This section of our website is intended to let you know about the National Coastwatch Institution (NCl) and what you will be undertaking if you elect to join. It covers what is involved in becoming a member, the training you will undergo and watchkeeping requirements. It will enable you to make up your mind whether to join us.
No prior experience is necessary to become a watchkeeper. A Training Check List that you will be issued with has been designed to ensure that you reach the required standard before you keep watches on your own. You will be paired with an experienced watchkeeper who will act as a mentor. He or she will guide you through the training process and assist you generally until you become a fully certified watchkeeper. Plainly, members have very different backgrounds and levels of previous knowledge so training will be geared to your own experience (or lack of it). Overall, your instruction will be organised by a Deputy Station Manager and there will also be unit training sessions arranged by the Station Manager.
The training is designed not only to make you an efficient watchkeeper of value to the community but also to increase your general knowledge of maritime matters so that you can sensibly take part in nautical discussions.
If you decide to become a member, you will be an important part of the national search and rescue organisation and a vital link in the security of our coastline through contact with HM Coastguard, Police and UKBA. You will be joining a dedicated band of volunteers who will be delighted to welcome you.
1 Your First Steps in NCI
As a new volunteer, your first few watches will be spent getting to know the station, its equipment and some of the other members. It is important that you get to know your way round as quickly as possible so that, if an emergency arises soon after you arrive, you can help and not feel that you are in the way
2 Why NCI?
The NCI was formed in 1994 by a team of volunteers who realised that there was a vital need to reinstate the visual watch around our coast in the interest of the safety of all those at sea, on nearby paths and on cliffs. There have been many cases where rapid and catastrophic failures aboard both small craft and merchant ships, within sight of shore, have gone unreported by radio. The NCI is dedicated to plugging this gap. A close liaison exists between HM Coastguard and us. The majority of our stations have been inspected by the coastguard and have what is termed ‘Declared Facility Status’, which means that they are treated as a resource qualified to assist them as required.
3 What is NCI?
NCI consists of a number of watch stations located around the coast of England and Wales. New stations are added as funds and volunteers come forward.
Each station is organised by a Station Manager and manned by volunteer watchkeepers. Stations operate different hours but aim to be open seven days a week fifty-two weeks a year, in the summer months from 0800 to 2000 or sunset and in the winter 0800 to 1600.
4 What We Would Expect From You
If you join, we will expect you to commit to doing at least two watches per month on a regular basis - although we obviously accept that you will need time off for holidays, family commitments, etc. Watches will be organised by the Watchbill Officer, to whom you will need to give an indication of when you will be available. It is most important to the smooth running of the watchbill that you try to carry out the watches allocated. If something comes up which will prevent you keeping your watch, you must inform him as soon as possible so that a relief can be organised. Obviously, once a watchbill has been published, if you can find your own replacement, it will considerably ease his task.
If you have the first watch of the day, you will need to arrive in time to open the station. If you have the afternoon watch, you must arrive about fifteen minutes early, so that the outgoing watch can give you a handover on what is happening.
Periodically the Station Manager will arrange ‘whole unit meetings’, to carry out general training, socialise, conduct Annual General Meetings, etc. You should try to attend these gatherings as, not only will you learn a great deal, but you will also meet the rest of the station members and be on a much better relationship with them the next time you meet them on the same watch. As nearly all of our funds must be raised by our own efforts, you will also be encouraged to play a part by joining with your colleagues in fundraising events.
Finally, it is both important and common courtesy, if you decide that the NCI is not for you, that you inform the Station Manager that you are withdrawing, rather than just drift away or fail to turn up for watches. A missing watch member may well be the cause of a failure to provide a service to the public.
5 Health and Safety
Some of our stations are geographically isolated and you must therefore be self-reliant. So, you must inform us at the outset of any medical condition which might affect your safety or your watchkeeping ability. You must also tell us if, and when, any relevant condition arises in future.
As a watchkeeper you will be expected to wear uniform. In essence this consists of a dark blue sweater and white shirt, with or without a black tie, dark blue or black trousers and black shoes. You will be offered epaulettes and thus the ideal sweater is one with shoulder straps such as a naval sweater (generally known as a ‘woolly pulley’). Headgear is optional but, if worn, should be a dark blue cap or a beret. Motifs, other than an NCI badge, should not appear on the cap. The wearing of a recognisable uniform is of great assistance and encouragement when dealing with the public and raises the whole level of the NCI awareness. The NCI shop sells suitable clothing at very competitive prices.
7 Training and Advancement
After an initial assessment period, we hope that it will be possible to accept you as a Watchkeeper Under Training and you will begin working through the Training Check List with the goal of becoming a fully certified Watchkeeper.
As mentioned in the foreward, you will do training whilst on watch under the guidance of a more senior and experienced NCI member. Training will also take place during ‘whole station meetings’ as described.
To help you complete the Training Check List, stations have a Training Manual which you can borrow. You will also need to read and follow Local Operating and Administrative Procedures and Health and Safety Instructions, the intention being that we should all work to a common standard.
8 The Next Step – How To Join Us
If you are seriously interested in joining us, please go to the Contact Us page and send an email expressing your interest in joining, together with the name of your preferred station; someone from the station will then be in contact with you. If you have no experience which appears to be relevant, please do not let that stop you from joining. NCI is more than happy to give you all the training you will need.