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Why Is There Only One Woman Training To Become A Royal Marine?

This weekend a national newspaper ran an article stating that only one female has so far started training with the Royal Marines and that there are no more females in the training pipeline.

While the report in The Sun may be factually accurate, it misses the crucial point that at least now women can try to join the Corps, where before that option was closed to them.

If there is only one female recruit at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) then it is a testament to things that we already knew.

Royal Marines recruits on the ropes at Lympstone. Picture by Richard White, FMA student

Training to be a Royal Marines Commando is tough.

Above and beyond the remainder of the services except for Special Forces and the Parachute Regiment.

The training is 32-weeks-long and it is progressive.

It starts with 10 weeks in the gymnasium doing Initial Military Fitness (IMF) which is based around sprints, pull-ups, sit-ups and rope work.  

The next 10 weeks are spent on the bottom field assault course gradually building up the weight recruits carry. 

This phase culminates with the Bottom Field Test in week 20.

BFT ropes marines
Recruits on the 30′ ropes at Lympstone (Pictures: MOD)
Cpl Si Longworth, Crown Copyright

It includes a 200-metre fireman’s carry in 90 seconds and climbing a 30ft rope with 32lbs of kit.

The recruits then move to the Commando Phase where they have to run everywhere on the training base.

In week 31 they do the four Commando Tests with the final test being a 30-mile speed march across Dartmoor in eight hours.  

However, before they can even start this training, they must pass the Potential Royal Marines Course (PRMC.)

This course has two full days of fitness.

The first day has a series of tests which if a candidate fails, they are immediately removed from the course.

The second day includes a fitness session on the assault course and then the chance to experience the endurance course, a series of tunnels on nearby Woodbury Common.

Application times to start training vary.

However, it is possible a candidate could present at an Armed Forces Recruiting Office, attend a PRMC and then start Marines training within a year.

So the article was inaccurate in saying there will be no more female recruits in 2020 – only time will tell.  

prmc marines
Potential Royal Marines Course doing a bleep test
Royal Marines fast rope training from a Merlin helicopter. Credit: LPhot Kyle Heller, Crown Copyright


What Does It Take For A Woman To Join The Royal Marines?

There were many initial reservations within the Corps about women joining frontline Commando units.

These included speculations that having females present would affect units in combat situations with troops reacting differently if a woman is injured during an assault.

The UK experience in Afghanistan where females in multiple roles were exposed to the same dangers as their male colleagues on patrols showed this to be wrong.

There were also arguments about whether women would affect unit cohesiveness if relationships formed.

The Royal Navy has successfully had females on warships for nearly 30 years now and this has not proved to be the case.  

There was also doubts that women physically would be able to deal with the amount of weight recruits carry on forced marches during the later stages of training.

This is always going to be an issue as the Corps stated early on that training would remain the same and would be gender free (opposed to gender fair where the sexes have different fitness standards).

Training at the Marines Lympstone base has a high attrition rate.

Typically about 50 – 60% of recruits who start get through to be awarded the Green Beret.

The remainder either voluntarily opt out or leave for medical reasons.

This is a statistic that has not changed in decades.

Royal Marines Band trainees doing fireman’s carry
Pictured: Ella Smith and Reservist colleague.

Of those that succeed, anything up to half may go through the rehabilitation system or be moved back in training – ‘back trooped’ in Marine parlance.

One of the commonest injuries suffered by recruits are stress fractures to the leg caused by marching with heavy loads.

Injured recruits go to Hunter Company where they are treated in a state-of-the-art rehab centre considered to be the best in the MOD.

The trainers at CTCRM never give up on recruits.

They will do everything possible to allow them to complete training if they are physically capable of it.

An overriding strength of Royal Marines training are the four Commando tests.

A Marine passing out of training now can look another in the eye from 50 years ago and know they trained to the same physical standard.

This is a fundamental pillar of the Corps.

At least three females from the Army have already passed these tests on the All Arms Commando Course.

So it can be done.

I don’t think it’s that important there is only one female in Royal Marines training so far.

The only thing that really matters is that now at least they have the right to attempt it because eventually, one will pass and then another and another.


It’s just a state of mind.