Protecting our Seas and Shores in the 21st Century

Consultation on proposals for modernising the Coastguard 2010

Executive Summary

For two centuries, the Coastguard has been helping to manage the use of our seas and protect those who use them. The sea is vital to our economy, while millions use it for recreational purposes. However, we are changing the way we use our waters and our shores. This is making our coastline far busier than ever before. We are building much larger ships that are less manoeuvrable and drilling rigs and increasing numbers of wind farms pepper the seas around the UK. As a result our seas are becoming much more congested. Weather conditions are also becoming more extreme, with significant weather events becoming more frequent and severe, making work at sea more perilous and increasing the risk of coastal flooding. However, updated technologies and systems, including automated systems to track ships wherever they might be, offer real opportunities to manage better what is going on around our coasts and to deal with incidents when they arise. At the same time, current economic conditions mean there is an imperative to deliver efficiencies and reduce costs.

The current arrangement of the Coastguard dates back forty years and is not well placed to respond to these challenges. Eighteen Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres are spread across the UK, together with a small centre in London. Each centre's systems are 'paired' with a neighbour allowing them to work together when necessary, but beyond these pairings the stations are not interoperable. This means that the system suffers from a fundamental lack of resilience. In the event of a problem affecting both centres in a pair, it is not possible for an incident to be managed from another centre. It is also impossible to spread workloads across the system; so staff in one centre may be struggling to cope with call volumes while workloads in another may be low. In addition both emergency and non-emergency demand varies widely by geographical location, the time of day, and the time of year. Analysis shows that the busiest centres handle over five times as many incidents as the quietest with 30% of all incidents happening in July and August and 70% of all incidents occurring between 9am and 7pm. These uneven workloads lessen resilience, hamper staff development and lead to higher than necessary staff costs.

The latest technology means the Coastguard can be completely reconfigured to deliver a more integrated and improved level of service, at lower cost, with better-rewarded staff taking on increased responsibilities and with enhanced career opportunities.

This consultation document sets out proposals which would enable fewer Coastguard centres to monitor and communicate with ships anywhere around the UK coastline, as well as delivering complete integration between stations. This will allow greater flexibility and improved resilience when responding to calls, particularly at peak times. In turn, these proposals would mean enhanced roles and responsibilities for a smaller number of officers, matched by improvements in remuneration.

Download the full Coastguard Modernisation Consultation (48 page document)

This document sets out the background to the proposed changes, the main effects, and provides some questions to assist you when submitting your response. In developing these proposals, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would welcome comments and information about factors that should influence the choice of sites for both Maritime Operations Centres and for sub-centres. Responses will be accepted, either on the electronic form provided, or in writing, up until 5pm on March 24, 2011.

Electronic copies of the consultation document, and response questionnaire may be downloaded from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s website, at