About the Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) is Irelands 4th Blue Light service and provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a varety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

In partnership with the other Divisions of the Irish Maritime Administration the purpose of the IRCG is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) has responsibility for our national system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways. It is responsible for response to, and coordination of, maritime accidents which require Search & Rescue and Counter Pollution & Ship Casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are coordinated by other bodies within the Irish government.

Winchman in the water


We are often asked why we use Coast Guard as two words; Here's why:

1809 Water Guard formed. Also known as the Preventative Boat Service. The Waterguard was the sea-based arm of revenue enforcement who patrolled the shore. The Waterguard was initially based in Watch Houses around the coast, and boat crews patrolled the coast each night. It was under Navy control from 1816 to 1822, when it and riding officers were amalgamated under the control of the Board of Customs.

15 Jan 1822 Coast Guard first established by Board of Customs.

The Waterguard was absorbed into the Customs and Excise department in 1909.

Oct 1856 Control of the Coast Guard passed to the Admiralty (Navy).

1921 after Independence we changed over in Ireland to the Coast Life Saving Service. In the UK, the name "Waterguard" became misleading after 1923, when their domain was extended to the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State.

1923 UK Coast Guard placed under the Board of Trade, specifically dedicated to marine safety and life saving

1925 UK Coastguard Act passed, formally defining its powers and responsibilities. Inadvertently believed to have used the single word version for the first time. Affected all crown dominions such as Canada, New Zealand etc. The duties formerly performed by Her Majestys Coastguard (HMCG) were taken over by Saorstát Eireann (Irish Free State) and the Coast Lifesaving Service (CLSS) was established as late as 1923. It was later renamed the Coast and Cliff Rescue Service. In 1991 the service was renamed the Irish Marine Emergency Service, better known as IMES. In the year 2000, it became the Irish Coast Guard, which better denotes the service provided.

As we were not using the word Coast Guard it didn't affect us here in Ireland so that we re-established the Coast Guard in 2000, it was re-established as the original two word variant. 

The requirement for Department of Transport to maintain an effective Search and Rescue (SAR) organisation derives from;

  • The Irish Government's acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • The International Conventions of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974
  • The International Convention on Maritime search and Rescue (SAR) 1979
  • The Salvage and Wreck Act, Section 7 requires the national provision of Marine Emergency Management services to save shipwrecked persons, the vessel, the cargo and the apparel of the vessel.
  • By Government decision the Coast Guard is responsible for the aforementioned initiation and co-ordination of civil maritime Search and Rescue within the Irish Search and Rescue Region (IRSRR).

The Roles of Rescue of the Irish Coast Guard

The main roles of the Irish Coast Guard are to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction. Each year the IRCG co-ordinates the response to thousands of incidents at sea and on the cliffs and beaches of Ireland. It does this through its Marine Rescue Centres which are currently based in Dublin, Malin Head (Co Donegal) and Valentia Island (Co Kerry). Each centre is responsible for search and rescue (SAR) operations.

The Dublin national Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) provides marine search and rescue response services and coordinates the response to marine casualty incidents within the Irish Pollution Responsibility Zone/EEZ. MRSC Valentia and MRSC Malin Head are 24/7 Centres coordinating SAR response in their areas of responsibility. SAR Operations are supported by a decision support systems including SarMap, OilMap and ChemMap, which provides incident management and recording; resource selection and alerting; logging and databases, predict the movement of drifting targets at sea; automated weather inputs and production of search areas and optimum search coverage plans for search units.

The Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Ballycotton and Clifden. MRSC Malin Head is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle. MRCC Dublin is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Carlingford Lough and Ballycotton. Each MRCC/MRSC broadcasts Maritime Safety Information (MSI) on VHF and, in some cases, MF radio in accordance with published schedules. MSI includes navigational warnings as issued by the UK Hydrographic Office; Gale Warnings, Shipping Forecasts, Local Inshore Forecasts, Strong Wind Warnings and Small Craft Warnings as issued by the Irish Meteorological Office. This communications watch includes a distress watch on the international VHF distress frequency.

The IRCG, within its area of responsibility and accountability, administers a search and rescue, medical advice and evacuation system which ensures efficient and effective mobilisation, availability and appropriate use of declared facilities and facilities of opportunity. Assistance is provided to any persons in distress or who appear to be in distress regardless of their nationality or status or the circumstances in which those persons are found.

Within each Coast Guard Division there are many declared SAR resources such as:

  • Coast Guard Volunteer Coastal Units (CG CUs) capable of search, cliff and coastal rescue
  • Lifeboats provided by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Community Rescue Boats Ireland
  • Four SAR helicopters under contract to the IRCG (Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo)

At the Marine Rescue Centres, there is a 24-hour watch in order to react to emergency calls as quickly as possible. It is necessary for the IRCG to maintain thorough information on the location of ships and boats. Many ships are equipped with automatic location equipment, which transmits information about their location at regular intervals, so that their whereabouts can be monitored on the screen at the Marine Rescue Centres.

Provision of Medical Link Calls

The Coast Guard also provides Ireland's 24/7 Radio Medical Advice Service whereby vessels making calls on either VHF or MF radio, or telephone call requiring medical advice or assistance are provided with a radio/telephone link to Medico Cork in Cork University Hospital or to foreign Medico Centres. If medical advice requires the casualty to be taken off the vessel then the MRCC/MRSC providing the link will arrange for the casualty to be transported from the vessel to a hospital. IRCG Responders or aircrew dealing with patients in remote locations can be linked live through a Coordination centre on marine communications to Medico Cork or any foreign Medico Centre.

Coast Guard Helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo. The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

Expected performance criteria:

  • Achieve launch time of 15 minutes on urgent calls from normal ground readiness between 0730 - 2100
  • Achieve a launch time of 45 minutes on urgent calls from normal ground readiness between 2100 - 0730

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties). They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major emergencies inland, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorized by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations. The Coast Guard can contract specialised aerial surveillance or dispersant spraying aircraft at short notice internationally.

Helicopter tasks include:

  • The location of marine and aviation incident survivors by homing onto aviation and marine radio distress transmissions, by guidance from other agencies, and by visual, electronic and electro-optical search. IRCG Helis are fitted with AIS, nightsun, FLIR (forward looking infa red) and video recording equipment
  • The evacuation of survivors from the sea, and medical evacuees from all manner of vessels including high-sided passenger and cargo vessels and from the islands
  • The evacuation of personnel from ships facing potential disaster
  • Search and/or rescue in mountainous areas, caves, rivers, lakes and waterways
  • The transport of offshore fire-fighters (MFRTs) or ambulance teams (MARTs) and their equipment following a request for assistance
  • The provision of safety cover for other SAR units including other Marine Emergency Service helicopters
  • Pollution, casualty and salvage inspections and surveillance, and the transport of associated personnel and equipment
  • Inter-agency training in all relevant aspects of the primary role
  • Onshore emergency medical service, including evacuation and air ambulance tasks
  • Relief of the islands and of areas suffering from flooding or deep snow.

The secondary roles of the helicopter are:

  • The exercise of the primary search, rescue and evacuation roles in adjacent Search and Rescue regions
  • Assistance to onshore emergency services, such as in the evacuation of high-rise buildings
  • Public safety awareness displays and demonstrations
  • Providing helicopter expertise for seminars and training courses

IRCG provide aeronautical assets for Search and Rescue in the Mountains of Ireland. Request for IRCG assets are made to the Marine Rescue Centres. Requests are accepted from An Garda Síochána and nominated persons in Mountain Rescue Teams.

Voluntary Services & Training

Voluntary Services & Training Division is responsible for the management of all IRCG Coastal Units, Community Rescue Boats Ireland, other voluntary SAR organisations, mountain and cave rescue, logistics (stores, equipment, buildings, vehicles, etc.) and training of IRCG full-time and voluntary staff.

The Coast Guard volunteer network is strategically positioned around the coastline of Ireland and on the inland waterways. There are 55 Units with 100 volunteers available 24/7/365. Teams are called out by the Coast Guards national digital paging system operated from MRCC/SCs and should not be contacted locally except after initial contact is made with the Coordination Centre.

Expected response criteria:

  • Achieve a 90% response time of 10 minutes for an initial response team departing the Stationhouse from notification by an MRCC/MRSC during daylight and 20 minutes at night
  • Achieve a 90% response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by an MRCC/SC during daylight and 75 minutes at night subject to geographical limitations. Volunteer Units are all equipped with search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles (Quads), first aid equipment and training, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate PPE. Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a variety of maritime skills. Certain Units are also equipped and trained as cliff rescue units and can either respond locally or be air lifted to an incident. Other teams strategically located along the coast are equipped with either rescue, patrol or transport inshore craft in the 4 9m range. An Officer in Charge (3 stripes) assisted by a Deputy Officer in Charge (2 stripes) manages each unit.

Doolin RIB

Protection Against Pollution

The Irish Coast Guard has a very important role with regard to the protection of the ocean and the coasts against pollution. In the case of an imminent pollution accident, the IRCG has the right to intervene in ships operations, and the organisation bears the responsibility to do everything within its power to prevent pollution accidents.

IRCG is responsible for developing and coordinating an effective regime for:

  • Preparedness and response to spills of oil and other hazardous substances within the Irish Pollution Responsibility Zone
  • Providing an effective response to marine casualty incidents
  • Monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations.

IRCG provides and maintains 24 hour marine pollution notification at the three Marine Rescue Centres; develops approved pollution response plans in all harbours and ports, oil handling facilities, marine local authorities and offshore installations; provides and maintains a national stockpile of pollution equipment; and co-ordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans on an ongoing basis. IRCG is the representative of the wider public interest in the protection of the environment following a marine incident where there is pollution or a significant threat of pollution. IRCGs customers are the commercial and recreational users of the sea, Harbour and Local Authorities whose livelihood, property and amenities might be damaged in a pollution incident and/or their lives put at risk.


Engineering & Logistics

Engineering & Logistics Division is responsible for the communications infrastructure to support the Marine Rescue Centres. They maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites situated around the Irish coastline and a national digital paging system. In addition there are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. These resources are wireline connected through to the manned control centres at Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia. Responsibility is also extended to the communications equipment in use by the Coast Guard volunteers around the Irish coastline.


In an emergency dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard