The Coastguard Rescue Service fills a gap that exists between what the RNLI does and what the Fire and Rescue Service does. If there is an emergency below the high water mark it is a CRS matter. You never know what you are going to get when the alarm sounds: a search for a missing person, recovering a dead body, clearing an emergency landing ground for a rescue helicopter, assisting RNLI with boats in difficulties, extracting a horse and foal from quicksand.
It is not for everybody. It takes a special kind of person to get a kick out of being hauled out of bed in the small hours and in all weathers to deal with sometimes tricky problems. There are compensations: I shall always treasure the gleam in young eyes when, at PR gigs, I would explain, “Coastguards are the good guys. We save lives and rescue people. The best thing about us is that you get your clothes dirty, come home covered in mud and there is nothing your mother can say about it.”
Answering the call
On 6 May 2008, at eight bells in the First Dog Watch, I reported for duty with the Coastguard. The unit has a 4×4 pickup truck with a trailer for extra gear. The idea is to get by road as near as possible to the incident. Before very long I will be in the wagon with sirens and flashers going, looking for trouble. I feel sorry for junkies. They will never know what it is like to get high on adrenalin.
Twenty people responded to the recruitment notice but only three of us were summoned. Only two reported for duty. Fainthearted are not wanted. One thing that impressed me was the “can do” attitude of the unit. They know at least one way round any obstacle.
We have gone from winter to summer with not much spring in between. Yacht club types are out in boats they or daddy can afford but their seamanship skills are nowhere near the required standard. I will be issued a radio pager and a two way radio. That is a modern application of the ancient truth that a duty officer can run but cannot hide.
17 May 2008
At seven bells in the Dog Watch I reported for my first training session. Coastguards are excellent people. They do not take themselves seriously but they take what they do seriously. If you are heading for a dodgy rendezvous, the last thing you want with you is a glory-hunting idiot who cannot be trusted.
They have issued me with a hi-viz jacket. This is for the benefit of Astronauts in space who might take an interested in our activities. We trained on pyrotechnics which is essentially about flares and smoke devices. Flares give warning and smoke devices allow pilots of rescue helicopters to gauge wind and speed direction. I have a lot to learn but that keeps the brain working.
The hi-viz bears the Red Ensign. I have no objection to the “Red Duster”. It is just that the Coastguard is a government maritime agency and should fly the Blue Ensign.
My Timberland boots have arrived. Imagine a pair of trainers with steel toe caps and built up ankle support. They are so well made that they do not require breaking in. I am rostered for duty from next week onwards. I like these chaps but they need a focused organisational genius to tidy things up. The man and the hour have arrived.
More coastguard adventures to follow.