Stephen is a Watch Officer with the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre. He tells us about his career path to becoming a Watch Officer and the opportunities the role has provided him, including pursuing a Masters Degree.
What was your career path to becoming a Watch Officer?
I graduated from the National Maritime College of Ireland having studied a Bachelor’s of Science in Nautical Science and attaining my STCW certificates of competency. I spent several years on commercial ships in the merchant navy sailing worldwide until I joined the Irish Coast Guard. Upon entry, I underwent a lengthy understudy and on-the-job training before qualifying as a Radio Watch Officer and later duty Search Mission Coordinator. I then progressed onto the rank of Station Officer in a supervisory capacity.
What does your role entail as a Watch Officer?
As a Radio Watch Officer at Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), we ensure that continued effective listening watch on marine distress frequencies is maintained. We produce and broadcast Radio Navigational Warnings to our customer requests based on identified navigational hazards for Maritime Safety Information broadcasts across the island of Ireland. We task and coordinate search and rescue missions with our declared Search and Rescue (SAR) assets such as the Sikorsky S92A helicopters, our land-based Coast Guard volunteer Units and Search and Rescue vessels such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute lifeboats. We liaise with other Primary Response Agencies and Principal Emergency Services of the state, as well as the Defence Forces and other international rescue agencies for joint rescue coordination. We provide H24 international maritime SAR point of contact information services for Irish registered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, Emergency Location Transponders and Personal Location Beacon Databases. As a designated Emergency Service, the rescue coordination centres process calls that come from members of the public through the 112/999 emergency call system. At MRCC Dublin we are the primary response coordinator for maritime pollution incidents within the Irish Economic Exclusion Zone, supporting local authorities and other competent authorities in counter-pollution measures.
What opportunities has the role provided you with?
In addition to the day to day challenges of conducting Search and Rescue (SAR) or counter pollution missions, the role has also allowed me to network with colleagues across the European Union in the SAR community, such as the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO). This has resulted in me being recognized as a technical expert in maritime incidents and deployable to emergency scenes. The role has also provided me with the opportunity and support to study for a distance learning Master’s degree.
What were your reasons for applying for a Watch Officer role?
When a role as Watch Officer was advertised I happened to be at home on leave so it was primarily being in the right place at the right time. At that time, I was looking for a new and different challenge. Working closer to home has its advantages and I had always admired the work of the Irish Coast Guard from a professional seafarer’s perspective, knowing that there is always assistance readily available should the need ever arise.
As a Watch Officer, you may be the first point of contact in an emergency at sea. Can you tell us how your role plays a part in a rescue mission and what impact it can have on Irish society?
In response to any emergency call, the Watch Officer needs to be clear and concise in receiving and communicating effective information while providing reassurance to the casualty that help is on its way. Watch Officers need to be acutely aware of the circumstances, the geographic location and any other restrictions around the casualty and how that will influence any asset responding. The Search Mission Coordinator has a vital role in deciding how and what assets will be assigned to any mission. The Coordinator plays a key role in bridging information gaps between the various stakeholders tasked with a mission. The Coordinator needs to communicate effectively to the responding asset what the intended mission parameters are and the expected outcomes. They need to be dynamic in the evolution of any mission, to be able to quickly assess and update a planned mission as the circumstances evolve. Within any community, the search for a missing loved one is deeply impactful and having the responsibility of coordinating effective missions is both challenging and rewarding.
Would you recommend a career in the Public Sector?
Without a doubt, a career in the public sector is a worthwhile venture for anyone that is up for the challenge. There is a tremendous sense of job satisfaction coupled with opportunities for further education and personal development.