Merchant Navy Day: Fly the Red Ensign to Fight ‘Sea Blindness’

Have you heard of ‘sea blindness‘? It’s a term that refers to the (all too common) lack of awareness about crucial contributions that maritime workers make to our everyday lives.

The men and women of the British Merchant Navy and those of many other nations work all year round on the high seas, under many different flags. Seafarers have made significant sacrifices for our nation throughout history, and today they are essential to transporting more than 95% of the UK’s trade- yet a substantial portion of the British public doesn’t know much about them.

That’s why the Fly The Red Ensign campaign was founded, aiming to raise awareness as Merchant Navy Day (3rd September) approaches each year. This year, 3rd September also marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, which claimed the lives of approximately 26,500 merchant seafarers during WWII. If there were ever a perfect time to pay our respects and fight against sea blindness, it is now.

Merchant Navy Day facts from 'Fly the Red Ensign'

Merchant Navy Day facts from 'Fly the Red Ensign'

Merchant Navy Day facts from 'Fly the Red Ensign'

Help us raise awareness about merchant seafarers by reading and sharing stats like the ones above, compiled by Fly The Red Ensign (and by flying the Red Ensign yourself, if you’ve got one!).

Merchant Navy Veterans, Always Part of Veterans Outreach Support

Merchant Navy Day is very close to our hearts here at Veterans Outreach Support (VOS). We are proud to support veterans from the Merchant Navy, and to have pledged to support them alongside veterans from the UK Armed Forces since our founding in 2008.

VOS’ founders were intimately connected with the Falklands campaign in 1982. They knew, first hand, how civilian mariners from the Merchant Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service faced the same dangers and shared the same successes as the rest of the task force, so undoubtedly felt they should benefit from the same level of support as any other veteran.

Veterans Outreach Support Staff Fly the Red Ensign at the Royal Maritime Hotel in Portsmouth

Ian Millen is the CEO of VOS and a veteran of the Royal Navy himself. Here’s what he’s said about the significance of Merchant Navy Day and the pivotal role of maritime workers, whom he calls “critical both in our day-to-day lives and in times of crisis.”

From Ian’s perspective:

“I have been fortunate enough to work alongside many seafarers, afloat and ashore, for over four decades…Speaking as a veteran of 1982 myself, I certainly appreciate the contribution that those who sailed under the Red Ensign made to the success of this challenging operation, so far away from home in a decidedly inhospitable South Atlantic. My ship was replenished with food, fuel, and ammunition by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Navy.

Our spirits in the conflict were also lifted by the Merchant Navy, with mail and parcels from home being transported over 8000 miles. You can see why anyone, like me, engaged in conflict will have memories of the critical role played by the merchant navy. I have had a four-decade-plus relationship with the sea and those that work upon it, and I feel strongly about their welfare and wellbeing.”

To read Ian’s full interview, please check out this blog, or take a look at what #MND means to one of our merchant navy volunteers. We are always keen to show our appreciation and spread the word.

“VOS, and so many charities like us, are working hard to support and raise awareness of the massive contribution that seafarers of the UK’s Merchant Navy and those of all other nations make to our daily lives. All in the hope that we can all appreciate this when we next buy a smart-phone or eat fruit grown in a place thousands of miles away from the shop it is bought in,” says Ian. “We also hope you can support some of the excellent seafarers’ charities in the UK such as The Seafarers’ Charity.’

VOS + The Seafarers’ Charity

Merchant Navy Day with Veterans Outreach Support and The Seafarers' Charity

The Seafarers’ Charity launched as the King George’s Fund for Sailors (KGFS) in 1917, and was created specifically to improve the lives of both active and retired seafarers, along with their families. More than a century later, The Seafarer’s Charity continues to work to put life-changing funding where it’s needed, directly to maritime charities that can support the welfare and needs of seafarers and their families at home, in port and at sea.

We at VOS are pleased to work alongside The Seafarer’s Charity toward this goal, and grateful for their support of what we do for local retired seafarers. For more detail on their work or how you can get involved, visit our blog about what they have done for VOS and our service users in recent months. We are truly grateful for their continued support.

Merchant Navy Day with Veterans Outreach Support and The Seafarers' Charity

Feeling motivated to participate in Merchant Navy Day? Conversations can change lives. Speak up about the contributions made by seafarers: They are an essential part of what makes the world go round, they are there for us all- every day, in all weathers. Whether it be transporting goods, oil and gas or raw materials, passengers or fishing the world’s oceans, they are critical to the well-being of all the world’s nations.

We hope to see you ‘flying the Red Ensign’ this week (in person or via pictures on social media) and we invite you to share this blog with anyone you think may benefit from our support.

If you’re a veteran from the UK Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy (from any time of service) or a partner to one, VOS would love for you to join our community. We are here to offer our support: call us on 02392 731 767, visit an upcoming drop-in, or email

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