Becoming a Watchkeeper

Are you interested in contributing to safety around our local coastline and being part of a recognised Search and Rescue (SAR) facility?  

Do you want the satisfaction of giving something back to the community, as a member of a well-organised local charity which helps to save lives?

Do you want one of the best views around of Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly and [occasionally] Aidan Turner?

If so, Gwennap Head NCI is looking for new volunteer watchkeepers!

Our national motto is Eyes along the Coast and that is exactly what we provide. From our stunning location at Gwennap Head NCI Station, we provide a daylight-hours, all-year watch (Visual, VHF Radio and Radar) over all marine traffic in our area, as well as the many walkers who go past our front door, on the South West Coastal Footpath.

Gwennap Head NCI has held Declared Facility Status (DFS) for many years. This means that we are considered by HM Coastguard (HMCG) to be an integral part of the national SAR organisation, and are a resource qualified to assist them, as and when required. To achieve and maintain DFS, a station is subject to regular, external assessments of its staff, procedures, and training standards, as well as exercises designed to demonstrate competencies in our core tasks of “Spotting, Plotting, Reporting and Responding”. This ensures that the highest standards of watch keeping are maintained, and that HMCG can have confidence in our professionalism.

What is Involved?
Being in the station lookout for a 5-hour watch (4 hours in Winter). We look out over Gwennap Head using binoculars or telescope, monitor the VHF Radios, record the weather, and report any incidents or casualties to HMCG. Simply put, as mentioned above, our core mission is to "Spot, Plot, Report & Respond" to all incidents in our visual area.

We ask all watchkeepers to try and undertake 2 watches per month, although most of our watchkeepers aim for 3 or 4 per month.  You choose for yourself (via a simple booking system) how many and which watches you want to take in order to best fit in with your other commitments.

When on watch we all wear a uniform consisting of white pilot shirt, black trousers and black shoes. Also, in the Winter, a blue naval style jumper normally gets added!

What Training Will I Need and How Do I Get It?
Interested? All the necessary training will be given to you by the dedicated training team plus the watchkeepers who you are on duty with.  

You don’t need to have any marine knowledge or a nautical background to be a watchkeeper; you will be given training in all the skills that you will need. We currently have members with all sorts of backgrounds, many with no experience of the sea, charts or navigation.

Initially, new members have to undertake a trial period of approximately 6 watches, spread over several months, whilst doing their training. However, this can vary a bit depending on your background and how quickly you pick up the basics of being a watchkeeper. As soon as you join you will help staff the station lookout as a Trainee watchkeeper, doing what every other watchkeeper is doing... keeping watch and providing Eyes along the Coast.

All your training happens when you are on watch and, during your training, you will be issued with a training manual and a check sheet. You will learn how to take range and bearings of various objects and plot them on a marine chart, complete the watch log, use the AIS and Radar systems, identify the various vessels that pass the station, monitor the marine band radios, use the phonetic alphabet, understand the local weather conditions, and familiarise yourself with procedures for opening/closing the watch station.

None of the training is there to pressure anyone and it’s all done at a slow, easy pace, dependent on your ability. Once your trainer feels that you’ve reached an appropriate standard you will be assessed and, once qualified, you will be able to stand watches like any other watchkeeper. On-going training continues throughout your watchkeeping career, including simulations with other SAR services, exercises, quizzes, VHF radio training and feedback of experience gained from incidents which the watch may be involved in.

How much will it cost?
We are a voluntary organisation so we have to raise all our own money to keep the Station operational. You provide your own uniform, which is not expensive, but you may already have a suitable white shirt and dark trousers.

That’s it…….

So, if you’ve a few spare hours every month, and want to do something different and worthwhile, then give the station a call on 01736-871351, to arrange a visit and see if you would like to give it a try.


Currently almost 60 NCI stations are operational and manned by over 2600 volunteer watchkeepers around the British Isles from Fleetwood in the North West, through Wales, to the South and East of England to Filey in North Yorkshire. 

NCI watchkeepers provide the eyes and ears along the coast, monitoring radio channels and providing a listening watch in poor visibility. They are trained to deal with emergencies offering a variety of skills and experience, and full training by the NCI ensures that high standards are met.








The words National Coastwatch Institution and Eyes Along the Coast and the NCI logos are Registered Trademarks of NCI.


General enquiries
0300 111 1202

Media enquiries
0845 460 1202

[email protected]

17 Dean Street, Liskeard,
Cornwall, PL14 4AB