Use of Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) were responsible for directly saving the lives of five mariners in 2016, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard demonstration at Leenane, Co Galway                                                         Photo Gillian Mills

One of these incidents related to a Coast Guard helicopter rescue of a lone yachtsman, whose yacht had overturned 20 miles south of Co Wexford. A second related to the location and recovery of three fishermen whose vessel had sunk. The third incident concerned the location of a single crewed yacht that had become dismasted off the SW Coast and was subsequently towed to Castletownbere, Co Cork.

Overall, the Coast Guard coordinated 2,500 incidents through its three Marine Rescue Coordination Centres based in Valentia, Malin and its Dublin Head Quarters. A total of 405 people who were rescued or assisted were categorised as ‘lives saved’ on the basis that the intervention precluded loss of life or severe risk of loss of life.

The Coast Guard noted an increase in kayaking and surfing-related incidents – 45 individual incidents requiring a response being recorded.

Coast Guard units and helicopters assisted with the recovery of 45 bodies as a result of drowning and other missing person searches.

The tragic loss of volunteer Caitríona Lucas cast a dark shadow over all Coast Guard activities. Caitríona, who was a member of the Doolin unit, was participating in a search operation off Kilkee on September 12th when she lost her life. She was the first volunteer member of the Coast Guard to lose her life on operational service.

The 43 nationwide Coast Guard volunteer units responded to 1042 incidents. The units provide; search, rescue boat and cliff rescue services, as well as local community support during inclement weather or other emergencies.

These Units also work closely with Coast Guard helicopters in supervising helicopter landing sites used to provide aeromedical support to the HSE.

Operating out of bases in Sligo, Shannon, Waterford and Dublin, the Coast Guard helicopter service provides day and night search and rescue (SAR) services throughout the year. Coast Guard helicopters also provide day and night aeromedical support to the HSE, augmenting the day-time service provided by the Air Corps.

As part of this service, Coast Guard helicopters conducted 61 patient transfers from offshore islands. Separately, the Coast Guard transferred nine patients to the UK for emergency procedures, mainly relating to organ transplant.

Coast Guard helicopters assisted the HSE/National Ambulance Service on 258 occasions in 2016. They conducted 20 long range offshore missions, involving casualty evacuations at ranges exceeding 100 miles from land. The longest mission was conducted 150 miles west of Loop Head, Co Clare on March 7th, when an injured crewman was airlifted for transfer to hospital.

Overall, Coast Guard helicopters completed 886 missions that included 36 casualty evacuations at sea. Coast Guard helicopters flew 23 suspected pollution investigation missions – arising from satellite-based reports.

Coast Guard volunteer units – including, Dingle, Castletownbere, Killybegs and Westport -participated in eighty 86 mountain rescue missions in conjunction with Mountain Rescue Ireland, of which 77 involved casualty recovery by Coast Guard helicopters.

RNLI lifeboats were requested to launch on 837 occasions (marginally higher than 2015). The Coast Guard enjoys a close and valued relationship with the RNLI and acknowledges the responsibility undertaken by the RNLI, and commends the dedication and commitment of the RNLI and its volunteers.

During 2016, the Coast Guard completed a MOU (memo of understanding) with CFT (Comhairle Fo Thuinn – Irish Underwater Council) byproviding qualified divers at search operations.

The Naval Service and Gardaí also provided diving teams. In all, 21 specific diving-related searches were conducted by Gardaí, Navy and CFT dive teams.

The Coast Guard also agreed a MOU with Dublin Fire Brigade to coordinate Search and Rescue operations on the lower River Liffey.

An unfortunate side effect to EPIRBs and PLBs is the number of false activations arising from alerts being raised by equipment that the owner’s had assumed were properly disposed of when no longer in use. In a majority of cases, owners can be quickly tracked, enabling the alert to be cancelled but such errors can result in unnecessary activation of response units.

In total, the Coast Guard received 89 EPIRB/PLB alerts that were subsequently classified as being false or in error, many of which related to equipment no longer in use.

The Coast Guard is appealing to all EPIRB users to deregister and properly dispose of disused EPIRBs.

In relation to drownings, adult males continue to be the most vulnerable group. Preliminary casualty assessment shows that well over 50% of people requiring assistance were not wearing lifejackets. The Coast Guard attaches great importance to prevention as the primary strategy in reducing loss of life at sea and its most recent campaign focused on the theme of ‘No Lifejacket – No Excuse’.

In 2017 a new departure will see the launch of a safety message based on the importance of retaining the ability to stay afloat coupled with a capacity to raise the alarm utilising the theme ‘Stay Afloat – Stay in Contact’.

During the year, Coast Guard units delivered a primary school water-safety programme where the importance of wearing lifejackets/ Personal Flotation Devices was emphasised. This strategy was backed up by patrols conducted by Coast Guard units where compliance with lifejacket/PFD requirements were checked and monitored.

The Coast Guard congratulated BIM on their safety initiative aimed at encouraging the fishing community to wear lifejackets at all times. The leisure community were also congratulated for their very high levels of compliance with basic water safety.

The Coast Guard reminds the public to raise the alarm if they think they are in trouble, as it might be too late when you are in trouble.

The core message from the Coast Guard is:

‘If you see anybody in trouble at sea, on the coast or on cliffs call 112 and ask for the Coast Guard.

Acting Coast Guard Director Eugene Clonan thanked all the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the many missions that were undertaken in 2016.

“I would also like to thank the Naval Service; Air Corps; RNLI; Community Rescue Boats; Gardaí; Mountain Rescue teams; the National Ambulance Service; Fire Service; Irish Under Water Council and other statutory and voluntary services who we have worked together so well throughout the year,” commented Acting Coast Guard Director, Eugene Clonan.

“I want to particularly recognise the many volunteers who responded with such professionalism, whether that be in the Coast Guard; RNLI; Community Rescue Boats (CRBI) or Mountain Rescue teams. Sadly – at this time we remember the family of Caitríona Lucas and recall Caitríona as a person who so embodied the volunteer ethos.”