National Coastwatch Institution

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The National Coastwatch Institution's Logo

The National Coastwatch Institution [1] is a voluntary organisation and registered charity[2] providing a visual watch along the UK's coasts, and is not to be confused with HM Coastguard.

Coastwatch station at Felixstowe in a Martello Tower


The National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) was founded in Cornwall in 1994 following the deaths of two local fishermen who drowned below a recently closed coastguard station at Bass Point. Most of HM Coastguard's visual watch stations were closed following a period of rationalisation and modernisation.[citation needed] The institution, registered charity number 1159975, originated from a campaign to re-establish a visual coastal watch in Cornwall. The first NCI Coastwatch station was thus established at Bass Point, on The Lizard peninsula, Cornwall by November 1994.

Following the successful launch of NCI Bass Point, other stations quickly followed in Devon, Cornwall, East Anglia, Somerset, Sussex, Essex, Dorset, and South Wales. As of December 2019, there are 56 NCI stations operational around the coast of England and Wales, from Fleetwood in the Northwest, through Wales, along the south coast, and up the east coast to Hornsea, East Yorkshire with over 2,600 trained volunteer watchkeepers.

The institution has a joint memorandum of understanding with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), HM Revenue and Customs and more recently the Home Office Border Force, and these documents are guides to NCI’s role and provide the basis for the working relationship the institution enjoys with all these departments. Most NCI stations have acquired, or are working towards acquiring "declared facility status",[3] giving NCI a very important role to play when needed among the UK’s search and rescue organisations. Most have also achieved QAVS. (Queen's Award for Voluntary Service).


As of January 2019, the NCI's 2,500-plus uniformed trained volunteer watchkeepers maintain a visual watch along part of the UK coastline with 54 established NCI watch stations. These stations provide a daily visual watch in all weathers, monitoring marine radio channels, sea conditions and weather, using radar and providing a listening watch in poor visibility. All emergencies are reported to the appropriate authorities for action, the majority of NCI work being working mainly with HM Coastguard and other statutory authorities. Most NCI stations are manned on a daily basis providing a regular daily watch from 8:00 am to dusk. In 2017 a total of 312,350 man-hours watch was performed by NCI watchkeepers, recording over 232,961 commercial, military and leisure vessel movements, and reporting a total of 498 incidents to HM Coastguard, fire, police and ambulance services, of which 41 were NCI-initiated lifeboat rescues. All this work was carried out at no cost to the public purse.

All volunteers are provided with training in visual observation techniques, marine chart-work, Ordnance Survey mapping, critical reporting, marine radio procedures, and radar, ensuring all volunteers reach the standards expected by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The NCI works with HM Coastguard, the MCA, the RNLI and the other emergency services. In 2007, some of the 498 incidents reported by NCI to the MCA ended with the call-out of the RNLI lifeboats, RAF air-sea rescue, MoD ordnance units, fire, ambulance and other rescue agencies. These incidents included vessels sinking, vessels on fire, vessels in danger and distress, swimmers, surf boarders and kite boarders in difficulties, inflatable toys with children on board being blown out to sea, persons fallen over cliffs, persons washed off jetty, land fires, dangerous munitions washed up, personal injuries, and so on.

In addition, many hundreds of minor incidents were dealt with including informing the coastguard and police of lost, found and missing children, distressed marine wildlife, ordnance on beaches, chemical drums, large carcasses and dangerous debris washed up.

2009 saw the fifteenth anniversary of the foundation of the National Coastwatch Institution. A national office has now been opened in Exeter.[4]

Structure and uniform[edit]

Top row: Rank structure and uniform insignia of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) Bottom row: Specialist roles and uniform insignia of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI)
Member / Trainee Watchkeeping
Deputy Station
Staff Officer
NCI r01.jpeg NCI r02.jpeg NCI r03.jpeg NCI r04.jpeg NCI r05.jpeg NCI r06.jpeg NCI r07.jpeg NCI r08.jpeg NCI r09.jpeg NCI r10.jpeg
Cadet Assessment
Team Member
(No longer
NCI s01.jpeg NCI s03.jpg NCI s02.jpeg

Coastwatch stations[edit]

St Ives NCI Coastwatch Station
National Coastwatch in Boscastle

The National Coastwatch Institution maintains 40 operational Coastwatch stations around the coastline of England and Wales, at the following locations:

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Work featured in article, Telegraph Magazine, Saturday 7 April 2007
  2. ^ Charity Commission. National Coastwatch Institution, registered charity no. 1045645.
  3. ^ "Search and Rescue Framework for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (pdf). 5.8.5: Department for Transport. p. 54. Retrieved 13 March 2012. All watch keepers are trained to a high standard and stations will be expected to achieve Declared Facility Status (DFS) within 18 months of opening.CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "NCI Bass Point". National Coastwatch Institution. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  6. ^ Vaughan, Sally (November 2010). "Eyes Along The Coast". Dorset Magazine. pp. 30–33. Retrieved 13 January 2011.