Windfarm research the springboard for global search and rescue expertise

Windfarm research the springboard for global search and rescue expertise

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has become a global expert in the research and development of search and rescue operations around windfarms at sea.
A luminous life raft is collected from the sea by boat crew with offshore wind turbines in the background

As part of the MCA, HM Coastguard has been working on the subject with international emergency response partners, as the offshore wind industry expands around the world, and has become an authority on responding to incidents within or near offshore installations.  

Pete Lowson
Pete Lowson

That capability is thanks, in part, to a dedicated team which is working in collaboration with industry, scientists and public bodies to refine procedures within a changing offshore landscape.  

Lifesaving research has been initiated to enhance the vital skill of calculating where wind and tide in different conditions are likely to carry vessels, life rafts or people, known as drift-modelling.   

Drift-modelling is a technical method that harnesses an array of information, with the support of computer programmes, to guide search and rescue teams looking for those in distress.   

The research is set to be used in updates to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue manual (IAMSAR) – a document containing best-practice guidelines used around the world. 

Pete Lowson, HM Coastguard Offshore Energy Lead, explained: “Distress calls at sea can occur in a variety of different maritime locations and environments, ranging from coastal areas to incidents far from land. 

“When the alarm is raised, staff at our Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres will often use drift-modelling to plot the most likely areas to send help, such as lifeboats, nearby vessels, and HM Coastguard helicopters.  

“Offshore windfarms are no different and this research is refining our understanding of how the forces of nature – wind and tide – affect drift within and around them. It is exciting to contribute to vital work with a global interest which could save lives.”  

Past incidents have involved vessels going off course into windfarms, as well as jetskis, paddleboarders and swimmers.   

Julia Stringer
Julia Stringer

HM Coastguard’s safety advice to the public around windfarms is the same as for any trip out on the water involving small or larger craft: plan your activity, reduce the risks, and in an emergency call 999 for Coastguard or send a mayday call on VHF Channel 16.  

Windfarm guidance has also been produced by the MCA both for offshore companies and seafarers

HM Coastguard’s ongoing research is expanding a vast dataset of drift calculations, with experiments at windfarms to track objects such as dummies, dinghies, life rafts and paddleboards.  

Information-gathering has been boosted by the US Coast Guard supporting these tests by contributing hi-tech buoys and sensors capable of measuring the separate effects of wind and current. 

The US technology helped with measurements taken in 2022 at the Race Bank windfarm off the coast of Grimsby during Exercise Sancho, a major safety rehearsal held jointly every three years between the emergency services, search and rescue teams, and industry representatives.

Further research was carried out in March 2023 at Triton Knoll and Humber Gateway windfarms, and more recently in March 2024 off the coast of Brighton at Rampion windfarm.  

HM Coastguard Offshore Energy Officer Julia Stringer said: “We already have principles and guidance for search and rescue operations at windfarms, and this extra data will go towards refining and upgrading how we continue to respond.  

“When time is of the essence, knowing where people in distress are most likely to be is a vital component in the search and rescue toolkit. This is lifesaving data.” 


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