UK coast guard deploying drones on coastal search and rescue missions

drone coast guard search rescue

A year after first being used in trials, drones will be deployed to accompany the UK coast guard air and sea vessels during search and rescue missions. The first craft flown in will be a Schiebel S-100 uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), stationed at a helicopter base in the northern Wales coastal town of Caernarfon.

Tech-toting drones to increase speed, effectiveness of UK coast guard search and rescue operations

During the initial phase of testing last year, drones were deployed in tandem with UK coast guard helicopters and surveillance aircraft used for search and rescue missions out of Caernarfon. Bristow Helicopters, which provides operating services for much of the base’s aerial fleet, took a total of two years to study, experiment, and prepare the integration of UAVs as accompanying support on emergency missions.

The Schiebel S-100 is a remotely flown safety overwatch and monitoring craft. It has been developed to help meet objectives of the UK’s revamped, tech-enhanced search and rescue services and assets program – the so-called UKSAR2G, due to begin operation in 2024. 

Responder missions in Wales have been on the uptick amid rising tourism and other activity in the coastal area that have resulted in people ending up in difficult situations. That has caused an increase and diversification in coast guard interventions, involving sea and land operations as well as recovering people stranded on cliffs or on inhospitable coastal terrain. 

Inclusion of drones in those missions, officials say, will accentuate the speed and performance of UK coast guard search and rescue missions. 

“Summers on the coast are always busy and we will continue to use technology which could potentially save lives,” says Claire Hughes, director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. “When every minute saved can prove the difference between life and death, technology like this has a vital role to play in those moments alongside our helicopters, coastguard rescue teams and our partners.”  

Bristow Helicopters’ director of UK search and rescue, Neil Ebberson, agrees the enhanced technology and maneuverability of uncrewed drones will considerably strengthen the work of traditional craft with pilots aboard.

“Participating in full-scale training exercises and integrating fully into rescue missions alongside HM Coastguard’s manned aircraft, vessels and vehicles will further prove the capability of the drone and extend the reach of the air rescue service,” he said. “This builds on the successful demonstration of operational capability when we delivered overwatch missions for HM Coastguard over the beaches and mountains of Wales during summer 2020… Our ability to successfully integrate the technology into the existing service is delivering on our commitment to operational excellence.”

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