The Multi Role Aviation Training Vessel MV Sycamore is responsible for providing training to a variety of Navy and Defence organisations.
Every Royal Australian Navy recruit gets the opportunity to spend up to a week in Sycamore, allowing them to gain some firsthand experience of life at sea before graduating and progressing to their first full sea posting.
The recruits generally join Sycamore alongside HMAS Waterhen on a Sunday afternoon.
They commence their journey with an induction to the ship, which provides vital information on emergency and escape procedures - much like the process for when sailors join a commissioned warship.
From there, they sail out of Sydney Harbour just as dusk is setting - experiencing one of the world's most beautiful landscapes.
For many, it's either their first time in Sydney, their first time at sea, or both.
Their activities at sea include conducting ‘leaving ship stations’, engineering tours, rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) acquaintance, seamanship evolutions, working at heights and aviation familiarisation.
Other activities include public speaking in which each recruit is required to provide a five minute brief on their background, including why they joined the Navy and what they want to get out of their careers in the Navy and their personal lives.
There are also relaxing activities that vary from course to course, which have included trivia nights, talent quests, dress up nights and ventures to the various beaches in Jervis Bay.
Sycamore’s crew, in conjunction with the instructing staff from the Royal Australian Navy Recruit School, are always looking at innovative opportunities to maximise the training experience of the recruits.
Two more recent additions have been working at heights training and having the recruits winched from the deck by an MRH-90 helicopter from 808 Squadron.
Sycamore has a mast height of 28 metres, with the upper platform that’s 20 metres above sea level.
For many of the recruits, they've never before climbed to such a height.
The aim of the activity is to brief the Royal Australian Navy's procedures for working at heights and to build confidence in the recruits to do activities that are outside their comfort levels.
Recruits that feel they're unable to scale to those heights can access the help of one of the qualified Navy sailors posted to the ship.
The sense of achievement on completion always has the recruits beaming for hours, especially if they didn’t believe they were capable of such a feat.
Also added to the experience is that they can literally see for miles in one of the world's most beautiful marine sanctuaries, Jervis Bay National Park.
While recently embarked in Sycamore, recruits from Recruit School’s Emms Division were in for a treat, when a crew from 808 Squadron came aboard in Poseidon 15 (their helicopter) to reset their day deck landing currency.
Three recruits, the accompanying Recruit School Medic and one civilian member of the ship’s company recently experienced a rare career highlight in being winched from Sycamore’s flight deck to the MRH-90, which was captained by Lieutenant Natalie Davies.
For recruit Dylan Hann, the week was one of significance.
Prior to flying from Melbourne to Sydney for the week at sea, he had never before flown in an aircraft.
By week’s end, he had completed two airplane flights and a flight in an MRH-90 helicopter!
His fellow-recruits have also gained a lot of valuable experience as a result of the Sycamore sea-familiarisation program.
“If I didn’t already know that I wanted to join the Navy, I certainly do now,” recruit Mitchell Rose said, as he struggled to stop smiling after flying in the Navy helicopter.
“It was the most amazing experience,” recruit Bodhi Greenham said.
“I'm almost convinced that I want to transfer to aircrew,” said the sailor who had joined from Perth to be a Boatswains Mate.
Able Seaman Megan Miller was on board as part of the support staff for the recruits.
For her, it was the opportunity of a lifetime as she had always wanted to fly in a helicopter. She hopes to one day qualify to conduct rotary wing aero-medical evacuations.
The following day it was “noses back to the grindstone” as the recruits prepared for the challenging seamanship exam.
Retention is a key focus for the Royal Australian Navy and a week in Sycamore is certainly a good start for the next generation of Navy sailors to begin their life at sea.
The skills and the enthusiasm shown by the recruits who visit Sycamore augers well for the Navy's future.