Meet Your Coastguard Belfast: International Control Room Week special series

Meet Your Coastguard Belfast: International Control Room Week special series

Part Two of a series of Meet Your Coastguard specials from our Belfast operations room for International Control Room Week, to tell you more about those who answer if you ever have to call '999 Coastguard'.
Unsmiling man in Coastguard uniform stood in front of camera in operations room.

HM Coastguard operations room staff are always on the end of a maritime distress call, ready to respond to whatever the emergency, with the two words that bring such relief to those in trouble at the coast: “Coastguard Rescue”.

Whether they are responding to 999 calls from the public or answering Mayday calls on Channel 16, the highly-trained staff are always prepared to coordinate a rescue.


National network

HM Coastguard operates on a UK-wide basis and, as the only national emergency service, is responsible for a Search and Rescue Region of approximately one million square nautical miles.

There are nine Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) across the UK and one Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre (in London) and managed by a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, the JRCC. The service operates on a national network framework which means that all MRCCs are linked and communicate to ensure no call for help ever goes unanswered, if one MRCC is busy, then another MRCC can and will step in to help.


Belfast Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC)

Belfast MRCC is one of 11 specialist rescue coordination centres positioned around the UK to respond to maritime incidents in that geographical area.

We introduced you to Dave at Humber earlier this week and, today, we would like to introduce you to Norman in Belfast.


Unsmiling man in Coastguard uniform stood in operations room
Norman has been a part of the maritime search and rescue family since the 1990s


Name: Norman

Job title: SMOO with SMC

Role: First joined RNLI as a volunteer in 1991, in SAR (Search and Rescue) family since


Why (and when) did you join HM Coastguard? 

I joined the HM coastguard as a volunteer on 1st Jan 2004 after 13 years volunteering in the RNLI as a crewmember on Kilkeel RNLI. My aim was always to apply for a role in the MRCC in Belfast and so when the opportunity came up, I went for it – it is my dream job.

I've always had a very keen interest in search and rescue at sea and I haven't looked back since being a part of the team. I feel very proud to put on my uniform every day.


What do you enjoy most about being a member of the team? 

I enjoy the camaraderie of working in a team – we work hard to bring people home and that really bonds you as a team and as friends, I have made a lot of friends at work. But I also enjoy helping new entrants as they open the page on the Coastguard chapter of their lives. In my case, we’re on to at least chapter 15 now.  


What new skills have you learned in your role? 

I have learned numerous new skills, the likes of call handling and talking to people in very difficult times in their lives as well as talking to professional people in a professional role.  


What is the most challenging part of your role? 

I like a challenge, but I think it’s quite clear what the hardest part is, when we aren’t able to bring someone home. It is the same for us all, you don’t do this job unless you really care and the most challenging part is dealing with the tragic reality of some incidents. This is when being a part of a team is so important, to help each other through this. 


What is the most unusual incident you have responded to? 

A paddleboarder taking part in a search, for himself, it happened years ago now.

A member of the public phoned in one evening to say he had lost sight of a paddleboarder coming ashore in Northern Ireland and so we launched a search. I think we had a coastguard team out, two lifeboats and numerous members of the public out searching along the coast. After a while, we put a request out on Facebook for more info on the paddleboarder and we then received a call from a man saying the description, time and location given matched his own foray into the sea – but that he had been involved in the search for himself for the past hour! No one had done anything wrong, it was just one of those things – it was funny, and still a positive outcome, as no one was in danger.


Are you a lover of the sea? Why? 

I was born into a maritime family. My first job was in the fishing industry on a family-run fishing boat based out of Kilkeel, Co Down. I finished school at 1530hrs and was at sea before 6 o’clock.

There is not a day goes by I am not involved in something to do with the sea. I have had my own boats and currently I am refurbishing a fishing boat with my son. 


Do you also volunteer? If so, where and why? 

I am still a volunteer in my local Coastguard team, which I have been for more than 20 years now. 

I volunteer as a community first responder giving critical care to patients prior to the arrival of an ambulance. I am also a fundraiser for my local branch of the RNLI too.

It’s important to give back, and to help those when they most need it.


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