The Role of the UK Coastguard

Part of the FAQ List of the SAR-UK Conference at CIX.

Disclaimer - All information in this file is compiled from official Department of Transport publications. The file should be regarded as information only and not as an authoritative document. Although every attempt is made for accuracy the information in this file may be out of date or incorrect.

1 Who are the Coastguard (CG)?
In April 1994 the Department of Transport joined together the HM Coastguard and the Marine Pollution Control Unit to form the Coastguard Agency.

The main roles of this agency are to co-ordinate all civil maritime search and rescue operations around the coastline of the UK and for 1,000 miles into the North Atlantic and counter pollution operations. The service maintains a close liaison with rescue organisations in countries whose sea areas border the UK. The Coastguard is recognised as the most modern maritime emergency service in Europe.

In a maritime emergency the Coastguard calls on and co-ordinates the appropriate facilities, such as Coastguard boats and helicopters, RNLI Lifeboats, Royal Navy and RAF aircraft, Royal and foreign navy ships, as well as merchant shipping, commercial aircraft and ferries.

It maintains cliff rescue teams and a fleet of inflatables for inshore emergencies, and at Sumburgh in the Shetland Isles, Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides and Lee-On-Solent in Hampshire, has helicopters on contract dedicated to search and rescue.

2 Communication.
The Coastguard keeps a 24-hour watch from strategic sites around the UK coastline.

There are six regions. Each region is split into districts which in turn are divided into sectors. The region is run from a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC), the district from a Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre (MRSC) and the sector by a Sector Officer. The sector has a number of Auxiliary Coastguard Stations in it which do not maintain a 24 hour watch but are used as a base for Auxiliary Coastguard teams and for the storage of rescue equipment and vehicles.

All MRCC's and MRSC's maintain a listening watch on Channel 16 (156.8 MHz), the marine band VHF radio distress and calling channel. The Coastguard also use Channel 0 (156.0 MHz) as a private channel to communicate with its own rescue boats, vehicles and helicopters and other facilities like the RNLI and military aircraft. All coastguard stations and units are fitted with VHF Channels 0, 6, 10, 16, 67 and 73.

Key remote radio sites are fitted with VHF Direction finding equipment enabling the Coastguard to determine the direction from which a radio signal is received.

The Coastguard also has HF and MF radios used in long range rescues, however the listening watch for these frequencies is currently maintained by British Telecoms Coast Radio Stations (CRS) monitoring 2182kHz and 500kHz.

Six coastguard stations keep watch on the M/F DSC (Digital Selective Calling) distress frequency of 2187.5kHz. Using this system the ship's equipment transmits a coded message which can give it's position and nature of distress. Any follow up communication would be conducted on 2182 kHz.

Coastguard stations also have direct telephone lines to the police, other CG stations, the military Rescue Co-ordination Centres (RCC), Air Traffic Control (ATC), the CRS's, foreign RCC's and CG helicopter bases.

The MRCC at Falmouth is the sole UK terminal for Maritime Satellite Distress Communications routed via the UK Coast Earth Station at Goonhilly Down, Cornwall, part of the INMARSAT global system. Falmouth's own Ship Earth Station allows it to communicate by satellite to other Rescue Centres around the world which are similarly fitted. Falmouth has been known to co-ordinate rescues as far away as the Indian Ocean.

3 Rescue Facilities.
Rescue Centres keep a constant radio watch on the international VHF distress frequencies and also handle telex and facsimile messages through specially designed consoles.

Each Centre has a fully fitted operations room with emergency planning, press and staff facilities, along with storage for rescue equipment, vehicles and boats. All have local radio antennae as well as control of remote antennae on high points to give increased VHF range.

In each sector, Coastguards patrol in suitable four wheel vehicles, keeping visual and radio watches to enable them to move quickly to any accident.

4 Manpower.
The Coastguard Service is manned by some 480 regular officers and around 3,500 Auxiliary Coastguards as a local back up network.
Most of the regular officers work at the Rescue Centres. A few work in the sectors liaising with the community and local rescue organisations. They also train and supervise the Auxiliary Coastguards. Auxiliary Coastguards support the Rescue Centres operations and also perform beach searches and cliff rescues.

Auxiliary Coastguards are part-time volunteers from all walks of life. They can participate in the rescue teams or be a Reporting Auxiliary whose home or workplace is a good vantage point, or be an Auxiliary Afloat whose activities at sea give them the opportunities to report any emergencies.

5 Counter-Pollution.
The Coastguard can call upon the aircraft and tugs of the Marine Pollution Control Unit to deal with any pollution problem.

The Coastguard also co-ordinate any action necessary when unidentified objects are found at sea or on the shore.

6 The Channel Navigation Information Service.
Dover MRCC operates this service in addition to SAR. It monitors traffic on the Dover Strait using radar to provide a 24 hour radio safety service for all shipping.
Source - UK Department of Transport.

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