From a crew member with their local Lifeboat in Castletownbere to a Watch Officer at Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia. David tells us about his exciting and dynamic role and what a typical day includes.
Tell us about a typical day as a Watch Officer with the Irish Coast Guard?
We work a twelve-hour shift. There are normally three staff on duty. This includes a Station Officer, a Search and Rescue 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 to ensure that all staff are trained to a very high standard.
A typical day includes monitoring the distress frequencies, coordinating responses to Search and Rescue incidents, taking traffic reports from vessels, broadcasting the sea area forecast and radio navigation warnings. Handling and responding to 999/112 calls by tasking search and rescue assets including helicopters 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 to those who 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, towards the end of my secondary school days before I began my training as a Deck Officer in the Merchant Navy in 2016. I studied Nautical Science at 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 and Rescue Mission Coordination (SMC) Course at the National Maritime College of Ireland which provided me with the key skills to become an SMC.
Another element of the training included 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. The Watch Officer training and certification is QQI recognised and qualifies for a Special Purpose Award.
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, lakes forecast, small craft, gale and storm warnings issued by Met Éireann. We produce and broadcast radio navigational warnings to mariners 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 Coast Guard Rescue Helicopters, our Coast Guard Volunteer Units, RNLI Lifeboats and Coastal Inshore Rescue boats.
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 coordinate Telemedical advice service to ships in collaboration with Medico Cork.
We respond to alerts from Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, Emergency Location Transponders and Personal Location Beacons.
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 and my grandmother as Secretary Fundraiser. My father is currently the RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager in the Valentia Coast Guard area of operations. My wider family and many of my friends all have fishing industry connections within their family networks. This means our community, and many other communities around the coast rely on the Irish Coast Guard to coordinate the response 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 the Irish Coast Guard Marine Rescue Coordination Centre at Valentia, which covers my community, and many other communities between Ballycotton, Co. Cork and Slyne Head, Co. Galway, and far out to sea.
Would you recommend a career in the Public Sector?
I would highly recommend a job in the Public Sector especially to mariners who wish to come ashore and obtain a better work life balance. The Public Sector provides secure employment with opportunities for further education and career progression.