Coastwatch – keeping us safe on the water

Coastwatch is a voluntary organisation that seeks to provide visual coverage of activity on the water ti identify accidents and dangerous situations. . There are now 49 manned stations along the UK coast, and the number is growing. Four stations are in the Solent at the Needles, Calshot, Lee on Solent and Gosport.

Relationship to HM Coastguard

Major Search and Rescue operations are coordinated by HM Coastguard, part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. They have embraced modern technology as it has developed, and are currently undergoing a major reorganisation. As a result, the Coastguard capability of direct visual observation is being further reduced. The creation of Coastwatch was a response to this trend. Volunteers now provide a resource to HM Coastguard. This is a relationship that is gradually evolving in a pattern similar to the relationship between Coastguard and the volunteer RNLI lifeboat service.

Calshot Coastwatch

We visited Calshot Tower. This abandoned Coastguard viewpoint was recommissioned as a Coastwatch Station in 2010. It is well equipped, largely as a result of donations from corporate sponsors such as John Lewis. The following capabilities are offered

  • Radar Watch
  • AIS Watch:
  • DSC Watch:
  • Radio: Listening watch on channels: 12 16 67
  • Radio: Channel 00: Listening watch and ready to transmit as authorised by Coastguard

This station has Declared Facility Status, which means that it has been inspected by the Coastguard and accepted as part of the national search and rescue resources. That status requires considerable training and dedication from the volunteers. Calshot station reports to MRCC Solent. It operates during daylight hours 7 days a week, every day except Christmas Day.

Up the Tower

CWSpitheadThe tower is accessed by a steep iron staircase climbing to 100 feet above sea level. The view is excellent, with visibility out to the Palmerston Forts beyond Spithead ; down the West Solent to Newtown, and up Southampton Water to Netley.


Three watch officers monitor the commercial traffic and are on the lookout for incidents. They can be alerted by listening to VHF radio, telephone, or just visual sighting through powerful binoculars. Immediately, Coastguard can be alerted and the incident will continue to be observed. Staff are trained to plot the position of an incident from bearings, and estimate drift – not an easy task in the strong Solent tides. So far, Coastwatch do not have allocated VHF channels and may only transmit when authorised to do so by Coastguard. It is a bit of a frustration. With a major activity centre at Calshot, and the leisure traffic coming down Southampton Water and the Hamble, all water users in the area can feel safer because of the Calshot Coastwatch, working closely with H M Coastguard and the adjacent RNLI lifeboat.


For more details, visit the Coastwatch website at Coming soon: We hope to find out how the new Coastguard will work in the Solent, and how the relationship with Coastwatch is expected to evolve.