Eyes along the coast – the work of The National Coastwatch Institution (NCI)
Members were treated to a most interesting and informative talk by Jon Gifford, the President of the National Coastwatch Institution. The NCI was founded in 1994 to restore a visual watch along Britain’s 11,073 miles of coastline after many of the Coastguard Stations closed. They do not replace the Coastguards but are there to support them. The first Station to be opened was at Bass Point in Cornwall following a tragedy when two fishermen lost their lives off the Cornish coast.
The Coastwatch use unoccupied Coastguard Stations where possible and there are now 51 stations and nine more under negotiation. Each Station is manned by fully trained volunteers who keep a daylight watch 365 days a year. Stations are equipped with telescopes, radar, telephone and weather equipment as well as up-to-date charts. The normal visual range is between 9 and 10 miles and requires a keen eye and good observation skills. Every volunteer – at present there are 2,093 – undergoes training and takes an exam at the end. There is no government funding and volunteers provide their own uniform and travel.
When there is an incident it is up to the persons on duty to make a decision about an emergency response. Should it be the Coastguard unit, ambulance, air ambulance, police, helicopter? The incident could be anything from a yacht in trouble, possible smuggling, illegal immigrants, water sport enthusiast and so on. Every incident is logged and this is absolutely vital.
Jon raised our awareness that lookouts and watchkeepers are an important service provider to all those who use our coastal waters, footpaths and coastline.
You are welcome to visit a station. The nearest one to Exeter is at Exmouth (see photo). There is a good website at www.nci.org.uk which shows all the stations. Information on how you can contribute to the valuable work done by this organisation is available online.