For over 25 years, the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) has been providing ‘eyes and ears along the coast’, monitoring radio channels and providing a listening watch in poor visibility.  When people get into trouble on, in or near the water, the NCI is there to alert HM Coastguard and direct the appropriate rescue services to the casualty.

We spoke to Dr Lynsay Scott, deputy station manager at the Folkestone watchpoint.


Sitting on the ‘bridge’ of the NCI Lookout at Copt Point, the view encompasses Dungeness, Samphire Hoe and as far as Dover Harbour Arm.  On the day we visited, the sea was calm and smooth with a visibility of eight nautical miles.

“We are eyes and ears along the coast, monitoring radio channels, broadcasting our own weather updates twice a day, and running radio checks for mariners.  We count them out and we count them in” says Lynsay.

“We are a charity, with 57 stations around the coast, and 2,700 volunteers provide this vital service.  We’re a part of the Search and Rescue service, so we’re here to help them direct their efforts via the Coastguard.  Local knowledge is invaluable, as in certain areas there is no VHF signal so we can direct the lifeboats or helicopter as required.

“We’re on watch every day of the year apart from Christmas Day, working from 9am til dusk in winter, and 9am to 6pm in the summer.  We’d really like to add another summer watch, from 6pm to 9pm, because that’s the time when people come down to the water after a day at work or school.

“We use electronic techniques including radar which is just coming on stream for us, AIS (Automatic Identification System) for ships, listening in via radio, and of course visual skills to monitor activity and safety not just on or in the water but on the beaches and coastal paths too.”


“Winter is quieter, but as soon as the weather improves even a little, things ramp up!” Lynsay says.  “We all get a buzz from spotting exciting craft – tall ships, superyachts with helicopters on board and so on.  A colleague once spotted a submarine… very hard to spot, and received a bottle of champagne in honour.  Yes, the sub was one of ours!

“The challenges do vary.  The English Channel is of course the busiest shipping lane in the world, where you see things like small boats alongside huge container vessels with inherent risks.

“The summer is when we get the leisure boats – every single craft is recorded.  Sometimes holiday makers don’t understand the tides and get caught out, or cut off on a path, and the number of lilos and bodyboards is definitely increasing.  Many users are unaware of the danger the sea holds, and are often not trained or using safety equipment.”

A retired teacher with a PhD in biochemistry, Lynsay says he volunteers for NCI partly as a way to give back – he’s a leisure sailor himself.  “We have great camaraderie here, good companionship and people have amazing stories to share.  I enjoy the feeling that we are providing a potentially life-saving service, and supporting the work of the Coastguard and other Search and Rescue services.

“And after the steep climb up to Copt Point, the view is an absolute treat whatever the weather!”


Lynsay is looking forward to a campaign the NCI, RNLI and HM Coastguard are running this summer – the water safety programme will include talks to schools, and a stand on the harbour, aimed at helping water users become better educated about the potential risks, ways to avoid them, and what to do if they find themselves or others in trouble.


Lynsay would like to add around 20 volunteer watchkeepers to his team this year, so they can add that extra summer watch.

Volunteers don’t need previous maritime experience – the four week NCI training programme is relaxed but comprehensive, covering everything from “how, where and what to look for” to chart work, radio operating procedures and general maritime knowledge.

As with all charities, money is an ever-constant thought.  “It costs around £12,000 a year just to run the Folkestone NCI Lookout – all money raised by our own efforts” Lynsay explains.  “We’re enormously grateful to the local organisations who support us, and members of the public who donate, but it’s a constant battle to ensure we have enough coming in to cover the running costs.”

To find out more about NCI Folkestone’s work, sign up as a volunteer, or make a donation, you can visit www.nci-folkestone.org; call them on 01303 227132, or use VHF Channel 65.