Two coastguards returning from a mud rescue

What we do

What we do

Search and rescue
Maritime security
Vessel traffic management
Counter pollution and salvage
Receiver of wreck
Civil emergency and disaster response
International work

Search and rescue

HM Coastguard coordinates all maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations in the UK through a network of coastguard stations, operating 24 hours a day. Staff in operations rooms coordinate the response to a variety of incidents from lost or missing people to climbers stuck on cliffs or vessels missing at sea. 

HM Coastguard receives requests for assistance in many forms including 999 calls, mayday and pan pan broadcast, calls on VHF DSC and Channel 16 and satellite distress calls.

In an emergency we may send:

  • a coastguard rescue helicopter
  • coastguard rescue teams 
  • lifeboats (RNLI or independent lifeboats)
     

We can also call upon:

  • other emergency services
  • other vessels at sea, which may assist if a boat is lost or in trouble

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) based in Hampshire is the heart of the national coastguard rescue coordination system, connecting 10 Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) around the UK.

Coastguard rescue officers

There are over 3,500 coastguard rescue officers (CROs) who volunteer around the UK coast and are trained in search and rescue skills.

Our volunteers rescue people trapped on cliffs, stuck in mud or struggling in the water. They also undertake a number of other duties such as staffing helicopter landing sites, assisting police in searching for missing people or attending reports of possible unexploded ordnance on beaches.

If you’re interested in becoming a coastguard rescue officer, see Volunteer as a coastguard
 

helicopter
mud rescue
two people climbing a cliff
coastguard in office
Search and rescue helicopters 

HM Coastguard operates all civilian search and rescue helicopters in the UK. Our helicopters are regularly called out to incidents on the water and along the coast, as well as to help with inland rescues where a helicopter is needed, such as mountain rescues. 
 

UK search and rescue (UKSAR)

The UK responsibility for maritime, aeronautical and land search and rescue (SAR) lies within the UK SAR Region which covers approximately 2 million square miles.

The organisation of UK search and rescue (UKSAR) is made up of separate government departments, the emergency services – including HM Coastguard - and a number of search and rescue charities and voluntary organisations.

See Strategic overview of SAR in the UK – GOV.UK for more information.

Maritime security

HM Coastguard is part of the Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC), a multi-agency organisation that advises what UK assets are available to respond to maritime security incidents in the UK. HM Coastguard liaison officers are based within the JMSC and act as a conduit for information between the JMSC and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The JMSC is the maritime information sharing centre. It gathers information from partner agencies to protect against safety or security risks including terrorism, serious organised crime and malicious threats. 

It gets the right information in an understandable format, to the right people in sufficient time for them to investigate and if necessary, take action. This is achieved by sharing and receiving information to and from government and the military, helping to secure the safety and prosperity of UK maritime interests, both in UK waters and around the globe. 

 

map
view from ship window
view of the UK from above
control room

The JMSC is supported by Counter Terrorism Police, the Department for Transport, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Home Office, HM Coastguard, HM Revenue and Customs, and the National Crime Agency, Royal Navy, the Marine Management Organisation, and Marine Scotland.

Vessel traffic management

The waters around the UK are some of the busiest in the world, particularly the Dover Strait which can record up to 500 vessel movements a day.

To assist with the safe navigation of so many vessels, there are several IMO adopted ships routing measures, set up to passively manage the traffic and safely direct vessels through some of the busiest and most difficult to navigate areas. 

HM Coastguard operators at each of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) are trained to monitor vessel movements and ensure compliance to the ship’s routeing measures in UK waters. This includes reporting schemes, recommended routes, areas to be avoided, precautionary areas and traffic separation schemes. This vessel traffic monitoring function is fulfilled UK wide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year using a specialist maritime domain awareness system.

 

Maritime chart
Port of Dover
Radar composite of the Dover Straight showing heatmap of the high volume of traffic
Coastguard operations control room

Dover MRCC operates a separate Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) for the busiest shipping lane in the world, the Dover Strait. This service is also known as the Channel Navigation Information Service (CNIS) providing 24-hour radio and radar coverage of the area, with the capability to monitor and manage vessel traffic, interact with vessels to assist with onboard decisions, and respond to developing situations. Dover MRCC also provides a VTS for the approaches to London, Harwich, and Felixstowe, also known as Sunk VTS. This area is a busy convergence of traffic with many vessels heading in or out of some of the busiest ports in the UK.

HM Coastguard uses satellite and land-based technologies to track vessels and their cargoes around the UK and further afield. Coordinating and using all of this information enables us to respond swiftly and effectively during search and rescue missions as well as protecting the marine environment and the UK coastline.

Counter pollution and salvage

If a major shipping accident threatens UK waters, HM Coastguard organises the vital frontline response. Saving lives is the highest priority in any shipping disaster and HM Coastguard coordinates the search and rescue phase of any incident. 

To deal with pollution and salvage of a vessel, HM Coastguard will alert its Counter Pollution team and SOSREP. Response resources include an aircraft and a national stockpile of counter pollution equipment which can be deployed in an emergency, with the aim of minimising the impact on the environment and protecting UK interests.  

HM Coastguard officers will work with other emergency services and play an important role in keeping the public safe, especially if oil and other toxic pollutants are involved.

 

 

 

 

Counter pollution exercise
Deployment
Plane
CPE signage
SOSREP (Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention)

SOSREP oversees the response to maritime incidents, in waters around the UK, which have created a risk to safety or significant pollution. They are supported by HM Coastguard and the wider Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), working closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED).

When a shipping or offshore incident happens SOSREP assesses the risk to safety, intervening to prevent the situation from escalating and organising the response to it. If necessary they can use ‘powers of intervention’ to act in the interests of the UK and its environment. These powers are delegated to SOSREP by the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  

For safety issues, SOSREP’s powers can be exercised in UK territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the coast/baseline) and for pollution prevention inside the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (200 miles or the median line with neighbouring states). For offshore incidents, the jurisdiction for pollution extends to the limits of the UK Continental Shelf.  

SOSREP participates in national and international exercises, making recommendations and acting upon any lessons learned. They also work with national and international partner organisations and groups to foster good cooperation and use joint learning to enhance maritime safety.

Receiver of wreck

From fragments of pottery and 17th Century cannons to entire yachts or the contents of washed-up shipping containers, all wreck material recovered in or brought into UK waters must be reported to the Receiver of (ROW), no matter how seemingly small or insignificant and regardless of value. 

The role of the Receiver of Wreck is set out in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The Receiver:

  • responds to wreck incidents in order to save lives, save property, and prevent looting.
  • manages reports of wreck and salvage, returning wreck property to its owner and administering salvage awards to legitimate salvors.
  • investigates and enforces wreck and salvage crime.
  • monitors dangerous wrecks designated under Section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973
  • handles reports of deceased and stranded whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sturgeon (Fishes Royal) and their disposal under the Prerogative for Fishes Royal.

The law assumes that all wreck has an owner, so anyone who recovers anything from any wreck must report it to the Receiver. This applies regardless of its size, significance, how old the wreck material is, how long it has been on the seabed and whether it might have been washed ashore from tidal waters or found floating on the seas.

Failing to report wreck is a criminal offence and can lead to prosecution. 

 

Plate and sword
USS Osprey
Rusty wheel
ROW staff hi-vis

The Receiver’s job is to try and identify who the owner is and give them the opportunity of having their property returned. Legitimate salvors are entitled to a salvage award for finding an item and returning it to the owner. If an item is of historic interest, the Receiver Wreck team will try and make sure that an appropriate museum is given the chance to acquire the find.

ROW is also focused on safety, including carefully monitoring wrecks that have been designated as dangerous under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, for example the renowned SS Richard Montgomery – a World War II ship that ran aground in the Thames Estuary and it is thought to be the most closely-monitored shipwreck in the world.

Part of the Receiver of Wreck’s work is dealing with ‘Royal Fish’; whales, dolphins, porpoises and sturgeons. The Prerogative for Fishes Royal historically gave the monarchy the right to the carcass when these creatures are washed up or caught. Nowadays, ROW will work with experts for collection and disposal, although the Palace still must be notified if a sturgeon is recovered.

See our guidance on reporting wreck and Royal Fish.

For more information on the role of the Receiver of Wreck visit Wreck and salvage law - GOV.UK.

Civil emergency and disaster response

HM Coastguard is the co-ordinating authority for maritime emergencies and major incidents. 

As a Category One responder under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, HM Coastguard will respond to requests for assistance at major incidents at inland locations where our resources complement existing capabilities of partner emergency services. 

Examples of such incidents include extensive flooding, severe weather, or wildfires. 

We can provide trained responders, technical resources such as 4x4 vehicles and SAR helicopters, communications systems that operate independent of existing infrastructure, and technical advice and coordination expertise.

 

Coastguard helping in flood
Floods from December 2015
Coastguard doing river rescue
Comms room worker

International work

The UK Search and Rescue Region measures over one million nautical square miles, bordering those of the UK’s North Atlantic and European neighbours and extends over 750 nautical miles to the West into the mid-Atlantic. 

HM Coastguard works closely with all neighbouring countries’ rescue authorities to enable the most effective and timely response to any search and rescue incident, which includes the identification and tasking of the closest and most suitable rescue units to save lives at sea. 

This close cooperation has been formalised in bilateral and multilateral search and rescue agreements. 

HM Coastguard routinely works with rescue authorities across the world when receiving distress alerts outside its Search and Rescue Region or when requested to assist in the coordination of search and rescue incidents.

 

 

Sign for the international maritime organisation
Map
Plane
CG Crest on shirt

Alongside its partner agencies within the UK, HM Coastguard participates in various international cooperative fora, such as the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum, to exchange best practices and lessons learnt and share other information relevant to search and rescue with its counterparts. This includes the participation in international search and rescue exercises, such as Dynamic Mercy, to test the joint multinational response to search and rescue incidents.

As the UK government agency responsible for civilian aeronautical and maritime search and rescue, HM Coastguard represents the UK in search and rescue matters within the framework of international organisations, including the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and works closely with other international bodies involved in enhancing search and rescue provision around the globe, such as the International Maritime Rescue Federation.

 

  • Jayne Ede on a boat
    Jayne Ede
    Counter Pollution and Salvage Officer
    5 Years of Service

    Let’s meet our Coastguard team

    What made you want to join the Coastguard? 
    I used to work for the Ministry of Defence, in training exercises for chemical or biological events. I realised my skills and interests lay more in incident response. I really connected with the purpose and ethos of HM Coastguard, so applying for a job was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose!

    What training have you completed with HM Coastguard? 
    I've had lots of training relevant to my role, but one of the great benefits has been the opportunity to learn the Welsh language, which the government provides funding for. I'm really enjoying it.

  • Fran Wilkins on a cliff
    Fran Wilkins
    Senior Coastal Operations Officer
    17 Years of Service

    Let’s meet our Coastguard team

    What made you join in the first place?
    I joined a lifeboat crew in my hometown when I was 17 and my dad’s a commercial fisherman, we’ve always lived in a seaside town and the sea has always been a part of my life. I did a nautical studies GCSE and that’s what really got me interested in all that’s possible in the coastguard.

    What safety advice would you give to anyone visiting the coast?
    Be appreciative that it’s quite a hazardous environment if you take it for granted, so be cautious in where you go and what you do. Always check the weather, check the tide times and make sure you understand tide times too!

  • Portrait photo of Stephan. He is wearing a red jacket over a shirt and tie, stood in front of a body of water with docks in the distant background.
    Stephan Hennig
    Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention (SOSREP)
    18 Years of Service

    Let’s meet our Coastguard team

    What does your role involve?  
    The core responsibility of the SOSREP role is to ensure response to maritime accidents is conducted safely, while any impact on the environment is minimised. Vessel groundings, collisions, ship fires, loss of cargo and wreck removal are some of the types of incidents most encountered. 

    What do you love most about your role? 
    The variety of work; to be given the opportunity to help make a small contribution to improve maritime safety is very gratifying. 

  • Charlie Boyle
    Charlie Boyle
    Senior Aeronautical Operations Officer
    5 Years of Service

    Let’s meet our Coastguard team

    What does your role involve?
    I co-ordinate the search and rescue helicopters throughout the UK. It's not just for coastal incidents either, it also includes in-land, such as mountain rescues or maritime rescues.

    What do you like most about the role?
    The job satisfaction, knowing that you're helping to save people's lives and rescue people. It's also cool to say I coordinate search and rescue helicopters and it’s a great team that you work with, it's just a really good job.

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