Coastguard history en Sat, 15 Jun 2024 07:23:34 +0100 Mon, 01 Jan 2024 09:15:44 +0000 The Shipping Forecast and safety as the iconic broadcast turns 100 Quintessentially British and symbolic of a nation steeped in maritime tradition, the 100th anniversary of the first broadcast of the Shipping Forecast should be celebrated as a key moment when safety became a priority at sea. Mon, 01 Jan 2024 09:15:44 +0000 Coastguard history It was one hundred years ago, on 1 January 1924, that the very first clipped, British tones were heard delivering a weather bulletin called Weather Shipping.

In the UK, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) is responsible for the provision of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) to ships at sea, which includes the broadcast of warnings and forecasts. The iconic Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio broadcast produced by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Although the Shipping Forecast officially came into existence in 1924, it was in October 1925 when it was first broadcast via the BBC.

We spoke to the Met Office’s Archivist Catherine Ross about the significance in 2024 of the Shipping Forecast.

“It’s a national institution,” Catherine, who has spent the past 11 years trawling the rich archives of the Met Office said. “That has so much more meaning behind it than just a forecast. It’s iconic.

“It’s a history of the last 100 years of what’s happened around our shores, from a weather perspective of course but also maritime safety; the two are heavily linked and it is a big part of why the Met Office even exists.”

The history of the forecast goes back to 1861, when Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy developed a telegraphic messaging system to issue weather warnings to ships, following the loss of the steam clipper Royal Charter. The vessel founded (sank) in a violent storm off the coast of Anglesey, with the loss of more than 450 lives, prompting FitzRoy’s desire to prevent it happening again.

He was the main influence in the early development of the Met Office, which was then primarily intended to improve safety at sea.

“It has saved thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of lives,” Catherine added. “It is impossible to accurately predict how many, but it really has been lifechanging for seafarers.

“Its relevance has probably changed from when its sole purpose was to provide information to UK mariners, because of all the technology and internet it can now be heard from anywhere in the world.

“It has 100 years of trust behind it now and it has taken on a cultural aspect far beyond the maritime world, which all adds to its iconic status.

“Technology will continue to move on, but that distinctive sound it has will remain for as long as people want it.

“It’s almost poetic, almost beautiful, in the way that fixed-pattern forecast is read out. I really like the sound of it and know a lot of people do, it is familiar and it’s a voice from home.

“In fact, it’s the voice of home.”


HM Coastguard marks its 201st birthday as double century celebrations draw to a close HM Coastguard has been keeping people safe at the coast for 201 years today, with the birthday marking the end of the two hundredth year celebrations. Sun, 15 Jan 2023 00:00:00 +0000 Coastguard history

The history of the coastguard – which today is one of the UK’s four frontline emergency services, operating a 24/7, 365 days a year search and rescue service to save lives at the coast and at sea – is long and varied, and can be traced back to the early 19th century. It was 201 years ago today, on 15 January 1822, that HM Coastguard was first formed. The anniversary signifies the end of Coastguard 200, a year-long programme of events held throughout 2022 to celebrate a double century of keeping people safe at the coast. The final event of the CG200 calendar was held last Saturday at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), with staff and volunteers alike coming together to honour those involved over the many years.

Teams based in the southeast met at The Royal Airforce Yacht Club on the River Hamble on 7 January 2023 for a formal evening – with those assembled wearing dress uniform. Approximately 120 people from the JRCC, Southampton HQ, the Technical Training team, the Infrastructure Team, the team and crew from Lee on Solent helicopter base, Police, Fire, Ambulance and our partners at the RNLI were in attendance while the Lord Mayor of Southampton and a deputy of HM Lord Lieutenant were the guests of honour.


CG200 Hampshire some of the senior leaders at the event  

There was a full programme of talks and a sermon from the chaplain before moving into an evening of mingling and catching up between friends and new acquaintances. The event also illustrated a shifting focus back to the future of search and rescue, as people mused on what the service might look like in a further 200 years.

Claire Hughes, Director of His Majesty's Coastguard, said:

It has been really special to celebrate the coastguard’s 200th birthday in 2022 alongside such distinguished colleagues and friends.

From our volunteers to full-time staff, we are all immensely proud of the coastguard’s courageous and fascinating history which has really helped to shape the incredibly important work that HM Coastguard carries out now. It has also been a wonderful reminder of our story and how we have developed into the modern, technological rescue service we are today. While we are all extremely proud to represent a service that has been in existence for two hundred years, our focus remains on keeping the public safe at the coast now and for many years to come.

To find out more about the various Coastguard 200 events held in 2022, read What a year, what a team: Celebrating the vital volunteers that bring others home.


Maritime and Coastguard Agency pays tribute to Her Late Majesty Her Majesty’s Coastguard. For over 70 years, staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to keep people safe at the coast, in the name of our late Queen. Sun, 18 Sep 2022 00:00:00 +0100 Coastguard history

So long was her reign that no current coastguard or employee of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has worked under any other monarch.

As an emergency service and government agency, many of our people have had the honour of meeting the late Queen Elizabeth II over the years, and are keen to share their heartfelt tributes and memories of the moments they will never forget.

The King was a coastguard when at school at Gordonstoun. July 1967   Photo credit: Gordonstoun The King was a coastguard when at school at Gordonstoun. July 1967                        Photo credit: Gordonstoun

So, as we welcome a new King and move into a new era as His Majesty’s Coastguard, we take a final moment to pay tribute to our late Queen.

A common theme, reflected across the many tributes from the nation, was of a charming – and always smiling – Queen who put those in her presence at ease with her good grace and humour.

Though incredibly sad, all the memories share a deep sense of respect for a monarch who dedicated her life to service and duty, and she will be greatly missed by the maritime community.

1996 Trooping of the Colour Andrew Reilly (right), senior aeronautical operations officer for HM Coastguard, on police horse Noble following the Trooping the Colour parade in 1996. Andy was stationed at the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace and worked alongside members of the Royal household. He undertook daily ceremonial escort duties for the Changing of the Guard, the Household Division of Foot Guards and Mounted Cavalry, at Buckingham Palace, St James Palace and Horse Guards Parade. Noble was also selected for the Colonel of the Irish Guards, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, to ride at the parade. Andy said this period of his career is something he will 'hold on to for the rest of my days'.

Delivery Manager Paul Carter shared two very different memories of meeting Her Majesty; one an unexpected delight while the other a more formal affair – but both are ‘cherished’ memories.

“I’ve met the Queen twice: and both occasions were very special,” he said. “The first time was about 25 years ago and it was completely by accident. I was at the side of Windsor Castle, taking pictures through the gates on The Long Walk when I noticed an old-fashioned car driving towards me.

“It pulled up and the Queen herself rolled down her window, leaned out and – very politely of course – asked if I could move to let her through as the gates opened.

“I was quite shocked, it was so normal – but it felt very special. This was our Queen ‘off-duty’, it was just her and Prince Philip off somewhere, and it was a wonderful chance to see her in a way not many do.

“The second time was when I was working security in Canterbury, and it was just a pleasure once more, as gracious and friendly as she ever was.

“It’s not every day that you meet the Queen. And somehow, I was lucky enough to get the chance twice.”

Jane Lee, Maritime Surveillance Specialist for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, receiving her MBE at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in June 2015. Jane said she was 'thrilled and honoured' by the occasion. Jane Lee, Maritime Surveillance Specialist for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, receiving her MBE at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in June 2015. Jane said she was 'thrilled and honoured' by the occasion.

Meanwhile Richard Wilson, Head of the Office of the Chairman and Chief Executive, recalled his treasured memory of receiving an OBE at Windsor Castle in February 2018, alongside his wife and two adult children.

He said: “It is only for a minute or two, but she made me feel special and valued, it is an experience that will live with me forever.

“I am frankly a short bloke at 5 foot 6 inches, and even when the Queen stood on a platform in front of me, she was even shorter!

“But, as many others have said, she immediately disarmed me and put me at ease with her smile and friendliness – she first put the award on you and then chatted away as if she had known me for years. We talked about the work of the MCA, and a charity that I led at the time.” 

Richard Wilson receives his MBE. Richard said his experience of meeting the Queen made him feel 'special and valued. Richard Wilson receiving his MBE. Richard said his experience of meeting the Queen made him feel 'special and valued.

Vessel traffic services operator Kerry Chapman also met the Queen in April 1993, as she gained invaluable search and rescue skills as a senior aircraftwoman in the RAF.

Selected to be a part of a royal review at RAF Marham, Kerry said she meticulously ironed her uniform and polished her shoes in preparation.

“The day was supposed to consist of a royal review by the Queen, who would be treated to the spectacle of a huge military parade and one of the biggest peacetime flight displays ever to grace the skies. 

“But the day of the parade was an absolute washout. It rained and rained and rained. 

“The huge flypast was cancelled, and the (whittled down) parade troupe (of which I was one) was shuffled into an aircraft hangar to carry out what was left of the day’s proceedings inside.

“As it happened, all of the remaining troupe were inspected by the Queen. She walked up and down the lines and walked so close to me that I could have reached out and touched her on the shoulder.

“I remember feeling rather chuffed at the time that all of my ironing and shoe bulling hadn’t gone to waste, because the Queen had actually seen my efforts!”

HM Coastguard's Dayle Jones (furthest right) taking part in rehearsals for the state funeral on Monday HM Coastguard's Dayle Jones (furthest right) taking part in rehearsals for the state funeral on Monday, as part of a four-person contingent representing HM Coastguard in the Civilian Services Contingent. The four will march alongside the Merchant Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, police forces, fire and rescue services, HM Prison and Probation Services, ambulance services, St John's Ambulance, British Red Cross and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service                                            Photo credit:

Four coastguards also have the ‘incredible honour’ of representing the service at tomorrow’s funeral procession, for one final precious memory with Her Late Majesty.

Dayle Jones (MRCC Belfast), Andrew Bolter (MRCC Holyhead), volunteer Kevin Moran and Casey Foot (JRCC) will be part of the Civilian Services Contingent taking part in the state funeral on Monday.

Dayle said: “To be entrusted with this on behalf of the entire service is such an incredible honour, and a memory that I will cherish forever.

“The four of us come from different operational as well as geographical areas within HM Coastguard, to represent the nationwide service.

“We have a strong connection with the monarch as part of the government and as part of the search and rescue family and we are very proud to be able to pay our respects in this way.

“We have been busy training and preparing for tomorrow, to ensure we are ready.”

Andrew also spent a decade in the Royal Navy, five years of which were spent on the Royal Yacht, working in the presence of the royal family.



From protection against smugglers to rescues HM Coastguard is now a world class leader in maritime search and rescue, on call 24/7 to help anyone in difficulties around our coasts, every day of the year. Fri, 20 May 2022 00:00:00 +0100 Coastguard history

But did you know that although protecting and saving lives is what we do, our origins lie in protection of a different sort against violent clashes and illegal trade? And our much loved 'cuppa' was often illegal? This year, as part of our 200th birthday celebrations, we've taken a look back in the history archives....

Henry George (image above taken in 1897)  was a fisherman from Mullion and the son of the celebrated leader known as King of the Smugglers.  Smuggling died out in Mullion in 1840 and Henry's father was the last of the Mullion smugglers.  Credit: Museum of Cornish Life.

As an island nation, the highly prized goods that are now a regular part of our daily lives once had to make perilous journeys across the oceans on sailing ships. Tea, wine, spirits, silks and lace were the treasures that caught the attention of smugglers. Their mission was to secretly land their treasure on secluded parts of the coastline in a money-making bid to avoid paying customs duties and taxes.  


Smuggling - a threat to the UK’s economy and security 


The scale of the problem during what’s known as the golden age of smuggling was huge and the Government was determined to tackle it. In 1784 the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, suggested that of the 13 million pounds (weight) of tea consumed in Britain, only 5.5 million had been brought in legally. 

It was a battle between the smuggling gangs and HM Customs. Teams of Government Preventive Officers patrolled the coasts, aiming to prevent or catch the smugglers. But there were not enough officers and the smugglers often avoided detection. Staff from the onshore Customs Houses were supplemented by Customs Revenue Cruisers at sea watching the coasts and from 1698 riding officers on horseback joined in the coastal patrols.  

Although many people enjoyed the illicit gains from smuggling, the reality was brutal. Local people were fearful of violent reprisals on informers, Revenue officers were murdered and corruption meant that captured smugglers were able to avoid harsh punishments. 


What was next? 


In 1809, things became more serious. The Board of Customs introduced the Preventive Water Guard, a force which used nimble small boats to patrol the coasts. By 1816 the Guard was strengthened with 151 stations, organised into 31 districts. The chief officers were experienced naval seamen or fishermen and armed with ammunition, stores and oars for rowing, they were at sea as much as possible and on the lookout. 


CG200 Magazine timeline


Find out what happened next and how the 19th Century brought a new era of changes, including the establishment of the Coast Guard in 1822. The two words were eventually joined in the 20th Century. There's so much more to read, as well as a timeline in our special souvenir magazine, that takes a look at the past, HM Coastguard now and what's coming in the future: HM Coastguard. Saving Lives for 200 Years




How science and technology is vital to search and rescue During British Science Week, in the year we celebrate our 200th birthday, it seemed appropriate to look back at the history of technology coastguards use. Fri, 11 Mar 2022 16:58:40 +0000 Coastguard history

“It was madness, utter madness, when you think back to it; but it was the safest thing we had at the time and it saved thousands of lives over the years. I was sad to see it go actually.”

Former coastguard rescue officer Tim Stevens is right of course, by today’s standards the very concept of a Breeches Buoy or use of a white star rocket in search and rescue activities seems ill-advised to say the least. And it is, when you have access to helicopters – but, for most of the years since Her Majesty’s Coastguard formed in 1822, those that have volunteered their time and lives to the safety of others have not had access to such advanced technology.

So this British Science Week – in the year that HM Coastguard celebrates its 200th birthday – it seemed appropriate to look back at the history of the technology the coastguards have had at their disposal, to appreciate the benefits that science has delivered to our search and rescue experts and those they have saved.

We did that with the help of Tim, who joined the coastguard in 1978 and spent 42 years in the coastguard ranks, mostly from the Penzance base, before hanging up his lifejacket in 2020. He spent more than four decades in the coastguard, often working alongside the local RNLI lifeboat crews to save countless lives.

The 68-year-old told us of the vast changes he has seen to the way the coastguard operate, as newer and better equipment has become available, and how those improved safety measures have led to fewer lives lost.

Since the coastguard was in its infancy almost two centuries ago, technological advancements include the invention of the telephone, radio – and subsequent creation of the marine VHF Radio – as well as lifeboats as we know them, lifejackets, radar, helicopters, aeroplanes, the list goes on. The world of maritime and the risk to life at sea was almost absolute; if something went wrong, your death certificate was all but signed.


Left, image, an historic image of a coastguard. Right, today's modern, well-equipped officer Then and now: A Coastguard Rescue Officer (right) reaches for her radio, just one of the ways technology has helped our volunteers in their work.

And therein lies the secret to Tim’s fond memories of systems that would never pass the health and safety check these days.

The Breeches Buoy was effectively a zip line, created between land and a sinking ship by firing a projectile – filled with gunpowder – from shore on to the deck of a wrecked vessel with a line attached. Once secured, a lifebuoy harness was pulled back and forth across the line, allowing people to be rescued from ships within eyesight of shore.

“Looking back now, with all the equipment we have at our disposal, it seems very unsafe to fire a rocket at a ship,” Tim said. “But at the time you sort of took it for granted and didn’t think about it as dangerous."

It is perhaps in the operations room that the advancement in science and technology is most evident, going from paper charts to computer screens.

Tim continued: “A lot of the equipment would never get used now. Some of the early pyrotechnics probably weren’t the safest, they could be a little unstable at times but it’s what we had, and it was definitely better than having nothing.

“I remember the last time we used a Breeches Buoy, in 1988, when it was withdrawn from service and we weren’t happy, we were worried about losing our best way of getting people off stricken ships.

“But then we saw what they replaced them with, and we all went very quiet, very quickly. I’m sure that’s been true of coastguards for the entire 200-year history in fact; we start off worried about losing the vital equipment that gives us the ability to save people but end up delighted and excited by what they give us next.

“Helicopters have obviously improved even more since then, but suddenly we were able to rescue people much further out in the water and quicker too. Helicopters are more versatile, the lifeboats just get safer and safer and everyone is just so much better off.”



Souvenir Magazine - HM Coastguard, Saving Lives for 200 Years This year, we’re proud to celebrate the 200th anniversary of HM Coastguard, the nation’s emergency service that’s dedicated to saving lives around our coasts. Tue, 15 Feb 2022 00:00:00 +0000 Coastguard history

As part of that, a special souvenir magazine is now available that celebrates 200 years of saving lives. It delves into the archives of the past, examines the present and previews what’s coming in the future. It’s packed with exclusive features and is called quite simply HM Coastguard, Saving Lives for 200 Years.

Read and enjoy the CG200 Souvenir Magazine. You can also download your own copy to keep.

We hope you’ll find it a fascinating read and one you’d like to share with your loved ones, with features including:

  • an island nation. From protection against smugglers to rescues
  • history timeline. Track our progress over 200 years
  • equipped to rescue. Lifesaving through the ages
  • training is gaining. A look at specialist training
  • let’s talk tech. What really happens if you call 999 for help?
  • life as a Coastguard. What does it mean?
  • protecting our coasts. Learning lessons from maritime disasters
  • fit for the future. Innovations for saving lives

Souvenir Magazine - HM Coastguard, Saving Lives for 200 Years


Souvenir Magazine - HM Coastguard, Saving Lives for 200 Years timeline Souvenir Magazine - HM Coastguard, Saving Lives for 200 Years timeline



New exhibition to showcase HM Coastguard's 200-year history Members of the public will have the opportunity to learn more about Her Majesty’s Coastguard’s unique history as a new exhibition opens on Saturday 29 January to mark the organisation’s landmark 200th anniversary this year. Sat, 29 Jan 2022 00:00:00 +0000 Coastguard history

As part of HM Coastguard’s bicentenary celebrations in 2022, Sheffield’s National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) has been working closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (NMMC) in Falmouth to develop the exhibition, called ‘Guarding the Coast’. 

From being formally brought into existence on 15 January 1822 to prevent smuggling through to the high-tech technology now used today to keep people safe at the coast and sea, the exhibition features a wide-range of original objects, documents and imagery about HM Coastguard, as well as a collection of memorable stories – many from the men and women who have dedicated themselves to the service.

The exhibition has been funded by the MCA and, in a unique collaboration for NESM, will run concurrently in Sheffield and at the NMMC throughout the summer. St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington, Hampshire, will also, separately, be hosting its own HM Coastguard exhibit later this year (5 March to 9 April).

Holly Gosling, NESM curator, said: “Like their counterparts in the fire, police and ambulance services, those working with the Coastguard help to save hundreds of lives every year at sea and on land and it's great to have the opportunity to show everyone their incredible history and amazing work. This new exhibition will give our visitors a real insight into their work and, as a museum that aims to celebrate all our emergency services, it's a terrific addition to NESM.”

Lindsey Skinner, of the NMMC, said: “For the first time in National Maritime Museum Cornwall's history we're running a concurrent exhibition with another museum, and we're thrilled it's an exhibition that celebrates the vital work of HM Coastguard. Cornwall is a coastal county, relying on organisations such as HM Coastguard to help keep everyone safe – our aim is that visitors leave this exhibition with a deeper understanding of the history of the Coastguard and the incredible work they do.”

Rope rescue display at NMMC Rope rescue display at NMMC

Martin Leslie, Coastguard Operations Commander, together with Marc Thomas, Senior Coastal Operations Officer, have both been working with Area Management Teams and HM Coastguard volunteers in Cornwall to support the museum’s curation in Falmouth.

Martin said: “HM Coastguard is a key pillar of coastal communities right across Cornwall and it’s fitting that the museum in Falmouth, which is only a short walk away from our Cornwall Area Coastal Operations base and Falmouth Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) where we coordinate responses to emergencies situations in the South West and support our colleagues throughout the rest of the UK, should host this fascinating exhibit in what is a momentous year for everyone connected, past and present, with our service. We are proud of our dedicated staff and on-call volunteers who work tirelessly to keep people safe at the coast and at sea all year round and I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibition to learn more about our rich history and heritage.”

Bev Allen, Humber Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Commander, who is one of the team who coordinates HM Coastguard’s responses to incidents on the east coast of the UK – which includes Yorkshire – as well as other areas, said of the Sheffield exhibition opening: “Everyone associated with HM Coastguard is incredibly proud to have reached this amazing milestone and I'm grateful to be part of our dedicated service, working with brilliant colleagues at Humber Coastguard and around the UK day in, day out – including those who work for our partner emergency services – to keep people safe at the coast and out at sea. It’s a real pleasure to do what we do and I know that this exhibition will showcase our fantastic history as we continue to mark our 200th anniversary as an organisation throughout this year.”



Keeping you safe at the coast for 200 years: HM Coastguard celebrates landmark birthday From coastal lookouts to today’s hi-tech coordination centres, one thing has stayed the same for two centuries – to search, to rescue and to save. Sat, 15 Jan 2022 00:00:00 +0000 Coastguard history

Two hundred years of saving lives along the UK coast and at sea, as well as coordinating rescues for those in distress in international waters, is being marked this year as HM Coastguard celebrates its milestone anniversary. 

It was on 15 January 1822, that HM Coastguard was formally brought into existence and has been working to keep people safe at the coast and sea ever since. 

Today (15 January) in honour of that actual birthday, coastguards across all four home nations are casting throwlines as a symbol of the service’s dedication - past and present. 

Throwlines, which form part of the lifesaving kit used by coastguard teams, will be cast into the seas around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at 11am, with each team operating under the latest COVID-19 guidance for the local areas.  

Over the past two centuries, HM Coastguard has gone from strength to strength. In 2022, coastguard operations centres coordinate responses to emergency situations at the coast calling on 310 Coastguard Rescue Teams – made up of 3500 dedicated volunteers – and using 10 search and rescue helicopter bases.  

Although the way in which we operate has changed beyond recognition in the last two centuries, HM Coastguard continues to look to the future. Innovation has always been a driver – whether it be pushing forward state of the art technology in the national network of maritime rescue coordination centres or leading the way in rope, water and mud techniques. 

Last month (December) HM Coastguard began to implement its new updated search and rescue radio network which uses fibre technology. More than £175million has been invested to upgrade the Coastguard’s national radio network across all 165 sites over the next two years.  This will improve and future proof its communication infrastructure and ensure that it remains able to communicate and exchange data quickly and reliably in order to co-ordinate rescues and save lives. 

The service continues to adapt to changes – in the last few years providing mutual aid and support during events and incidents to other emergency partners. During the pandemic, coastguards supported the NHS, attended the G7 and COP26 in 2021 and are called in to support during national emergencies including flooding or supplying water to stranded drivers. 

HM Coastguard provides training to search and rescue authorities around the world and also shares knowledge on a mutual basis with others. A key player with the International Maritime Organization, HM Coastguard's input and insight around the obligations of SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) is sought and valued. 

21st Century Coastguard rescue team 21st Century Coastguard rescue team

The service is currently working hard to reduce its carbon footprint and is aiming to make its UK-wide fleet of vehicles electric wherever possible over the next five years.   

Following trials, six electric vehicles have already been purchased, with 19 more currently being procured for use across the UK. Opportunities to electrify the fleet where operationally possible continue to be identified, with the trialling and integrating of electric models as they arrive on the market.   

And with technology ever evolving, the service will continue to strive to be at the forefront of innovation to carry out its life-saving work.  

Maritime Minister, Robert Courts said: “Congratulations HM Coastguard on their 200-year anniversary. I am immensely proud and humbled by the continued dedication and professionalism from the staff and volunteers which ensures everyone’s safety on our shores and around our coast.  

“HM Coastguard is the backbone of our maritime sector and the nation is indebted to its incredible workforce which continues to deliver an exceptional service.”  

Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard said: “When you look at how we started and where we are now, it’s easy to celebrate the innovation and development that can be seen throughout the service. And yet, we are far more proud of the people, the volunteers and the staff who throughout two centuries have continued to strive to keep people safe at the coast and out at sea. We always have and always will respond to those in distress.  

“While this milestone is an opportunity for us to look back with pride on what we’ve achieved, we have always looked to the future, and I’m proud that we continue to look for ways in which to improve and save lives. I’m proud of the commitment, the dedication and selfless sacrifice and I’m proud of how the service has developed and continues to do so.”  

Coastal Operations Area Commander Tom Wright said: “This anniversary is a huge milestone for all of us at HM Coastguard. We wanted to mark the occasion in a way which is unique to us and which demonstrates our commitment to keeping people safe at sea. The symbolic casting of throwlines across the UK today is a reflection of that commitment. "


A short history of HM Coastguard 


17th/18th century - As soon as medieval taxes were charged on imports and exports, people begin smuggling. By 1743 the estimate is that half the tea drunk in Britain was illegally imported. Smuggling is highly profitable, making local people live in fear, with violent reprisals on informers and the murder of revenue officers, while corruption enables smugglers to evade harsh penalties. 

1790s – Henry Greathead designs the first original lifeboat in South Shields. Twenty other locations place orders.  

1808 – A Captain Manby experiments with firing mortars to carry lines offshore to stricken ships. The “Elizabeth”, 150 yards out at sea sees the first life save due to this method. Cots hung below safety lines soon follow. 

1809 - the Board of Customs forms the Preventative Waterguard to fight smugglers and this small force uses boats to patrol every bay and cove.  

1816 - the guard is placed under the Treasury. At each station the chief officer and chief boatman are experienced naval seamen or fishermen. In bad weather they form a shore patrol. Although created to end smuggling, the Preventative Waterguard quickly acquires extra duties and are instructed to take responsibility of shipwrecks to safeguard cargoes and vessels from looters. They are also trained with lifesaving equipment. 

1821 - the Preventative Waterguard is recognised as a major force against smuggling and it is recommended that it is again controlled by the Board of Customs. In a minute dated 15 January 1822, the Treasury accept the proposal noting the new force will be called ‘Coast Guard’ which is, in effect, the birth certificate of HM Coastguard.  

15th Jan 1822  - The Coastguard was formed in 1822 by the amalgamation of three services set up to prevent smuggling: 

  • the Revenue Cruisers 
  • the Riding Officers 
  • the Preventive Waterguard 
1890 The story of a Cornish Coastguardsman 1890 The story of a Cornish Coastguardsman ]]>
Countdown begins to HM Coastguard’s 200th birthday This week’s Maritime Safety Week marks almost six months to the day until Her Majesty’s Coastguard will celebrate a milestone birthday – and we need your help to make the occasion extra special. Wed, 07 Jul 2021 00:00:00 +0100 Coastguard history

On January 15, 2022 HM Coastguard will turn 200.

The history of the coastguard can be traced back to 1822 and, with more than 200 years of memories for us to look back on with pride, we know we have many stories to tell. And we hope that you can help us tell them, by sharing your pictures, memories and experiences over the years.

Over the past two centuries HM Coastguard has gone from strength to strength, with coastguard operations centres coordinating responses to emergency situations at the coast – calling upon approximately 310 Coastguard Rescue Teams – made up of around 3,000 dedicated volunteers – and 10 search and rescue helicopters.

It is now one of the UK’s four frontline emergency services, operating a 24/7, 365 day a year search and rescue service to save lives at the coast and at sea.

Safety has always been at the heart of what the coastguard does and, with technology ever evolving, HM Coastguard continues to strive to be at the forefront of innovation in order to carry on improving and saving lives.

Claire Hughes, director of Her Majesty's Coastguard, said: “From our volunteers to full-time staff, we are all immensely proud of the coastguard’s distinguished and fascinating history which has really helped to shape the incredibly important work HM Coastguard carries out today. We look forward to marking the coastguard’s 200th birthday in 2022 and upholding HM Coastguard’s commitment to keeping the public safe at the coast for many years to come.”


From days past, a coastguard team - including a diver - pose for the camera    Picture credit: National Emergency Service Museum From days past, a coastguard team - including a diver - pose for the camera     Picture credit: National Emergency Service Museum


Can you help us to tell the coastguard story? As we approach next year’s 200th birthday, we are pulling together as much history as we can. We would like to look back at some of the stories, experiences and memories that many people have to tell about the coastguard.

If you have something that you think might fit the bill, please use this link to upload your files or email us at


Former Coastguard Rescue Officer Tim Stevens firing a Breeches Buoy rocket line as part of a practice exercise. Breeches Buoys were withdrawn from service in the late 1980s after more than 150 years of use.    Picture credit: Tim Stevens Former Coastguard Rescue Officer Tim Stevens firing a Breeches Buoy rocket line as part of a practice exercise. Breeches Buoys were withdrawn from service in the late 1980s after more than 150 years of use.     Picture credit: Tim Stevens




Reflecting on a busy 2019 As we enter a new year and a new decade we’re looking back at what’s been a busy 12 months for the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. Here's just a snapshot of what we got up to during 2019. From all of us at the MCA, have a safe and happy New Year. Wed, 01 Jan 2020 00:00:00 +0000 Coastguard history



  • Coastguard Rescue Teams from Shetland and Stornoway shared the prestigious DfT Rescue Shield. A fallen climber was saved from a remote cliff precipice with a 200ft drop below  
  • Three MCA members of staff honoured for services to safety in the New Year’s Honours list




  • Our Enforcement team brought about a prosecution resulting in a £25k fine for the owners of a 85m tanker which had serious navigation and safety deficiencies, putting those on board and other maritime users at risk
  • The counter-pollution team oversaw the response to an oil spill at Limekilns, Scotland, removing the oil from the beach




  • A ‘textbook’ approach to safety precautions helped save the life of Reegan Green (pictured above), a Cornish fisherman. He fell overboard but his lifejacket with a beacon meant he could be identified in rough cold seas after falling overboard at night. He was airlifted to safety.
  • In Scotland, two kayakers were rescued when they got into trouble and triggered their personal locator beacons (PLBs), small handheld subscription-emergency locator devices, they cost approx. £200 




  •  A year-long trial of the use of drones for search and rescue was launched in partnership with other emergency services in Essex
  • Environmental scientists from the Counter Pollution team were involved in trials in the Clyde for a new aircraft that can fly over pollution in the seas to monitor pollution and drop dispersants to help break up oil spills 



  • The UK Ship Register (UKSR) became available to ship owners across the globe so they can register their ships and comply with the high UK safety standards, improving shipping safety worldwide.  By the end of November, the UK had 1,178 commercial, non-fishing vessels on the register comprising 10.5million gross tonnes
  • Inverness, one of 10 strategically located sites for the search and rescue helicopters, received a £20 million investment in two new helicopters for long-range rescues in the most demanding conditions




  • We launched our first survey to assess what the experience for people with disabilities using ferries and cruise ships is like, to help guide future policy
  • HM Coastguard, part of the MCA, stepped in to help other emergency services in Lincolnshire. Hundreds of people and homes had to be evacuated when two months’ worth of rain fell in two days




  • We showcased search and rescue and counter-pollution at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire where Astronaut Major Tim Peake was among the thousands of visitors 
  • There were nearly 5,000 incidents this month. Including rescues of six people cut off by the tide at Holy Island, Northumbria; 15 fishermen airlifted off a sinking vessel in the Scottish islands; 21 passengers and two crew rescued from a pleasure vessel taking on water off West Wales; a time-critical rescue of a man trapped in rocks in Norfolk




  • Jenson and Reuben, the UK’s youngest surviving pre-term twin boys who were flown by emergency helicopter to Oxford from Cornwall returned a year on to meet their rescuers in Newquay
  • Baby Torran (below, with his family, photographed by Ben Birchall, PA) who was born during a Newquay helicopter’s dash to hospital also returned to the base with his parents and sister to celebrate his first birthday






  • The MCA’s Receiver of Wreck ensures that a bell from USS Osprey, a US Navy ship which sank off the Isle of Wight during WWII  is returned to the American authorities 
  • An International Maritime Rescue Federation Award was won by the MCA for work exploring the use of remotely operated vehicles in search and rescue operations


Dover COC




  • The enforcement team’s work to ensure safety for seafarers who go to sea on all types of vessels from those involved in commercial fishing to international racing yachts meant that 467 reports have been investigated in the last year and 11 cases are currently going through the judicial process
  • A scientist turned deck officer, Dr Ewan McNeil from Fife, received the MCA’s Officer Trainee of the Year award 



  •  People from across the MCA took part in Remembrance Day services to pay respect to the fallen and those who lived through war
  • HM Coastguard took part in an international search and rescue operation after a superyacht in Indonesia set off its emergency beacon. Happily all four people on board made it to safety


Control room




  • At the end of 2018 in the few days from Christmas Eve up to New Year’s HM Coastguard responded to 661 incidents around the UK. Over a year, we respond to more than 24,000 incidents 
  • The MCA’s counter pollution team has been working with Pembrokeshire County Council to clear and recover debris after a container ship lost some of its cargo in rough seas. Apples, packets of rice cakes and tin foil have been washed up on beaches
  • Popular BBC TV show Masterchef chose The Dover Coastguard Operations Centre (pictured) above the iconic white cliffs for its celebrity challenge