Case study: Capt Derek Rae, UK Hydrographic Office

Capt Derek Rae from the UK Hydrographic Office
Global shipping relies on accurate charts. Meet Captain Derek Rae, Deputy National Hydrographer, UK Hydrographic Office.

What does the company do?

The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is a leading centre for hydrography, providing a range of marine geospatial data to inform maritime decisions. The organisation works with a wide range of data suppliers and partners to support maritime navigation, safety, security and marine development around the UK and worldwide.

The UKHO makes location-based information available through ADMIRALTY Maritime Data Solutions, including world-leading and widely adopted charts, publications and custom data sets. The UKHO gathers, processes and provides data ranging from seabed to surface, enabling partner organisations to make critical maritime decisions – informing the sustainable use and management of the marine environment and supporting the development of the blue economy.


What does your job involve?

As Deputy National Hydrographer, my role spans a wide range of some of UKHO’s research, development and hydrographic initiatives – both nationally and internationally.

As part of my role, I oversee elements of our International Hydrographic Programmes. Through these initiatives, such as our involvement in the UK Government’s Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, we are helping people who live and work on or near the sea (such as in Small Island Developing States) to protect the environment and unlock the latent economic potential of the ocean.

I am also responsible for overseeing our engagement with industry bodies like the International Hydrographic Organization – through which we collaboratively raise the hydrographic standards to ensure a safer maritime industry.

Through my own links to the Royal Navy I also take great pride in ensuring the UKHO has a strong relationship with our colleagues and partners in the Ministry of Defence. Working closely with them ensures that our work keeps Britain’s sailors safe when conducting defence operations out at sea.

A career in maritime is more than a job – it is a vocation and a way of life

How did you get into this position – what led to this job/career?

My career started after I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science from the University of Wales. I joined the Royal Navy as a sea cadet and have followed the full span of a naval career along an officer track.

I am fortunate to have experienced a broad range of assignments across the globe – having been to the Far East, South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific on deployments with the Royal Navy. I also took part in a two-and-a-half-year exchange with the Royal New Zealand Navy to help continue the UK Government’s work in supporting the hydrographic and defence capabilities of our close allies.

I held a role as Executive Officer of the Royal Navy surveying vessel HMS ECHO during an operational tour between 2008 and 2010 in the Far East. Then, latterly, as a Warfare Officer and a Hydrographic Charge qualified surveyor, I commanded HMS ENTERPRISE for 27 months between 2012 and 2014, including a 9-month deployment East of Suez.

I assumed my position as Deputy National Hydrographer in July 2017.


What do you love about the job/a career in maritime?

Maritime is a truly unique career space. There are scarcely few industries that remain as unconstrained – by its nature, commercial shipping and navies alike require international co-operation to be able to undertake their tasks around the world.

This ‘camaraderie’ or team spirit underpins every aspect of the maritime industry – from sea cadets and apprentices undertaking their training, through to industry veterans who own vessels, operate supply chain firms, or support shipping with a strong base of maritime professional services.

The UKHO could not do the work that it does without this spirit of co-operation. Whether it is working with governments to improve provisions for the economic optimisation of ocean territories, working with hydrographic organisations to improve our understanding of the sea, or working with seafarers to make their jobs easier and safer – I am proud that the spirit that has defined my career marries so nicely with the ethos of the organisations within it.


What makes the job interesting?

Every day has its own challenges, and no two days are ever the same. It is still as rewarding as when I first started in maritime – with the caveat that now I am working with some of the UK’s leading marine experts to help create a more prosperous maritime industry.

Working on such a global basis has also provided me with opportunities to link up with and experience countries and cultures that a shoreside job in another industry would not have afforded me.

There is an immense sense of pride to be taken from UKHO’s primary role – that is, collecting all manner of data for merchant mariners to ensure safer operations – but new innovations and avenues being explored by the organisation continue to surprise and excite me. The possibilities arising from our position as marine geospatial experts are as limitless as the industry that we work in.


What advice would you give a young person thinking about a similar career?

In terms of young people considering a career at the UKHO, I would encourage them to learn about our organisation and the path on which we are heading – transitioning from the provision of largely maritime navigation to a far more extensive range of marine geospatial data. We offer a range of challenging and interesting roles, and our staff are empowered to develop their capabilities and contribute to the organisation’s goals. We offer a regular series of apprenticeships across a range of professions, and also hold supervised, structured work placements and work experience opportunities for these individuals looking to broaden their skills and knowledge.

Whilst rewarding, a career in maritime should not be taken lightly – I would say that young people considering their future should try and identify an obvious pull towards this space, and do the right research to ensure they are following the best possible course for their skillset.

The demands for new recruits have changed immensely since I began my career. Skills like communication, empathy and being personable are now more important than ever. But one thing that has remained consistent is that a career in maritime is more than a job – it is a vocation and a way of life. The most successful applicants will be those that embrace this as a positive factor for their career development.


Where do you think the future will take you?

The UKHO is entering an extremely interesting period. The advent of new technologies and a wider digitalisation trend we are observing within the marine space is offering us unbridled opportunities to advance our offering across a range of areas.

Our ambition is to become a world-leading provider of marine geospatial data: in effect, using the excellence and experience we have in the production of digital nautical charts for the maritime industry to allow us to offer a greater provision of ‘full spectrum’ data solutions surrounding the oceans.

We will focus on this whilst retaining the vital work we are conducting with our international partners to improve how we protect and utilise the oceans.

There has never been a more exciting time to be in the maritime industry. As our understanding of the oceans continues to grow, I am confident that UKHO will be at the forefront of shaping trends that will affect every person working on or near the seas to make their jobs safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.


Click here to download details about a career in the UK maritime sector.