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Coastguards are part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) service.

The MCA co-ordinates search and rescue along the British coast. It also investigates illegal shipping activities and pollution incidents.

If you are looking for a responsible role and want to be involved with a key safety and rescue service, this could be ideal for you. To be a coastguard you need to be able to work under pressure in emergency situations. You’ll need to work as part of a team. You will also need leadership qualities. You would usually join the coastguard service as a watch assistant. For this job you would need a good standard of literacy and numeracy, and IT and typing skills.Your tasks would include:

  • receiving and handling 999 calls
  • monitoring equipment
  • providing information on safety at sea to the general public
  • recommending safety procedures to skippers of small craft
  • providing meteorological information and local weather reports
  • updating logs and completing general administration.

As a coastguard watch officer, you would be involved in all aspects of the service. Your tasks would include:

  • working in operational centres
  • taking part in cliff rescues, coastal searches and boat work (in some posts).

As a coastguard rescue officer volunteer, you would be trained to respond to emergencies and would be paid for the hours you work.


You will work either at one of the 18 maritime rescue centres around the coast, or at the headquarters in Southampton. You will usually work 42 hours a week, on a shift system over seven days. Part-time hours may be available. You will be based in a busy operational centre equipped with a range of communications equipment, such as radio and satellite tracking devices. As a watch officer, you would go to sea in all weathers, on patrol or rescue missions, and be involved in cliff and coastal search and rescue. You must be prepared to work anywhere in the UK.


  • Watch assistants can earn around £17,000 a year.
  • Watch officers can earn around £20,000 a year.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry Requirements

You would usually join the coastguard service as a watch assistant. For this job you need:

  • a good standard of literacy and numeracy
  • IT and typing skills.

To become a watch officer you need:

  • good hearing and eyesight
  • a good standard of literacy and numeracy
  • extensive seagoing experience.

Your seagoing experience could be from:

  • the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force or the Merchant Navy
  • other activities involving boat work and navigation
  • experience as a coastguard rescue officer volunteer.

To become a coastguard rescue officer volunteer you must be at least 16, with an interest in, and concern for, safety at sea. See the Maritime and Coastguard Agency website for details. Maritime and Coastguard Agency – information on becoming a coastguard volunteer

Training and Development

As a new coastguard, you start by receiving training at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Centre at Highcliffe, Dorset. After this, you will join a programme which combines classroom-based learning, self-study and on-the-job training. As a volunteer, you will be expected to attend regular training.

Skills and Knowledge

  • an interest in the sea and maritime issues
  • an understanding of the use of communications equipment
  • the ability to work under pressure and in emergency situations
  • the ability to assess situations quickly and make sound decisions
  • a clear speaking voice
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • leadership ability, as you may have to take charge in an emergency situation.


You would be employed by the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) in locations around the coast. Rescue officer volunteers and watch assistants are recruited locally – you should contact the District Operations Manager at your nearest coastguard station for details of opportunities. See the MCA website for locations. Watch officer vacancies are advertised in the press and on the MCA website. With experience, you could be promoted from coastguard watch assistant to watch officer, then to watch manager or section manager.

  • Date published: 18th November 2015