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National Coastwatch Whitstable celebrate their 20th year

The National Coastwatch Institution is a voluntary organisation set up to maintain a visual watch along the UK coastline and if there is an emergency they report to, and work with, them until the situation is resolved.


The Whitstable station keeps watch over an area from Herne Bay pier to Sheppey and the mouth of the Swale.


On 18th May, I had the pleasure of meeting the fantastic, friendly, selfless and I have to say sensational group that is the National Coastwatch of Whitstable at their watch station on the Tankerton Slopes.


NCI Whitstable started on 2nd March 2002 with 2-3 people from Herne Bay NCI originally fulfilling their role from a caravan located by JoJo’s every Sunday. It wouldn’t take too long before the Whitstable group developed, growing in numbers and acquiring the beach hut on Tankerton Slopes which would become the watch station.


I was greeted by several proud members who are all unpaid volunteers, giving something back to our beautiful community. The 55 members currently at Whitstable NCI come from all walks of life; a retired Airline Captain, Maritime Pilot, long-serving Police Officer, Social Worker and Solicitor are just some of the careers these wonderful Watchkeepers have had.


It was clear and obvious that as well as being the eyes and ears of the coast, Whitstable NCI are the smiles of the coast, greeting many Whitstable passersby and their dog with a smile and a ‘good morning’. With such a joyous bunch and feeling instantly impressed with the knowledge that these members all joined to help their community, I had to ask around the group and ponder the question, what does a Watchkeeper’s role entail?

“We monitor ships but as Watchkeepers we are keeping an eye out more for leisure craft, kids in their inflatables, swimmers, kayakers, kite surfers etc. Personal watercraft is more what we look out for.

“Any sort of incident is dealt with through the HM Coastguard, if we see somebody in trouble in the water we don’t go in and rescue them, we are not Baywatch!

“The Watchkeeping is very much common sense but it’s also knowing who to contact. It’s about how to detect an emergency and knowing what to do in an emergency.

“We have radios which we use for contact. Our line of contact is the HM Coastguard, usually by mobile phone or emergency radio and we can also talk to the lifeboats. We radio Dover Coastguard every morning. If a lifeboat is sent out, we can help guide the lifeboat to the casualty. We are here for the preservation of life, whatever form it may be.”


With exceptional training given to each member on longitude and latitude, chart work and how to use a Marine Radio, I am informed what type of incidents can occur:

“Most people don’t get incidents which is a good thing. During training, however, incidents will be given, not real ones obviously, just to prepare members for what can happen. I think most of the incidents that have happened involve windsurfers, sailors, jet skis etc.”

“The busiest period is the school holidays in the summer when you have all the crowds on the beach. In the winter, you also need to be keeping an eye out for anyone who might be in difficulty. We have had windsurfers who have got exhausted, cold water swimmers that tire etc.”

“I was involved with a jet ski that had broken down, the lifeboat was going out in the opposite way because it had been given the wrong direction, not by us. I interceded through the Coastguard and fetched him round so that the casualty was safe.”

“An incident I had was with a small dinghy which was attempting to go from Swale to Southend at mid-tide which is the worst time you could do it and they were drifting quickly towards Margate but we dealt with that via the Coastguard.”

“I have had three incidents I have been involved with, one was a swimmer, one was a lost child and one was an upturned boat. There are more quiet days but it’s a beautiful area to get involved with and very community-friendly which is what we want.”


With members ranging from several months to 15 years, it’s clear that once you join, you are part of the NCI family and to emphasise that, members told me what they enjoy most about being part of this group:

“The community aspect to what we do is important as the local residents interact and give us information. We are all a very friendly and social group. What I like most is the amount I have learnt through training on how to become a Watchkeeper.”

“We offer that safety that you don’t normally get in other towns. It’s great for the community and we have a good mix of people and there is a good social side of it as we put on some fundraising events like our quiz nights etc.”

“I love it and really enjoy being with the Whitstable NCI. I’m doing a radio course at the moment online which is perfect as I can do it in my own time.”

“We have grown from strength to strength, one by numbers and two, in the way the operation runs by using the skills you have got from other people’s working experience and I think we have been very successful with it. We have got some great support from the harbour master who supports what we do and the RNLI and other people so it’s slowly moving forward.”


As I bid farewell to the friendly faces, I am reminded that you too can be a part of this wonderful group as volunteers are always needed:

“We run from 10:00am-1:30pm and 1:30pm-5:00pm Thursday to Monday and we are hoping to open up 6 days a week instead of 5 because we have got more volunteers coming forward which is really good.”

“We are always looking for volunteers as we are all retired so we need to keep topping up our members and the training is brilliant and very friendly. We are one of the lucky stations that have got two Master Mariners that run our training, you can’t get better than that.”


If you would like to enquire about volunteering for Whitstable National Coastwatch Institute, phone 07793 272444 or email [email protected]


Upcoming events

Annual Celebration Day of NCI – 24th July

National Coastwatch Whitstable will be set up in the harbour at the Coastwatch station on the slopes.


NCI at the harbour – 13th and 14th August

National Coastwatch Whitstable will be fundraising on these days for NCI.


National Coastwatch Institution Registered Charity No. 1159975. Find out more about the wonderful National Coastwatch Whitstable via their website.

by Matthew Hemmings

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