Working As a Coastguard
In the UK if you want to become a coastguard and get paid for the work you will normally work for the MCA. As part of MCA, HM Coastguard has about 600 regular officers, about 150 of whom are Watch Officers.
There are also around 3,000 members of Coastguard Rescue Teams who work as volunteers, providing a local back-up network. There are four main roles for a coastguard in the MCA:
- Watch Assistant
- Watch Officer
- Watch Manager
- Sector Manager
Details of the activities, qualifications and prospects for the first two of these – Watch Assistant and Watch Officer – are given in this article as these are the grades at which you are able to enter the MCA. However there are opportunities to carry out a similar role as a coastguard on a volunteer basis (although some expenses are paid) as a member of the Coastguard Rescue Service and some information on the role and how to become a member of the Coastguard Rescue Service is included in this guide.
The job of Watch Manager or Sector Manager is more senior and only open to coastguards following promotion.
The majority of people working as a coastguard in the UK will have joined the MCA as a Watch Assistant. As a Watch Assistant you will be working in the Operations Room at a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) or Sub-Centre (MRSC) to provide vital support to the work of HM Coastguard.
Vacancies for Watch Assistants are generally advertised locally and you should contact the District Operations Manager at your nearest coastguard station for further details of the available opportunities.
The role of a Watch Assistant
As a Watch Assistant you will be working as part of a team that is under the direction of the Watch Manager. The main tasks that you are likely to be involved in will include:
- receiving and handling radio and telephone calls (including 999 calls)
- responding to emergency calls and if necessary calling out the local lifeboat
- operating monitoring equipment, including satellite systems and radio channels, to watch/listen for any potential problems
- providing guidance and information to the general public, coastal and maritime users to encourage incident prevention
- recommending safety procedures to skippers of small craft
- providing meteorological information and local weather reports
- checking for, reporting and reacting to illegal activities, such as smuggling, pollution incidents or problems with coastal erosion
- updating logs and completing general administration
Watch Assistants would not be expected to work alone and on a normal shift (and depending on which HM Coastguard station you are based at) you would work with a Watch Manager, two Watch Officers and another Watch Assistant (operations).
As part of carrying out the main duties of a Watch Assistant you will also be expected to be able to:
- understand and operate all coastguard communication equipment and information management systems
- respond to routine and emergency telephone calls and Ch 16
- monitor and respond to distress, urgency, safety and routine calls received within the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System
- create and transmit Maritime Safety Information broadcasts
- undertake user checks on all coastguard equipment, reporting faults as appropriate
- liaise with all sections of the maritime community, and assist in public relation and accident prevention work as required
- carry out chart and map work plotting functions accurately
- support Counter Pollution and Salvage operations as require
As well as the everyday tasks and responsibilities you will also be expected to undertake developmental and continuation training (Continuing Professional Development – CPD) and to obtain a high standard of local knowledge for your area, including the capability of all other local coastguard and emergency service units.