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Policy Information

The Irish Coast Guard

Published: 9 July 2019
From: Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport


Each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions around 2000 times (40 times to assist mountain rescues and 200 times to carry out aeromedical HEMS missions on behalf of the HSE), Coast Guard volunteer units will respond 1000 times and RNLI and community lifeboats will be tasked by our Coordination Centres about 950 times
  • evacuate medical patients off our Islands to hospital on 100 occasions
  • assist other nations' Coast Guards about 200 times
  • make around 6000 maritime safety broadcasts to shipping, fishing and leisure craft users
  • carry out a safety on the water campaign that targets primary schools and leisure craft users, including at sea and beach patrols
  • investigate approximately 50 maritime pollution reports

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

About the Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's 4th Blue Light service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

The roles of the Irish Coast Guard

The main roles of the Irish Coast Guard are to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction.

Each year the Irish Coast Guard co-ordinates the response to thousands of incidents at sea and on the cliffs and beaches of Ireland. It does this through its Marine Rescue Centres which are currently based in:

  • Dublin
  • Malin Head (Co Donegal)
  • Valentia Island (Co Kerry).

Each centre is responsible for search and rescue operations.

The Dublin National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) provides marine search and rescue response services and co-ordinates the response to marine casualty incidents within the Irish Pollution Responsibility Zone/EEZ.

The Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia and MRSC Malin Head are 24/7 centres co-ordinating search and rescue response in their areas of responsibility.

The Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Ballycotton and Clifden.

MRSC Malin Head is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle.

MRCC Dublin is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Carlingford Lough and Ballycotton.

Each MRCC/MRSC broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and, in some cases, MF radio in accordance with published schedules.

Maritime safety information that is broadcast by the three Marine Rescue Sub-centres includes:

  • navigational warnings as issued by the UK Hydrographic Office
  • gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings as issued by the Irish Meteorological Office.

Search and rescue resources

Within each Coast Guard Division there are many declared search and rescue resources such as:

At the Marine Rescue Centres, there is a 24-hour watch in order to react to emergency calls as quickly as possible. It is necessary for the Irish Coast Guard to maintain thorough information on the location of ships and boats.

Many ships are equipped with automatic location equipment, which transmits information about their location at regular intervals, so that their whereabouts can be monitored on the screen at the Marine Rescue Centres.

Learn about the new Search and Rescue plan here.

Provision of medical link calls

The Coast Guard also provides Ireland's 24/7 Radio Medical Advice Service whereby vessels making calls on either VHF or MF radio, or telephone call requiring medical advice or assistance are provided with a radio or telephone link to Medico Cork in Cork University Hospital or to foreign Medico Centres.

If medical advice requires the casualty to be taken off the vessel then the Coast Guard providing the link will arrange for the casualty to be transported from the vessel to a hospital. Coast Guard Responders or aircrew dealing with patients in remote locations can be linked live through a Coordination Centre on marine communications to Medico Cork or any foreign Medico Centre.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

The Coast Guard can contract specialised aerial surveillance or dispersant spraying aircraft at short notice internationally.

Helicopter tasks include:

  • the location of marine and aviation incident survivors by homing onto aviation and marine radio distress transmissions, by guidance from other agencies, and by visual, electronic and electro-optical search
  • the evacuation of survivors from the sea, and medical evacuees from all manner of vessels including high-sided passenger and cargo vessels and from the islands
  • the evacuation of personnel from ships facing potential disaster
  • search and or rescue in mountainous areas, caves, rivers, lakes and waterways
  • the transport of offshore fire-fighters (MFRTs) or ambulance teams (MARTs) and their equipment following a request for assistance
  • the provision of safety cover for other search and rescue units including other Marine Emergency Service helicopters
  • pollution, casualty and salvage inspections and surveillance and the transport of associated personnel and equipment
  • inter-agency training in all relevant aspects of the primary role
  • onshore emergency medical service, including evacuation and air ambulance tasks
  • relief of the islands and of areas suffering from flooding or deep snow

The secondary roles of the helicopter are:

  • the exercise of the primary search, rescue and evacuation roles in adjacent search and rescue regions
  • assistance to onshore emergency services, such as in the evacuation of high-rise buildings
  • public safety awareness displays and demonstrations
  • providing helicopter expertise for seminars and training courses

The Irish Coast Guard provides aeronautical assets for search and rescue in the mountains of Ireland. Requests for Irish Coast Guard assets are made to the Marine Rescue Centres.

Requests are accepted from An Garda Síochána and nominated persons in Mountain Rescue Teams.

Voluntary services and training

The Voluntary Services and Training Division is responsible for the management of:

  • all Irish Coast Guard coastal units
  • Community Rescue Boats Ireland
  • other voluntary search and rescue organisations
  • mountain and cave rescue
  • logistics (stores, equipment, buildings, vehicles) and training of IRCG full-time and voluntary staff

The Coast Guard volunteer network is strategically positioned around the coastline of Ireland and on the inland waterways. There are 55 units with 1000 volunteers available 24/7/365.

Teams are called out by the Coast Guards national digital paging system operated from MRCC/SCs and should not be contacted locally except after initial contact is made with the Coordination Centre.

The expected response criteria for the Irish Coast Guard volunteer units is to:

  • achieve a 90% response time of 10 minutes for an initial response team departing the Stationhouse from notification by an MRCC/MRSC during daylight and 20 minutes at night
  • achieve a 90% response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by an MRCC/SC during daylight and 75 minutes at night subject to geographical limitations

Volunteer Units are all equipped with search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles (Quads), first aid equipment and training, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate personal protective equipment.

Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a variety of maritime skills. Certain units are also equipped and trained as cliff rescue units and can either respond locally or be air lifted to an incident.

Other teams strategically located along the coast are equipped with either rescue, patrol or transport inshore craft in the 49m range. An Officer in Charge (3 stripes) assisted by a Deputy Officer in Charge (2 stripes) manages each unit.

Protection against pollution

The Irish Coast Guard has a very important role with regard to the protection of the ocean and the coasts against pollution. In the case of an imminent pollution accident, the Irish Coast Guard has the right to intervene in ships' operations, and the organisation bears the responsibility to do everything within its power to prevent pollution accidents.

The Irish Coast Guard is responsible for developing and co-ordinating an effective regime for:

  • preparedness and response to spills of oil and other hazardous substances within the Irish Pollution Responsibility Zone
  • providing an effective response to marine casualty incidents
  • monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations

The Irish Coast Guard:

  • provides and maintains 24 hour marine pollution notification at the three Marine Rescue Centres
  • develops approved pollution response plans in all harbours and ports, oil handling facilities, marine local authorities and offshore installations
  • provides and maintains a national stockpile of pollution equipment
  • co-ordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans on an ongoing basis

The Irish Coast Guard is the representative of the wider public interest in the protection of the environment following a marine incident where there is pollution or a significant threat of pollution. Irish Coast Guard customers are the commercial and recreational users of the sea, harbour and local authorities whose livelihood, property and amenities might be damaged in a pollution incident and or their lives put at risk.

Engineering and logistics

The Irish Coast Guard is responsible for the communications infrastructure to support the Marine Rescue Centres. They maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites situated around the Irish coastline and a national digital paging system.

In addition there are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. These resources are wireline connected through to the manned control centres at Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia. Responsibility is also extended to the communications equipment in use by the Coast Guard volunteers around the Irish coastline.

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