Keeping you safe on the coast for 200 years: HM Coastguard celebrates historic anniversary

Two hundred years of saving lives along Britain’s coasts and at sea, as well as coordinating the rescues of people in distress in international waters, are celebrated this year as HM Coastguard celebrates its milestone anniversary.

It was on January 15, 1822 that HM Coastguard was officially established and has been working ever since to keep people safe on the coast and at sea.

Today (January 15) in honor of the anniversary, the Coast Guards of the four home nations are throwing throwing lines as a symbol of the service’s dedication – past and present.

Throwing lines, part of the rescue kit used by Coastguard teams, will be cast in the seas around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at 11 hours, with each team operating under the latest COVID-19 guidelines for local areas.

21st Century Coastguard Rescue Team

Over the past two centuries, HM Coastguard has gone from strength to strength. In 2022, Coastguard Operations Centers coordinate responses to emergencies on the coast using 310 Coastguard Rescue Teams – made up of 3,500 dedicated volunteers – and using 10 helicopter bases search and rescue.

Although the way we operate has changed beyond recognition over the past two centuries, HM Coastguard continues to look to the future. Innovation has always been a driving force – whether it’s advancing cutting-edge technology in the nation’s network of Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers or pioneering rope, water and mud techniques .

Last month (December), HM Coastguard began implementing their new, updated search and rescue radio network which uses fiber technology. Over £175million has been invested to upgrade the national Coastguard radio network to all 165 sites over the next two years. This will improve and future-proof its communications infrastructure and ensure that it remains able to communicate and exchange data quickly and reliably to coordinate rescues and save lives.

HM Coastguard aviation: fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter and drone

HM Coastguard aviation: fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter and drone

The service continues to adapt to change – over the past few years it has provided mutual aid and support during events and incidents to other emergency partners. During the pandemic, the Coastguard has supported the NHS, attended the G7 and COP26 in 2021 and are called upon to provide support during national emergencies including floods or water supplies for stranded drivers.

HM Coastguard provides training to search and rescue authorities around the world and also shares its knowledge on a mutual basis with others. A key player in the International Maritime Organization, HM Coastguard’s input and insight into SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) obligations is sought and appreciated.

The service is currently working hard to reduce its carbon footprint and aims to make its UK-wide fleet of vehicles electric where possible over the next five years.

After trials, six electric vehicles have already been purchased, with a further 19 being purchased for use across the UK. Opportunities to electrify the fleet where operationally possible continue to be identified, with the testing and integration of electric models as they come to market.

And with ever-changing technology, the service will continue to strive to be at the forefront of innovation to carry out its life-saving work.

Maritimes Minister Robert Courts said:

Congratulations HM Coastguard on their 200th anniversary. I am immensely proud and humbled by the continued dedication and professionalism of the staff and volunteers who keep everyone on and around our shores safe.

HM Coastguard is the backbone of our maritime industry and the nation is indebted to its incredible workforce who continue to deliver exceptional service.

Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard said:

When you look at how we started and where we are now, it’s easy to celebrate the innovation and development that can be seen throughout the service. And yet, we are far prouder of the people, volunteers and staff who, throughout two centuries, have continued to strive to keep people safe on the coast and at sea. We have always responded and We will always respond to people in distress.

While this milestone is an opportunity for us to look back with pride on what we have accomplished, we have always looked to the future and I am proud that we continue to look for ways to improve and save lives. I am proud of the commitment, dedication and selfless sacrifice and proud of how the service has grown and continues to grow.

A brief history of HM Coastguard

Coastguard Magic Lantern 1890

Coastguard Magic Lantern 1890

17th/18th century

As soon as medieval taxes were levied on imports and exports, people started smuggling. In 1743, it is estimated that half of the tea drunk in Britain was imported illegally. Smuggling is very lucrative, keeping the population living in fear, with violent reprisals against informers and the assassination of tax officials, while corruption allows smugglers to escape heavy penalties.


Henry Greathead designs the first original lifeboat at South Shields. Twenty other locations are placing orders.


A Captain Manby experiments with firing mortars to haul lines off ships in distress. The “Elizabeth”, 150 meters at sea sees the first life saved thanks to this method. Beds hanging under the security lines soon follow.


The Customs Board forms the Preventive Water Guard to combat smugglers and this small force uses boats to patrol every bay and cove.


The guard is placed under the Treasury. At each station, the first officer and the first boatman are experienced sailors or fishermen. In bad weather, they form a shore patrol. Although created to stop smuggling, the Preventive Water Guard quickly acquired additional duties and was tasked with taking responsibility for shipwrecks to protect cargo and ships from raiders. They are also trained with lifesaving equipment.


The Preventive Water Guard is recognized as a major force against smuggling and it is recommended that it be checked again by the Customs Board. In a minute dated 15 January 1822, the Treasury accepts the proposal noting that the new force will be called ‘Coast Guard‘, which is, in fact, the birth certificate of HM Coastguard.

January 15, 1822

The coastguards were formed in 1822 by the merger of three services set up to fight smuggling:

  • revenue cruisers
  • riding officers
  • preventive water protection