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Career Advice

How to Become a Coastguard

coastguardThey are something like a beach lifeguard right? Wrong. These two careers are actually very different from one another with greatly differing job responsibilities duties, work routines and pretty much anything else you can think of. (Incidentally if you fancy becoming a beach lifeguard you can take a little look at our quick guide by clicking on the link, otherwise read on for lots of information on how to become a coastguard.

So what exactly is a coastguard

From movies, TV and perhaps seeing them at work around the coast you probably think you have a fair idea of what being a coastguard entails but we reckon that there’s a lot more to the role than you realise.  Lets start first by breaking down the role of coastguard to its most basic definition and then we can take a look at some of the more specifics of the role.

In a nutshell, a coastguard (in the UK at least) is a worker who is a member of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). The MCA is the body which is ultimately responsible for prevention of loss of life on the coast and at sea. They are also heavily involved in the creation of legislation on a range of maritime issues.  So as you can imagine ‘coastguard’ covers rather a wide range of duties and responsibilities a well as different job roles. Most people will begin in the agency in the role of coastguard watch assistant and work their way up to either coastguard watch officer or coastguard rescue officer volunteer. There are other roles available too but these are the most common 3 to be found.


Of course, given the very nature of the role it would be basically impossible to create a minute by minute rundown of what your day is likely to look like when working as a coastguard – indeed it is its unpredictable nature which is such an attractive quality to many of the people who choose it as a career path. However, there are a few things which are likely (at least at some point) to be part of the role. Broadly speaking these may include;

  • receiving and dealing with any emergency /999 calls which come in
  • monitoring a wide range of equipment and carrying out maintenance on this when necessary
  • Playing a key role in making sure that he public is aware of the danger of the coast/sea and ensure that they have all relevant safety equipment
  • Communication with sea faring crafts including liaising with vessels regarding hazards/ incidents which have taken place
  • Helping to update and  maintain proper logging systems and carrying out a range of basic administrative tasks.

Skills and personal attributes

Of course given that there are both very specific and also general duties to be carried out as a member of the coastguard, it is really important that anyone thinking of this as a career has a broad range of skills and personality traits which will help hen to deal with the activities problems and pressure which come with the job. As usual there is no such thing as a ‘recipe for a great coastguard’ having some of the skills and personal attributes listed below could really come in handy for this considering this rule as a career.

  • an interest in and understanding of the sea and the issues which surround the coast and marine environment
  • Ability to learn new skills particularly when dealing with specialist equipment such as communication systems.
  • A sound understanding of the importance of the role that you will be carrying out and and awareness that people’s lives may depend on how well you do your job
  • the ability to assess situations rapidly and accurately as well as the ability to make important decisions swiftly in often high pressure situations where time is of the essence
  • Very strong team working skills and the ability to identify the strength of those with whom your are working.
  • The ability and willingness to undertake a leadership role in a situation should you be requited.
  • An understanding of the necessity that you fully conform to all health and safety regulations when carrying out your work.

coastguard 2Pay and hours of work

The hours of work that you carry out and the level of pay that you can expect to receive will be largely dependent on the role that you are employed in and the level of experience that you have. Coastguard watch assistants will generally carry out administrative tasks which are required of the agency and can normally be found employed within the operations rooms.  The salary for this role is normally around £17,000.

With increasing experience you may be promoted to the role a coastguard watch officer, who plays an active role in all aspects of the work carried out by the  Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)  including patrol and search and rescue.  The salary for this role would normally be £20,000 + per annum.

For both of these roles you will normally work around 40 hours per week which will normally follow a shift pattern and will include evenings, weekends and holidays. Those working as a coastguard rescue officer volunteer will perform ‘on call’ duties relating to emergencies and are generally paid for the hours that they are required to work  you would be trained to respond to emergencies and paid for the hours you work. Be sure to check out the MCA website for the most up to date information on current opportunities and the salary that you can expect to receive.

Entry requirements

Most people join the coastguard in the role of watch assistant and work their way up by gaining skills and experience necessary to fulfil a more senior role. To be accepted for the position of watch assistant you need to be able to demonstrate the skills and attributes which we have outlined above including excellent literacy, numeracy skills and IT skills. It is also of great importance that you have extensive seafaring experience which has given you the knowledge necessary to carry out your job duties and progress within the agency. Typically this experience will have been gained through a career within the royal navy, working as a coastguard volunteer or other experience of employment on a boat and having some involvement in maritime navigation.

Once you have been accepted into a watch assistant role your training will begin with an intensive course at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Centre at Highcliffe, Dorset which will lead to a lengthy scheme of work and study which will include leaning in the classroom and on-the-job training.

Still reckon that working a coast guard could be the career for you?  Then good luck we hope you have found this quick guide useful.   But if perhaps you are not quite ready for your sea legs you might like to take a look at some of the other career guides in our rather fab career directory.


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