HM Coastguard 200th anniversary: origins of sea rescue service, 2022 celebrations and how to volunteer

Her Majesty’s Coastguard was established on January 15 1822

Coastguards around the UK will mark the 200th anniversary of the service, which is dedicated to saving people’s lives at sea.

Her Majesty’s Coastguard was established on January 15 1822.

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The service now has 310 teams with 3,500 volunteers around the country, which are supported by 10 search and rescue helicopters.

Here we take a look at the origins of HM Coastguard, what celebrations are planned for the milestone and how you can volunteer.

What are the origins of HM Coastguard?

The service was originally started to combat smuggling.

Smugglers could make a lot of money hundreds of years ago as they attempted to escape the medieval taxes charged on imports and exports.

As well as being a lucrative enterprise, it was also widely carried out - with half of the tea drunk in Britain in 1743 thought to have been illegally imported.

However, it also left people living in fear of reprisals which were common against revenue officers and informers.

Henry Greathead then designed the first lifeboat in South Shields in the 1790s - they were soon sent to another 20 locations.

In 1809, the Preventative Water Guard was formed by the Board of Customs to fight smugglers with boats patrolling coves and bays around the UK. This newly-formed group was later placed under the Treasury in 1816.

However, on 15 January 1822, the Treasury accepted that it should return to the Board of Customs.

It was also declared that the new force should be called “Coast Guard”.

How has HM Coastguard’s 200th anniversary been celebrated?

To mark the 200th anniversary, coastguards across Britain are casting 200 throwlines - which form part of the standard lifesaving kit - as a symbol of the service’s dedication.

The throwlines will be cast into seas around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at 11am on Saturday (15 January).

How do I volunteer for HM Coastguard?

HM Coastguard is reliant on volunteers and there are 3,500 of them across Britain.

Tom Wright, area commander for South West England, said: “We couldn’t do what we do without the volunteers who give up their time 24/7 365 days a year. Without that workforce we wouldn’t be able to undertake the search and rescue that we do.”

A volunteer coastguard rescue officer could be expected to do the following:

  • They could be called out at any time of the day or night
  • A volunteer may have to work in hazardous situations for long hours
  • They may have to carry out physically demanding tasks such as carry heavy equipment to rescue sites

Volunteers are not paid but can claim a small amount of money for their time and expenses.

People wishing to volunteer for HM Coastguard must also pass training which will include first aid, map work, water rescue, search techniques and communications.

Anyone over the age of 18 who has a full driving licence and lives within 30 minutes of their nearest rescue station can apply to join.

However, you must have good fitness levels, weigh less than 120kg and have a waist measurement of 110cm or less.

To apply to volunteer, you need to check this map of coastguard stations in the UK.

Find which one you want to volunteer at and then contact them directly - using a list of email addresses here - to see if they are accepting volunteers.

What is the future of HM Coastguard?

A Coastguard spokeswoman said the service continues to innovate with it carrying out a £175 million upgrade to its national radio network.

They will also introduce electric vehicles to reduce its carbon footprint.

She said: “With technology ever evolving, the service will continue to strive to be at the forefront of innovation to carry out its life-saving work.

“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.”

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