Coastguard watch officer

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Tim Bowman is a watch officer for HM Coastguard, based at a maritime rescue co-ordination centre. He is part of a team responsible for organising all coastal search and rescue operations within the area.

What tasks do you do in a normal day?

There are certain jobs and procedures that are common to most days but these routine jobs can be disrupted if an emergency arises. For instance, I may be broadcasting a routine weather forecast to a fishing boat when a call comes in from the captain of a vessel on the other side of the world, requesting medical assistance for an injured crewman.

What about routine jobs?

We are constantly monitoring equipment, updating logs and providing information to the public on weather forecasts, for instance.

What level did you join the Coastguard Service?

I started as a coastguard watch assistant, which allows people without specific maritime experience into the job. After passing my qualifying exams, I spent a few years gaining experience and knowledge, before applying for, and gaining promotion to, my present position as a watch officer.

How important is it to have previous maritime experience?

Watch officers must have extensive maritime experience, either six years of seagoing experience or three years in a practical search and rescue capacity.

What kind of training did you receive?

After joining, I began a one-year training schedule, which consisted of a mix of formal classroom-based learning, self study and actual on-the-job training – which was by far the most challenging aspect! It was also the best part, as I was doing the job under supervision and learning all the time.

What communication equipment do you use?

I use long- and short-range radios as well as ultra-modern satellite communications equipment. Rescue centres are high tech places – computers and maritime specific software and programs feature very heavily. Computerised data allows me to see and control all the resources I might need such as lifeboats, helicopters or towing vessels. We also use good old-fashioned paper maps, charts and pencils!

How do you co-ordinate a search and rescue operation?

It depends on the incident. For instance, I may receive a distress call on the radio from a sailor whose boat was sinking. My first action will be to decide how many lifeboats to send out and whether they would need helicopter support. Also, it might involve co-ordinating our efforts with those from other emergency services such as the police and ambulance. Not all incidents take place at sea – we often send out search and rescue teams to locate people who have had accidents on the shoreline, such as falling down a cliff.

What hours do you work?

I work a 12-hour shift for four days, which consists of two during the day and two at night. I then get four days off before starting the cycle again.

What do you like best about your job as a coastguard watch officer?

The sheer variety of the work is a big plus. But also, once in a while, I know that I really can be responsible for saving someone's life.

What are your longer term career goals?

I still have a lot to learn in my current role. Long-term, I would like to become a watch or sector manager, responsible for supervising and training coastguard rescue teams.

Tim's route to becoming a coastguard watch officer

  • S Grades (GCSEs in England and Wales)
  • Highers (A Levels in England and Wales)
  • Coastguard training

Tim's tips

  • Develop an interest in a nautical subject such as map reading, sailing and surfing. The experience will prepare you for a more formal approach to studying maritime affairs.
  • Be prepared to work as a team player. A life could depend on how well you and your team work together.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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