A group of Coastguards in various uniforms stand on a grey, rocky landscape. Above, a Coastguard helicopter is hovering.

Episode Two

Coastguard Episode Two

A look into the stories we'll follow in episode two of our behind-the-scenes TV series, Coastguard

Maritime Safety is the most important term within the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

It drives the work across the agency and is something everyone is passionate about.

It is the underlying theme of the second episode of gripping documentary Coastguard, as we see the consequences of not taking maritime safety seriously across the recreational and commercial sectors.

We also learn more about the work of the Coastguard helicopter.

A preview of the episode

In the second episode, we delve into a criminal investigation into the collision of a recreational passenger vessel.

We also look at the powers the MCA has to prevent disaster at sea, by detaining a vessel that fails to pass its safety checks during a routine inspection.

Finally, we see the intense battle of one of our helicopter crews, as they fight stormy conditions to rescue eight people from a sinking yacht during Storm Claudio. There's also the rescue of a walker in the Scottish Highlands and an 8-year-old boy suffering from appendicitis on Snowdon, but the rescue takes an unexpected turn and suddenly the crew have two casualties.
Edge of helicopter with moving blades and 'This Week...' message on screen Watch now
Vintage wooden boat in coral sea. Boat drone photo.

Safety saves lives

The sea can be unpredictable and vicious. Even when all precautions are taken, sailing has the potential to be a dangerous hobby.

Vessel safety is vital and abiding by the correct regulations is a lot like following the rules of the road when driving a car – you are responsible for the vehicle, the people onboard and anyone that could be impacted by the vessel itself.

The captain must ensure the crew maintain safe navigation by deploying a watch, sailing at an appropriate speed in the weather conditions and operating the vessel within its limits.

Owners and operators are also responsible for ensuring the vessel is properly maintained and correctly equipped, with safety measures to help should the worst happen.

Crucially, everyone onboard should wear a lifejacket (known as a Personal Flotation Device or PFD). It is a fundamentally important piece of kit that will significantly increase your chances of survival if you do end up in the water.

Carrying out a criminal investigation

We follow the Regulatory Compliance Investigations Team (RCIT) as they conduct a criminal investigation into the collision of a recreational passenger vessel that resulted in severe, potentially life changing, injuries to one of the passengers.

It's a chance for people to see the complexity of the investigations carried out by the MCA.

We follow the team as they gather evidence alongside their police counterparts as they look to bring a prosecution under the Merchant Shipping Act, the primary legislation the MCA uses to hold people to account for unsafe practices.
Misty sea with motor boat speeding across Watch now
HM Coastguard helicopter banking right with coastline visible in background

Searching from the skies: HM Coastguard helicopters

The red and white search and rescue helicopters are arguably the most recognisable presence.

A mix of Sikorsky S-92As and Leonardo AW189s, they are provided under a contract with search and rescue service provider Bristow Helicopters Ltd.

On round-the-clock standby, the crews are famed for their courage and skill, whether plucking casualties from stormy seas or navigating close to craggy mountain tops. With crews able to provide national oversight from the skies, they can quickly transport teams to scenes and casualties to hospital or assist in searches with their extensive search and rescue expertise.

But as shown in this episode, sometimes their most powerful actions can be after the drama, on the way to safety, simply by holding a child’s hand or offering reassurance.

Episode two tells three stories from just some of the hundreds of missions crews are scrambled to all year round. Each time they must coordinate with other emergency organisations, such as ambulance services and mountain rescue teams. 

In this episode you will see the impact on people's lives as they are rescued by helicopter crews, and it then slowly dawns on them how close they came to not going home.

Watch the dramatic rescue of eight sailors from a sinking vessel during Storm Claudio

This week, you will see the importance of the international radio distress signals for mariners, with the rescue of eight French nationals from a yacht in trouble during Storm Claudio.

The vessel called a Pan Pan alert but quickly upgraded it to a Mayday having lost its sail with the vessel taking on water and drifting towards rocks – with the crew in a perilous situation.

You will hear during episode two that there weren’t enough PFDs (lifejackets) onboard for the entire crew and so safely extracting the casualties was vital – from a heavily damaged yacht in Gale Force Nine conditions (on the Beaufort Scale).

The crew of the Coastguard helicopter from Newquay talk us through the full story of the nailbiting rescue.
A yacht as seen from the helicopter footage Watch now

Know when to make a distress or urgency call

Channel 16 is the universal emergency channel, constantly monitored by coastguards and other nearby vessels. Transmissions on Channel 16 should only be used when absolutely necessary.

MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY (pronounced "MAY-DAY" and always spoken three times).

This is the international 'distress' signal that is only used to indicate that the vessel is threatened by grave and imminent life-threatening distress and that immediate assistance is required.

PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN (pronounced "PAHN-PAHN" and always spoken three times).

This is the 'urgency' signal and is used when the safety of the vessel or a person is at risk, but for the time being at least, does not pose an immediate danger to anyone's life or to the vessel itself. It says ‘a serious situation is developing, we need help but there isn’t a grave and imminent danger to the boat or anyone on board.’

Read more about emergency radio procedures here.

"It’s a real privilege to be able to do this job. To combine working with such a great team and flying an aircraft in such an incredible environment - and do all that to help people. It’s pretty amazing."
Richard Smith, Deputy Chief Pilot at Caernarfon
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