Working as a Watch Officer at Valentia Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre, David tells us that it’s an exciting and dynamic role and is suited to people who are cool and calm during stressful situations.
Tell us about a typical day as a Watch Officer with the Irish Coast Guard?
A typical day as a Watch Officer is a twelve-hour shift. There are normally three staff on duty. This includes a Station Officer, a Search Mission Coordinator (SMC) and a Watch Officer. The Irish Coast Guard trains all Watch Officers to become SMCs so that the role can be alternated between the staff and also to ensure that all staff are trained to a very high standard. A typical day includes monitoring the distress frequencies, taking traffic reports from vessels, taking, and responding to 999 calls, broadcasting the sea area forecast and radio navigation warnings, tasking search and rescue assets as required to incidents occurring within the Irish Search and Rescue Region, and sometimes beyond as the Coast Guard works seamlessly with our UK neighbours. A Watch Officer is an exciting and dynamic role and is suited to people who are cool and calm during stressful situations, and who can maintain good situational awareness.
What was your career path to becoming a Watch Officer?
I was a crew member with my local Lifeboat in Castletownbere for a couple of years during the end of my secondary school days before I began my training as a Deck Officer in 2016. I studied Nautical Science in the National Maritime College of Ireland. As part of my degree programme, I underwent cadetship training with Carnival UK onboard P&O Cruise Ships and the Cunard Line. My training brought me all around the world, to the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, The United States, Canada, The Caribbean, and Europe. I qualified as an Officer of the Watch in 2020 and began working with P&O Cruises full time. I also worked on occasion with Castletownbere Marine conducting tug work as well as working briefly with INFOMAR on survey expeditions around the south and west coasts. From my Nautical Studies programme, I obtained the necessary qualifications to join the Irish Coast Guard. Upon joining the Irish Coast Guard, I underwent a lengthy training process, including training in the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre located in Dublin, followed by training in the two Marine Rescue Sub Centres located at Malin Head and on Valentia Island. I undertook a three-week Search Mission Coordination (SMC) Course in the National Maritime College of Ireland which provided me with the key skills to become an SMC.
Another element of the training includes a two-week Search and Rescue Aviation Tasking and Coordination Course. The Watch Officer training is underpinned by an extensive task book where Watch Officers are required to complete tasks and obtain a high level of competence in each area of being a Watch Officer.
What are your main responsibilities as a Watch Officer?
As a Watch Officer at (MRSC) Marine Rescue Sub Centre Valentia, we ensure that a continued effective listening watch on marine distress frequencies is maintained. We broadcast the Sea Area Forecast, Inland Lakes Forecast, Small Craft, Gale and Storm Warnings issued by Met Éireann. We produce and broadcast Radio Navigational Warnings to mariners across the Island of Ireland highlighting hazards to navigation. We respond to ship casualties and maritime disasters by tasking and coordinating search and rescue missions with assets such as the Sikorsky Rescue Helicopters, our Coast Guard Volunteer Units, RNLI Lifeboats and Coastal Inshore Rescue boats across Ireland. We work with other Primary Response Agencies and Principal Emergency Services, as well as the Defence Forces and other International Rescue Agencies for Joint Rescue Coordination. We provide Telemedical advice service to ships through cooperation with Medico Cork. We respond to alerts from Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, Emergency Location Transponders and Personal Location Beacon. As one of Ireland’s Principal Emergency Services the Irish Coast Guard handles 112/999 calls from members of the Public who require our assistance.
What were your reasons for applying for a Watch Officer role?
I applied for the role of a Watch Officer for many reasons. Search and Rescue means a lot to me as my family have a long history in lifesaving over the years. My father and grandfather were both Coxswains in Castletownbere and Baltimore lifeboats respectively, and many of my family have worked with the RNLI including my siblings as crew members, my grandmother as Secretary Fundraiser and my father now as Area Lifesaving Manager. My broader family and many of my friends all have fishermen within their family networks. This means our community, and many other communities around the coast rely on the Irish Coast Guard to respond to any Emergencies they may encounter whilst working at sea. Being a Watch Officer affords me the opportunity to have a direct impact on their lives should the need arise. Over the years I have come to learn a lot about the Coast Guard, and I have always had a big interest in working in Valentia Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre which covers my community, and many other communities between Ballycotton and Slyne Head, and far out to sea.
Would you recommend a career in the Public Sector?
I would highly recommend a job in the Public Service especially to mariners who wish to come ashore and obtain a better work life balance. The Irish Coast Guard offers secure employment and opportunities to progress your career.