Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG; Irish: Garda Cósta na hÉireann pronounced [ˈɡaːɾˠd̪ˠə ˈkoːsˠt̪ˠə]) is part of the Department of Transport of the Republic of Ireland. The primary roles of the Coast Guard include maritime safety and search and rescue. The Irish Search and Rescue Region,[1] which includes most of the Republic of Ireland and some parts of Northern Ireland, is the area over which the Coast Guard has responsibility.[2] This area is bordered by the UK Search and Rescue Region.

Irish Coast Guard
Garda Cósta na hÉireann
Agency overview
HeadquartersLeeson Lane, Dublin 2
Minister responsible
Agency executive
  • Chris Reynolds, Director


Role and status

The Coast Guard is responsible for:

  • Search and Rescue
  • Marine communications network
  • Marine safety awareness
  • Pollution and salvage response in the marine environment (the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Dublin coordinates all pollution & salvage control in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)).

The Coast Guard operates as a Division of the Department of Transport under the Maritime Safety Directorate. Together with the Mercantile Marine Office, the Maritime Safety Directorate comprises two main sections, the Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division (MSED) and the Marine Survey Office (MSO):

  • The Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division is responsible for maritime safety, security policy (not armed or national security policy, which is exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Defence), legislation (including leisure safety), aids to navigation, corporate governance of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and marine environment protection issues.
  • The Marine Survey Office deals with the inspection, survey, certification and licensing of vessels and vessels radio equipment; the examination and certification of seafarers competencies; enforcement of standards by way of audits on organisation and facilities and prosecutions for breaches of regulations. The Marine Survey Office also includes the Marine Radio Affairs Unit (MRAU).

Unlike coastguard models in some other countries, in Ireland it is not part of the Irish Defence Forces. It does however call on their assistance through the use of its Air Corps and Naval assets. Also, while in some jurisdictions fisheries patrols are the responsibility of the Coast Guard, in Ireland, these are carried out by the Irish Air Corps and Irish Naval Service and drug smuggling patrols by the Irish Air Corps, Customs, Gardaí and the Naval Service. (However, all the above government services can at any time request assistance from each other when needed).


The Irish Coast Guard is a civilian agency, members are not part of the Defence Forces and thus are forbidden from carrying any type of weapons and have no security or defence duties in respect of national police or defence.

Coast Guard personnel include full-time paid employees,[3] and unpaid volunteers.[4] For example, a member of the Coast Guard, Caitriona Lucas, who died while on a rescue/recovery mission in County Clare in 2016, was a volunteer.[5]

Not all Irish Coast Guard members have enforcement powers – only some officers under warrant.


The British Water Guard (formed 1809) and (Preventive) Coast Guard (formed 1822) extended to Ireland as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. During this period the Coast Guard played revenue protection and coastal defence roles, as well as forming part of the Royal Naval Reserve.[6] In the 1850s, the Admiralty took over the Coast Guard;[7] officers stationed in Ireland complained that their naval career was retarded relative to those in England.[8]

The Irish Free State was formed in 1922, and Tom Casement (brother of Roger Casement) tried unsuccessfully to establish a new Irish coast guard.[9] In late 1923 Casement instead became first Inspector of a new Coast Life Saving Service (CLSS).[9] In 1927, before the Irish Naval Service had been formed, the Admiralty discussed the possibility of CLSS participation in minesweeping of the Treaty Ports.[10] During the Emergency declared in the Second World War, the Department of Defence established a separate Coast Watch after the use of the CLSS to keep watch for belligerent ships and aircraft was vetoed by the Department of Industry and Commerce, which ran the CLSS.[11]

The CLSS was later renamed the Coast and Cliff Rescue Service (CCRS).[6] In 1979 there were 54 stations, 51 equipped with breeches buoys and three only with ladders for cliff rescue.[12] A 1990 inquiry into air sea rescue chaired by retired Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty recommended transferring responsibility from the Irish Air Corps to a new emergency service.[13][14] The then government accepted the recommendation in August 1990,[15] and the service was established in the then Department of the Marine by minister Michael Woods in May 1991 under the name "Slánú  The Irish Marine Emergency Service" (IMES),[14][6] and subsumed the CCRS. In February 2000 the name was changed to the Irish Coast Guard in accordance with the wishes of many of its personnel.[6][16] The spelling "Coast Guard" (as opposed to "Coastguard") is intended to hark back to its nineteenth-century origins; the British Coastguard adopted the single-word spelling in 1925, after the Free State had separated.[6]

In 2012 Fisher Associates conducted a value-for-money review of the Coast Guard and recommended closing the stations at Valentia and Malin Head.[17][18] The Fisher report was criticised by Coast Guard management and reviewed by an Oireachtas committee,[17][19] prompting a revised report in 2013.[20]


The IRCG operate rescue boats, rigid inflatable boats and other search and rescue vehicles and equipment from coastal stations around Ireland.

The IRCG also operate a number of contracted Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters from bases in Dublin (RESCUE116), Waterford (RESCUE117), Shannon (RESCUE115) and Sligo (RESCUE118). These helicopters are contracted from CHC Helicopter - a contract which was controversial[21] and costs the state €50 million per year.[22] A similar SAR contract involving CHC was cancelled in the UK in 2012 as a result of alleged 'irregularities'.[23] Under the €500 million contract, from 2010, a previous fleet of Sikorsky S-61N helicopters were replaced with five newer Sikorsky S-92 helicopters.[22][24] One of the new S-92 helicopters is located at each of the four IRCG bases, with one spare replacement aircraft being rotated between bases.[25]

The first operational S-92 helicopter was delivered to the Irish Coast Guard in January 2012 and given the registration EI-ICG.[26] After a period of training and pilot conversion (from the S-61N type), this helicopter was given call-sign "RESCUE115" and replaced the S-61N that was previously based at Shannon.[27]

The five S-92's were given the registrations EI-ICG, EI-ICU, EI-ICA, EI-ICR, EI-ICD – with the last letter of each registration spelling out "GUARD".[28] As of late 2016, the S-92s were deployed as: Callsign Rescue 118 operating from Sligo,[29] Rescue 117 operating from Waterford,[30][31] Rescue 115 operating from Shannon,[30][31] and Rescue 116 operating from Dublin.[32] Each of the five aircraft are rotated between the four rescue teams, with one spare aircraft.[33] While EI-ICG was delivered as "factory new" from Sikorsky in the US,[25] the other S-92 aircraft were ex-UK Coastguard equipment.[28]

Following the 2017 crash of EI-ICR (Rescue 116), a newer S-92 replacement was sourced by CHC from Australia, and registered as EI-ICS.[34]


  • In September 2016, a Coast Guard volunteer, Caitriona Lucas, died while on a rescue/recovery mission in County Clare.[5]
  • In March 2017, RESCUE116 (EI-ICR, Banríon na farraige, an S-92 helicopter providing cover for another Coast Guard helicopter)[35] crashed off the coast of County Mayo. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered from the water at around 7 am on 14 March in a critical condition, and transferred to Mayo University Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Chief pilot Mark Duffy was recovered from the wreckage on the 26 March. Winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith remain missing.[36][37]

See also


  1. "The Marine Search and Rescue Region (IMSRR)". Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  2. "The Marine Search and Rescue Region". Department of Transport. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  3. "Got what it takes? The Irish Coast Guard are hiring again". The Journal. 22 March 2014.
  4. "Enrolment of Volunteers - List of Coast Guard Volunteer Units". Department of Transport. Retrieved 14 September 2016. The Coast Guard Volunteer Services are constantly enrolling new members [...] these are unpaid positions.
  5. "Investigations into death of Coast Guard volunteer under way". Irish Times. 13 September 2016.
  6. "About the Irish Coast Guard". Department of Transport, Tourism And Sport. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  7. "Coast-Guard Service Act, 1856". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  8. "Reports of Inspecting Commanders of Coast-Guard in Ireland on Question of Supersession". Sessional papers. 1847. HC (492) 56 213. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  9. Lincoln, Siobhán. "The Ardmore Rocket Crew". The Ardmore Journal. Waterford County Museum. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  10. "Irish Free State Coastal Defence from Minutes of Defence Conference - 26 April 1927". Documents on Irish Foreign Policy. RIA. 26 April 1927. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  11. Kennedy, Michael J. (2008). Guarding Neutral Ireland: The Coast Watching Service and Military Intelligence, 1939–1945. Four Courts Press. p. 23. ISBN 9781846820977.
  12. "Written Answers. 480. — Coast Life-Saving Service". Dáil Éireann Debates. 17 October 1979. Vol.316 No.1 p.49 cc.62–69. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  13. "Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty (Ireland)". Lifesaving Foundation. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  14. "Merchant Shipping Bill, 1991: Second Stage". Seanad Éireann Debates. Oireachtas. 4 March 1992. Vol.131 No.12 p.6 cc.012–3. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  15. Ross, Shane (15 November 2016). "Irish Coast Guard Issues:". Dáil Éireann proceedings: Written answers. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  16. "Written Answers. - Coast Guard Service". Dáil Éireann Debates. Oireachtas. 10 February 2000. pp. Vol.514 No.2 p. cc.450–1. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  17. Buckley, Dan (23 October 2012). "Coast Guard criticises 'failings' of draft report". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  18. Fisher Associates (April 2012). "Irish Coast Guard: Value for Money Review; Final Report" (PDF). Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Ireland. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  19. Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications (24 October 2012). "Review of Irish Coast Guard Service: Discussion". Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees (. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  20. Fisher Associates (February 2013). "Irish Coast Guard; Supplementary Review; Final Report" (PDF). Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  21. "Value of €500m rescue services deal questioned - Helicopter firm embroiled in UK bidding row". Independent News & Media. 13 February 2011.
  22. Lorna Siggins (17 June 2013). "Irish Coast Guard search and rescue fleet renewal extended". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  23. Angus Stickler (8 June 2012). "Corporate Watch - Search and rescue helicopter contracts awarded despite police probe". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  24. "New Irish Search and Rescue Contract Signed". 20 September 2010. CHC Helicopter. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  25. "New Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters arrive into Shannon". The Clare Herald. 13 June 2013. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  26. "Department of Transport Press Release – Irish Coast Guard Takes New Sikorsky S-92 On Board" (PDF). Department of Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  27. Greg Harkin (14 August 2013). "Woman pilots make Coast Guard history". Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  28. "CHC celebrates delivery of new IRCG helicopter but loses part of its UK contract". Flying in Ireland Magazine. 1 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 March 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  29. "Sligo Airport - Search & Rescue - Irish Coast Guard". Sligo Airport Website. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  30. "All female Search and Rescue Helicopter crew". Southern Star. August 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  31. "Irish Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter Service - New Arrival to the Fleet". Munster Fire and Rescue. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  32. "Rescue 116: The award-winning crew who helped save the lives of many". Independent News & Media. 14 March 2017.
  33. "Helicopter involved in Mayo search operation checked for safety in January". Irish Times. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  34. "Helicopter History Database - EI-ICS (c/n 92-0259)". Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  35. "Coast Guard member rescued from helicopter crash dies". RTÉ News. 14 March 2017.
  36. "First victim of Coast Guard helicopter crash named as Dara Fitzpatrick". Irish Times. 14 March 2017.
  37. "Mini-robot now key to search as investigators fear Rescue 116 helicopter hit rocks in mystery crash". Independent News & Media. 20 March 2017.
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