Isle of Wight volunteers who help save lives around the coast had a special celebration on Thursday 16th May 2024 when HRH The Princess Royal visited the National Coastwatch station at Bembridge. 

HRH The Princess Royal is Royal Patron of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), a charity run entirely by volunteers. This year it celebrates its 30th anniversary of helping to save lives around the coast.
It is the Princess Royal’s fifth visit this year to an NCI station and NCI Bembridge is unique amongst the charity’s 60 stations at key coastal locations. It was officially opened in October 2022 and is the only watch station to be co-located in an operational HM Coastguard Rescue Team (CRT) station, with the teams working closely together. 

The Princess Royal was received at the station by His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Mrs Susie Sheldon. She presented NCI Acting Chair, Dr Chris Aps who introduced Station Manager, Michael Batcheler.

Michael Batcheler escorted Her Royal Highness into the station’s watch room for a briefing about the work of the highly trained volunteer watchkeepers and their part in helping to save lives around the coast. Duty watchkeepers, Jo Haigh and Colin Caldicott were presented. 

All 2,700 National Coastwatch volunteer watchkeepers help to keep people safe and save lives at sea by maintaining a daily visual and radio watch of the coast, looking out for anyone in potential danger. They report any coastal safety-related incidents to HM Coastguard so that expert help can be sent, including the Coastguard Rescue Teams and helicopters, the RNLI, independent lifeboats and all emergency services. 

Her Royal Highness was also introduced to members of HM Coastguard based in the same building, Andrew Woodford, Senior Coastal Operations Officer, Dorset, Hampshire and IOW and representatives from the Bembridge Coastguard Rescue Team.
Her Royal Highness was briefed on the coastal risks at Bembridge which looks out onto the Solent, with an observation area that extends from the entrance to Chichester Harbour, 10 miles to the north to Culver Down cliffs to the south. The lookout overlooks the notoriously hazardous Bembridge Ledge and is also adjacent to a popular coastal path. 

After visiting the station, The Princess Royal attended a reception at the nearby Brading Haven Yacht Club. 

The reception was attended by around 26 NCI watchkeepers as well as NCI Trustee Gail Rendle and NCI Sector Manager Ron Hamilton. Volunteers from the local RNLI and HM Coastguard were present as well as senior Coastguard officers whose collaboration helped realise the NCI Bembridge station.  Other guests from the local community included representatives from the Isle of Wight and Bembridge Councils, MP Mr Bob Seely, and Brading Haven Yacht Club.
The Princess Royal presented certificates and epaulettes to three newly qualified watchkeepers; Mike Randall, Peter Knight and Simon Smith. 

Dr Chris Aps, as Acting NCI Chair, formally welcomed Her Royal Highness to NCI Bembridge and thanked her for her visit.  Her Royal Highness also unveiled a plaque to commemorate the visit which will be placed in the Bembridge station.
Dr Aps said: “We’re privileged to welcome HRH The Princess Royal and today has really put NCI Bembridge on the map. The station is unique in that it is the only one of our 60 lookouts embedded within an operational HM Coastguard station. And we’re delighted that today’s guests include HM Coastguard representatives whose collaboration created NCI Bembridge. 
“These occasions always lift all our spirits and represent the perfect opportunity to celebrate lifesaving work, bringing together our volunteers, friends and supporters from local communities.”

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