environmental uniform.

The name change will have no impact on the capabilities, the organization or the operational effectiveness of the navy and the cost is expected to be minimal.  But, expect the change to occur gradually over the next months and years, particularly as the navy sorts out how the RCN will function within a unified and integrated Canadian Forces.  One good example of this challenge is the administrative implications of the change in name for the Naval Reserve and the other subordinate formations on both coasts, or for CF members wearing naval uniforms that serve outside the RCN.

Don’t expect changes to any customs and traditions as a result of the announcement either.  HMC ships will continue to fly the Canadian Flag and naval jack and our naval uniform will remain the same.

I see the name change as a step forward that emphasizes the navy’s history and heritage and strengthens the identity of the naval component of the Canadian Forces as a national institution.  As a serving officer, being a member of the RCN strengthens my naval identity in the same way as my first distinct naval uniform did in 1987.  None of my colleagues served during unification, so the restoration of the historic name strengthens the connections of our current sailors and the public to our naval heritage.

I identify with the navy as an institution in the same way I imagine that some members of the Canadian Army identify with their regiment.  I see the change in name to the Royal Canadian Navy offering a similar anchor for the identity of sailors as the Royal New Brunswick Regiment would for members of that regiment.