Home   News   Article

Keeping you safe at the coast for 200 years: HM Coastguard celebrates landmark birthday


By David G Scott

Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.



From its beginnings with coastal lookouts to today’s hi-tech national network of coordination centres, from small localised beginnings to international players – one thing has stayed the same for two centuries – Her Majesty’s Coastguard (HMC) to search, to rescue and to save.

Two hundred years of saving lives along the UK coast and at sea, as well as coordinating rescues for those in distress in international waters, is being marked this year as HMC celebrates its milestone anniversary.

It was on January 15, 1822, that HMC was formally brought into existence and has been working to keep people safe at the coast and sea ever since.

Coastguard vehicles attend an incident near Wick. Picture: DGS
Coastguard vehicles attend an incident near Wick. Picture: DGS

Today (January 15) in honour of that actual birthday, coastguards across all four home nations are casting throwlines as a symbol of the service’s dedication – past and present.

Throwlines, which form part of the lifesaving kit used by coastguard teams, will be cast into the seas around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at 11am, with each team operating under the latest Covid-19 guidance for the local areas.

Over the past two centuries, HMC has gone from strength to strength. In 2022, coastguard operations centres coordinate responses to emergency situations at the coast calling on 310 Coastguard Rescue Teams – made up of 3500 dedicated volunteers – and using 10 search and rescue helicopter bases.

Although the way in which we operate has changed beyond recognition in the last two centuries, HMC continues to look to the future. Innovation has always been a driver – whether it be pushing forward state of the art technology in the national network of maritime rescue coordination centres or leading the way in rope, water and mud techniques.

A coastguard helicopter hovers precariously close to Sinclair-Girnigoe castle as a line is dropped to pick up an injured boy at an incident back in 2019. Pictures: DGS
A coastguard helicopter hovers precariously close to Sinclair-Girnigoe castle as a line is dropped to pick up an injured boy at an incident back in 2019. Pictures: DGS

Last month, HMC began to implement its new updated search and rescue radio network which uses fibre technology. More than £175million has been invested to upgrade the Coastguard’s national radio network across all 165 sites over the next two years. This will improve and future proof its communication infrastructure and ensure that it remains able to communicate and exchange data quickly and reliably in order to co-ordinate rescues and save lives.

The service continues to adapt to changes – in the last few years providing mutual aid and support during events and incidents to other emergency partners. During the pandemic, coastguards supported the NHS, attended the G7 and COP26 in 2021 and are called in to support during national emergencies including flooding or supplying water to stranded drivers.

The coastguard helicopter hovers above the injured boy near the ruined castle at Noss Head by Wick. Picture: DGS
The coastguard helicopter hovers above the injured boy near the ruined castle at Noss Head by Wick. Picture: DGS

HMC provides training to search and rescue authorities around the world and also shares knowledge on a mutual basis with others. A key player with the International Maritime Organization, HMC's input and insight around the obligations of SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) is sought and valued.

The service is currently working hard to reduce its carbon footprint and is aiming to make its UK-wide fleet of vehicles electric wherever possible over the next five years.

Following trials, six electric vehicles have already been purchased, with 19 more currently being procured for use across the UK. Opportunities to electrify the fleet where operationally possible continue to be identified, with the trialling and integrating of electric models as they arrive on the market.

The coastguard helicopter hovers above the injured boy near the ruined castle at Noss Head by Wick. Picture: DGS
The coastguard helicopter hovers above the injured boy near the ruined castle at Noss Head by Wick. Picture: DGS

And with technology ever evolving, the service will continue to strive to be at the forefront of innovation to carry out its life-saving work.

Maritime minister, Robert Courts said: “Congratulations HM Coastguard on their 200-year anniversary. I am immensely proud and humbled by the continued dedication and professionalism from the staff and volunteers which ensures everyone’s safety on our shores and around our coast.

Claire Hughes, director of HMC said: “When you look at how we started and where we are now, it’s easy to celebrate the innovation and development that can be seen throughout the service. And yet, we are far more proud of the people, the volunteers and the staff who throughout two centuries have continued to strive to keep people safe at the coast and out at sea. We always have and always will respond to those in distress."

The injured boy is winched on board the coastguard helicopter.
The injured boy is winched on board the coastguard helicopter.

Divisional Commander for Scotland, Susan Todd said: “As an emergency service HM Coastguard is always busy and it’s rare that we get the chance to reflect on how far we have come. 200 years of saving lives at sea and at the coast is truly something to be proud of. The symbolic casting of throwlines across the UK today is a reflection of our unwavering commitment to keeping people safe at sea.”

Related article:

Can you help the HM Coastguard celebrate its 200th birthday?

Dramatic cliff rescue at Girnigoe Castle


Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More