H.M. Coastguard

Operator Profile

Key Facts

Current Title:
H.M. Coastguard
English Title:
H.M. Coastguard
First Established:
ICAO Code:
United Kingdom

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Narrative Summary

Her Majesty’s Coastguard or, more commonly, H.M. Coastguard, is a division of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT). It’s main duties are coastal surveillance and pollution patrol. Aircraft are supplied and operated by civilian contractors.

The Coast Guard was first established in 1822, primarily as an anti-smuggling force. It also had the secondary duties of safeguarding shipwrecks and life saving. The growing influence of the Royal Navy within the service resulted in the Coast Guard being placed under the control of the Admiralty in October 1856. Thereafter, the service also performed a formal role as a naval reserve force. By the early 1900s the anti-smuggling role had greatly diminished and the Admiralty was proposing to drastically scale-down the Coast Guard. This was opposed by the public, the Board of Customs and the Board of Trade, who championed the need for life saving and revenue protection.

After a major inquiry, in 1923 the service was placed under the Board of Trade and specifically tasked with marine safety and life saving. This was confirmed by the Coastguard Act of 1925, which formally defined it’s roles and powers. This act also introduced the ‘Coastguard’ title as one word instead of two words.

After using military helicopters for urgent marine rescues since the 1940s, in 1983 the first dedicated Coastguard helicopters were obtained from a private contractor. These helicopters operated off the coast of Scotland, filling the gap where the normal military Search and Rescue (SAR) service seen in the rest of the UK was not available. This service became known as the UK Gap SAR service. Fixed-wing aircraft were also contracted for pollution control work. In 1994 the Coastguard service became a Government Agency and in 1998 the Marine Safety Agency was combined with the Coastguard Agency to form the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The success of the Scottish operations lead to similar contractor-operated SAR services at two locations on the south coast of England.

After awarding a new SAR helicopter contract to CHC Scotia on 13 December 2005, the Coastguard took delivery of four new Sikorsky S-92 and three new AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters to replace the ageing Sikorsky S-61Ns then in service at the four contractor-operated SAR bases. The five year contract ran from 1 July 2007 until 2012. Plans were announced in May 2006 for the merger of UK military and civil SAR helicopter provision from 2012, under a single civilian contractor. This target date was later moved to 2015. In 2012 Bristow Helicopters won the UK Gap SAR contract and took over operations from CHC in 2013. In March 2013 Bristow also won the new UK-wide SAR contract, committing to operate two helicopters each from 10 bases around the British Isles from 2015 onwards. The bases were to be operational 24 hours a day. Seven of these bases were new to contractor SAR operations and required significant infrastructure investment before operational flying could commence. Bristows ordered 11 Sikorsky S-92s and 11 AgustaWestland AW189s to provide this service. Unfortunately, the bad weather certification of the AW189 was delayed, and some AW139s and additional S-92s had to be drafted in, to provide temporary cover until full certification was received. Validation of the full-ice protection system on the AW189 was achieved in June 2016, allowing entry into service to commence. The complete SAR service is expected to be fully operational by mid 2017.

Key Dates

15 Jan 1822    Coast Guard first established by Board of Customs
Oct 1856    Control of the Coast Guard passed to the Admiralty
1923    Coast Guard placed under the Board of Trade, specifically dedicated to marine safety and life saving
1925    Coastguard Act passed, formally defining it’s powers and responsibilities
1983    First dedicated Coastguard helicopters obtained
April 1994    Coastguard Agency formed
1 April 1998    Marine Safety Agency and Coastguard Agency combined to form Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
13 Dec 2005    CHC Scotia wins UK Gap SAR contract
2012    Bristow wins UK Gap SAR contract
Mar 2013    Bristow wins 10-year UK SAR contract to replace all military SAR services
29 June 2016    AW189 fully certificated for SAR operations

Current Status

Bristow has commenced operations at all ten SAR locations required under the 2013 UK SAR contract. The full service will be available in mid-2017.

Future Plans

Take delivery of 11 AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters by mid 2017, to replace the AW139s and S-92s used pending full AW189 certification.


Special Markings

No national markings are carried. The service titles HM COASTGUARD or COASTGUARD RESCUE are displayed on the fuselage sides of aircraft and helicopters. Some anti-pollution spraying aircraft carry POLLUTION CONTROL titles.

Aircraft Serial Numbers

All aircraft and helicopters carry civil registrations. Recent helicopters have been assigned registrations in the G-HMCx sequence.

Unit/Base Codes

Unit coding system not used.


Aircraft Designations

None – Manufacturers designation used.

Current Aircraft Inventory

Click on aircraft type for more details
Aircraft Type Total
Still On
AgustaWestland AW139330Search and Rescue
AgustaWestland AW1891147Search and Rescue
Cessna 404 Titan II220Pollution Control
Cessna F406 Caravan II220Pollution Control
Lockheed L-188 Electra220Pollution Control
Sikorsky S-9218110Search and Rescue

All-Time Aircraft Used List

All-Time Table of Aircraft Used

Aircraft NOT Used

No false reports known.


Main Headquarters

MCA Headquarters, Bay 3/25 Spring Place, 105 Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1EG.

Organisational Structure

The aviation units of the MCA come under of the Directorate of Operations (DO), which is split into a number of Branches looking after Counter Pollution, Search and Rescue, Ship Inspection and Law Enforcement. Coastguard SAR helicopters are currently based at eleven different locations in the UK, but Portland will close in 2017. Fixed-wing pollution control aircraft are based either at the contractors home airfield, or at Inverness in Scotland.

Current Unit Assignments

Table of Current Unit Assignments

Historical Unit Assignments

Table of Unit Assignments for 2000
Table of Unit Assignments for 2007

All-Time Flying Units List

Dover Surveillance
Pollution Control North
Pollution Control South
Counter Pollution Unit
St Athan

Air Bases

Current Air Bases

See current unit allocation table.

All-Time Air Bases Used List

As for current bases plus Southend (Essex) and Manston (Kent).

More Information


None known.


To be added.


Maritime & Coastguard Agency

wikipedia: Her Majesty’s Coastguard

Bristow Helicopters: UK SAR

RVL Group

S-61 in HM Coastguard

helis.com: hm coastguard

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