Australian Coastwatch

Operator Profile


Narrative Summary

The Australian Bureau of Customs began using aircraft ad-hoc in the 1970s to monitor Vietnamese boat people. In 1980 a formal contract was placed with HC Sleigh Aviation for a full-time coastal surveillance service along the eastern part of the north coast of Australia. In 1982 the Bureau of Customs became the Australian Customs Service. In 1983 Skywest Aviation brought HC Sleigh Aviation, and used its experience to win a coastal surveillance contract for the north western coast.

During 1987 Amann Aviation won a new contract to cover the whole of the north coast from 1989, replacing Skywest Aviation. Unfortunately, Amann was unable to obtain the necessary number of aircraft and was deemed to have defaulted on the contract. Skywest’s contract was extended to maintain the service. In August 1988 the land, sea and air parts of the Australian Coastal Surveillance Organisation were renamed Coastwatch and transferred to the Australian Customs Service. The Coastwatch organisation now assumed the role of co-ordinating all civil maritime surveillance activities on behalf of the Government. In 1990 helicopters were introduced to fill a perceived gap in the service.

In 1994 National Jet Systems subsidiary Surveillance Australia was awarded a new contract to provide all the fixed-wing airborne surveillance capability for Coastwatch. In 2005 Surveillance Australia’s contract was renewed for a further 15 years.

Key Dates

1980    Customs places coastal surveillance contract with HC Sleigh Aviation for north east coast.
1983    Skywest Aviation buys HC Sleigh Aviation.
1983    Customs place coastal surveillance contract with Skywest Aviation for north west coast.
1987    Amann Aviation wins new Customs contract for entire north coast.
1987    Amann Aviation defaults on contract, which is then placed with Skywest.
August 1988    Coastal Surveillance rebranded as Coastwatch.
1990    Torres Strait helicopter introduced.
1994    National Jet Systems subsidiary Surveillance Australia wins new fixed-wing contract.
2005    Surveillance Australia wins a further 15 year contract.

Current Status

The aircraft of Coastwatch are fully operational.

Future Plans

No information available.


Special Markings

Coastwatch aircraft originally operated in a white overall colour scheme with green-white-yellow fuselage and fin stripes. The service titles COASTWATCH were carried on the rear fuselage. Since about 1994 a switch was made to an overall white scheme with a red fuselage stripe and an all-red fin and rudder. The service titles CUSTOMS are now carried.

Aircraft Serial Numbers

Coastwatch aircraft carry standard Australian civil aircraft registrations, e.g. DHC-8 VH-ZZA.

Unit/Base Codes

Coding system not used.


Aircraft Designations

None – Manufacturers designations used

Current Aircraft Inventory

Aircraft Type Total Del’d Total Active Still on Order Role
Bell 206L LongRanger IV 1 1 0 Coastal Patrol
Bell 412EP 1 1 0 Coastal Patrol
De Havilland Canada DHC-8 srs 200 7 7 0 Coastal Patrol
De Havilland Canada DHC-8 srs 200 4 4 0 Coastal Patrol
Eurocopter EC145 1 1 0 Coastal Patrol

All-Time Aircraft Used List

Aircraft Type Quantity Service Entry Out of Service Origin
Aero Commander 500 Shrike Commander 1 ? ? contractor
Aerospatiale AS350B3 Squirrel 1 2007 ? contractor
Bell 206L LongRanger IV 1 ? current contractor
Bell 412EP 1 ? current contractor
Britten-Norman BN-2B Islander 6 1995 1996 contractor
Cessna F406 Caravan II 3 1995 1996 contractor
De Havilland Canada DHC-8 srs 200 7 1994 current contractor
De Havilland Canada DHC-8 srs 300 4 1994 current contractor
Eurocopter EC145 1 2010 current contractor
GAF N22 Nomad 3 ? ? contractor
IAI 1124N Westwind SeaScan 3 ? ? contractor

Aircraft NOT Used

No false reports known.

Aircraft Losses and Incidents

None known.


Main Headquarters

Coastwatch, Border Protection Command, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

Organisational Structure

There are no sub-units to the Coastwatch service. Aircraft are allocated to various bases as detailed below.

Current Unit Assignments

Table of Current Unit Assignments

Historical Unit Assignments

To be added.

All-Time Flying Units List

Not applicable.

Air Bases

Current Air Bases

Coastwatch aircraft operate from Cairns and Horn Island (both QLD), Darwin (NT) and Broome (WA).

All-Time Air Bases Used List

To be added.

More Information


To be added


To be added


wikipedia: Coastwatch
wikipedia: Surveillance Australia
cobham catches coastwatch contract!period-1970s

Any photographs illustrating this operator would be welcome.