A new officer commanding has been appointed at the South African Naval College in Gordon's Bay - and for the first time in the history of the navy it's a woman.

Captain Florence du Preez, who was appointed in a change of command parade on Thursday, is also the first full-time commanding officer of a navy unit.

Du Preez was previously the private secretary for the corporate staff of the South African National Defence Force and is originally from Bloemfontein.

She will succeed rear-admiral George Mphafi, who has been appointed as chief of fleet staff at the naval base in Simon's Town. He was the first black commanding officer.

A pleased Du Preez told the Cape Argus on Thursday that she didn't believe that being a woman was a consideration in her appointment, but that she was chosen on merit.

"Tokenism is out of the question. I acknowledge that I am the first woman to be appointed but it is not an issue," she said.

She joked that she would be doing what a headmaster does at a school, but added that she felt humbled and honoured by the new appointment.

"I am humbled to think that they have bestowed such an incredible honour on me. The Naval College is where all the future captains are trained. It is the future of the navy and a very prestigious unit.

"This is a wonderful challenge and I hope that I will take this unit forward," she said.

Du Preez, who has four degrees - a master's in communication management, a Bachelor of Social Science and two Bachelors of Arts - said she believed that knowledge empowers people and that studies enhanced work standards.

Her predecessor Mphafi had set a good example and it was a privilege to take over from him.

Outgoing commanding officer Mphafi said the appointment of a woman commanding officer was a historic day in the navy and that he hoped she would uphold the standards set for the Naval College.

Nineteen-year-old Naval Seaman Elmarie Freeman from Upington said: "I'm unbelievably happy. It will be tough, but I'm sure she is up for the challenge."