Thanet RNLI Community Safety

Technology Is Revolutionising Search and Rescue Operations In The UK – Unmanned Aircraft (UAV)

You won’t have failed to notice that advances in technology in all aspects of our lives continues at a pace that no one would have ever imagined 20 years ago. Whether it is smart device app’s for turning your oven or heating on before you arrive home, ordering a takeaway which will be delivered to your home, booking a holiday on-line, driverless cars or military drone technology to name but a few.

If you are a keen follower of search and rescue news you may have read recently that the HM Coastguard in conjunction with Bristow (provider of the HM Coastguard helicopter Search and Rescue Service) rolled out a weekend unmanned aircraft (UAV) service across North Wales.

The unmanned aircraft (UAV) will provide ‘overwatch’ safety patrols from it’s base at Aberporth airport across beaches in North Wales including the Snowdonia mountain ranges. HM Coastguard’s helicopters provide support for inland search and rescue which includes mountainous areas, inaddition to the coastal environments and the UAV will be deployed to supplement these.

https://www.facebook.com/MCA/videos/781603065986237/

The Director of HM Coastguard, Claire Hughes said: “Search and rescue is about saving lives. Every second counts and every minute saved can prove the difference between life and death. This kind of technology has a big part to play in those moments alongside our helicopters, coastguard rescue teams and our partners from the RNLI to independent lifeboats and hovercraft.”

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Coastguard Helicoper – photo credit Dawn Kandekore

Russ Torbet, Director UK Search and Rescue, Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said: “UAV technology has advanced to the stage where its deployment significantly enhances the capability of air search and rescue operations, improving the reach of the service and reducing risk for the public and our crews.

 

Russ Torbet added “These systems provide us with an option to keep our Sikorsky S92 helicopter crew at Caernarfon on standby for lifesaving events, while the unmanned aircraft are tasked with providing safety ‘overwatch’ and monitoring which those manned aircraft would otherwise have been sent to carry out”.

Test flights have also been carried out during September 2020 using the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 as part of a program of events in West Wales.  Among the advanced capabilities of the Hermes 900 UAV, which can fly for up to 24 hours at a time, is a system to deliver up to four six-person life rafts from an altitude of 600ft. Elbit the defence manufacturer says that it can deploy “in adverse conditions day and night” where a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft could not help.

The Hermes UAV’s as trialled recently are not yet being deployed on ‘live’ operations, but are inaddition to the live trial currently being conducted by the use of remotely piloted aircraft by Bristow’s.

Back in July 2019, the HM Coastguard and RNLI trialled drones along the Essex coast in a year-long programme instigated by their county’s police force who are UK pioneers in the deployment of UAV’s.

HM Coastguard Teams from Walton, Clacton, Mersea Island, South Woodham Ferrers, Southend and Canvey Island took part, supported by a range of inshore and all-weather lifeboats and hovercraft strategically placed at six RNLI stations along the county coastline.

Will Roberts, Senior Innovation Manager at the RNLI, says, “The situational awareness that drones provide can play a significant role in helping us locate casualties more quickly. When lives are at risk, the speed at which our lifeboat crews can locate and reach a casualty is vital. It also allows potentially dangerous situations to be risk-assessed before our teams are deployed to the scene.”

In 2018, the HM Coastguard and RNLI ran a week long trial at St Athan in Wales testing a variety of UAV’s including: rotary platforms, tethered drones and fixed wing platforms launched via a runway or catapult.  Using a variety of different simulated rescue scenairo’s:  mud rescue, shore-line search for a casualty, off-shore search for multiple casualties in the sea; and a communications blackspot where a drone is required to relay information between rescue teams and a cliff rescue.

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Photo credit: Greenock Coastguard Team

Six different industry partners and organisations supported the above trial including: University of Bath, Lockheed Martin UK and Scisys.

In 2017 Caister Independent Lifeboat in Norfolk tested drones as part of their rescue work.  A short video of their trial can be found below:

 

The UK government has said that it expected unmanned aircraft to fulfil an increasingly important role in search and rescue when it awards a new contract for the service in 2022.

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Photo credit: Greenock Coastguard Rescue Team

Conclusion

Other Blue Light Services and Lowland Search and Rescue Teams have been deploying drones/UAV’s operationally for some time now with a good success rate.  With technological advances, significant investment and a proactive approach to SAR capability it can be argued that we are going to see UAV’s playing a larger role in the UK’s maritime search and rescue scene.  Coastguard Rescue Teams and lifeboat crews will always be essential in performing rescue operations at the coast, UAV’s will have their limitations,  but any extra piece of rescue kit which will enhance and help save more lives at sea can only be a huge step in the right direction.

Please note

The operation of drones is strictly controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which requires licenses and qualifications.  The use of private drones close to search and rescue operations or an emergency service incident is strictly forbidden and could hamper someone’s life being saved.  For all information on drone operations please go to the CAA website

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Ramsgate All Weather Lifeboat Photo credit: Ramsgate RNLI

Acknowledgements

Maritime Coastguard Agency

Bristow

Elbit

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

RLSS Don’t Drink and Drown – Drowning Prevention Campaign 2nd-8th December

Once again this year our team are supporting the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s national Don’t Drink and Drown campaign, this year running from 2-8 December.

On Thursday 5th and Friday 6th December, we along with teams from RLSS UK, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, Kent Police, HM Coastguard Margate and the Community Pastors will be out and about talking to bar staff, venue security, taxi drivers and members of the public about keeping people safe whilst under the influence.  Kent was ranked in the top three counties for drink and drug related drownings.

We will also be sharing water safety advice via our social media channels daily as well as the RLSS UK’s brand-new film via social media which shows how easily a fun night out can turn into tragedy, and how staying with your friends can make all the difference.

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Don’t Drink & Drown 2018 – HM Coastguard Margate visiting  Coco Latino’s Ramsgate Harbour

Statisics

Latest statistics revealed 53 people have accidentally drowned in Kent over the last five years and 32% of these (17) were found to have had alcohol and/or drugs in their system, making it the 2nd highest county for drownings linked to intoxication.

Nationally there were 1,4581 accidental drowning deaths in the UK between 2014-2018 and more than 30% of the victims had alcohol and/or drugs in their bloodstream*. Many of them drowned because they walked home alone and fell in the water.

RLSS – Don’t Drink and Drown campaign

Hannah Wiggins-Bettles, RLSS UK Community Drowning Prevention Coordinator for the Kent area, said: “It’s a sad truth that the number of drownings increase in the winter period, more often than not because of intoxication.

“Families, friends and whole communities are left devastated every year because someone walks home alone whilst under the influence and falls into the water.

We’re urging people to stay together on a night out. Make sure their friends get home safe and don’t let them walk anywhere, especially near water, alone.”

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Kent Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager for Customer Safety, Colin King, said: “It only takes a small amount of alcohol to impact your ability to save yourself in water. Even strong swimmers with no alcohol in their system could struggle if they fell into a river, due to underwater currents and the effects of cold water shock, which includes involuntary inhalation and can result in drowning. So if you fall in after just a drink or two, you’re likely to drown because your reaction times are reduced, instincts are skewed and coordination is impacted. Have fun this Christmas, but please take care and think before you drink near water.”

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Thanet RNLI Community Safety Officer Andy Mills said: “We are happy to support this critically important campaign and hope that everyone stays safe.”

The Don’t Drink and Drown campaign, this year running from 2 to 8 December, was launched in 2014 following a string of tragic drownings of young people. RLSS UK was keen to prevent more tragedies, by targeting at risk groups in hot spot areas, at particular points in the year where alcohol related drowning incidences increase – September (at the start of the new university term) and December (during the festive period).

As part of the campaign, organisations up and down the country promote water safety messaging and run awareness activities urging revellers to take care near water whilst under the influence of alcohol and/or.

Stay Safe this Christmas:

  • Don’t walk home near water, you might fall in
  • Look out for your friends, make sure they get home safely
  • Don’t enter the water if you have been drinking
  • Alcohol seriously affects your ability to get yourself out of trouble

For more information on RLSS UK’s Don’t Drink and Drown campaign visit www.rlss.org.uk, follow the campaign on #DontDrinkandDrown, or call 0300 3230 096

Stats taken from National Water Safety Forum Water Incident Database (WAID) of which RLSS UK is a member. Data is used from 2014-2018, including accidental and natural cause records only. Adults aged 18 years+. Alcohol records are suspected or confirmed deceased, based upon Coroners and emergency service records, court records.

Acknowledgements

RLSS

HM Coastguard

Kent Fire and Rescue Service

RNLI