Coastguard watch officer
Operators & Traffic Monitoring

Coastguard watch officers work for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in one of 18 designated areas around the UK coast. Coastguards' role is to prevent the loss of life at sea, or on the coast. They do this by monitoring, supervising and advising sailors by providing weather reports, offering safety advice and by monitoring communications and distress signals. A coastguard watch officer's role is likely to take them outdoors in all weathers and at all hours, on patrol and on rescue missions.

Work Activities

A coastguard watch officer (CWO) is a government employee. HM Coastguard is part of the MCA, covering search and rescue, pollution response, vehicle traffic management, maritime safety, maritime security and emergency and disaster management. A coastguard watch officer works on a shift pattern covering a 24-hour emergency service. They may start out as a watch assistant (CWA) before advancing to CWO. Other roles within the MCA include administration, registering vessels, marine surveying, and working as a coastguard rescue officer volunteer.

Typical work activities for a coastguard watch officer include:

  • providing weather reports
  • monitoring radio and satellite communications
  • offering safety recommendations to the captains of small boats
  • offering information about safety at sea
  • monitoring distress signals
  • supervising search and rescue missions or assisting in missions

A coastguard watch officer may start as a watch assistant working in operation rooms at a maritime rescue coordination centre. Your role is to provide administrative support to CWOs. Coastguard watch officers work 42-hour shifts weekly, covering weekends and nights. They can be called out, work on patrols and rescue missions and may be asked to work at any rescue coordination centre around the UK.

Vacancies for coastguard watch officers can be found advertised online on the MCA website and the Civil Service jobs website and in local and national newspapers. You can monitor the kind of work they undertake on their Facebook page @MCA.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for coastguard watch officers

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Good decision making skills
  • Quick at assessing a situation
  • Good at working in teams and with individuals
  • Leadership capabilities.

Pay And Opportunities

Coastguard watch officers are government employees working for specifically for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and HM Coastguard.


Qualifications and training required

Coastguard service employees usually join the MCA as watch assistants, watch officers or volunteer coastguard rescue officers. The service does not advertise specific qualifications, but looks for candidates who have good literacy and numeracy skills and good IT skills to start off as watch assistants. In addition, you'll need seagoing experience, good hearing and eyesight to become a watch officer. If you're volunteering to work as a coastguard rescue officer, you must be aged 18 or over, have a full driving licence and live or work within 20 minutes of the rescue station (some stations specify 10 minutes). You'll also need to be physically fit.

New coastguards receive their initial training at Highcliffe in Dorset at the MCA Centre. The rest of the training programme consists of practical training, plus on-the-job and classroom learning, and self-study.

Search for...

Degree Explorer

The Degree Explorer helps you plan for your future! Match your interests to university subjects and explore each recommendation to find out what suits you.

Get started

Register today

Sign up to access to use your dashboard and receive extra advice in your inbox

Sign up