Search and rescue drones trialled by UK coastguard

search and rescue drones
© iStock/RuslanDashinsky

The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has announced it will begin a trial of search and rescue drones in coastguard activities.

The MCA has partnered with Essex Police and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) to deploy a yearlong trial of the drones, provided by Essex Police’s drones unit, which will be able to conduct search operations across dangerous areas of the coast and perform risk evaluations before human search and rescue teams are sent out. The trial is set to take place along the coastline of Essex, with six local coastguard teams and six RNLI stations taking part.

Phil Hanson, Aviation Technical Assurance Manager at the MCA, said: “Thanks to the Essex Police Drone Unit, we are able to trial this innovative technology to help rescuers on the front line with more accurate aerial vision, conduct searches in hard to reach or hazardous areas, assist with night time thermal imagery searches and relaying messages from rescuers to casualties. One thing we need to stress is that the drones will not replace our coastguard helicopters, coastguard rescue teams, RNLI or independent lifeboats. However, it is entirely possible that they could be an additional tool to use in search and rescue and enhance our existing capabilities.”

The benefits of the search and rescue drones in coastal operations will be documented and evaluated at the end of the trial, at which point the MCA and RNLI intend to re-examine the potential role of drones in their search and rescue protocols.

RNLI Senior Innovation Manager Will Roberts said: “The increased situational awareness that drones provide could play a significant role in helping us locate casualties as quickly as possible. When lives are at risk, the speed at which our crews can locate and reach a casualty is vital. Being able to see the impact that drones can have in helping our lifeboat crews search and then reach casualties through this pilot will be extremely useful.”

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