The Essex Police, Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution have begun a year-long trial to assess the viability of drones in search and rescue scenarios. During the trial, the drones will help coastguard rescue teams by offering increased situational awareness – from locating missing people to assessing the risk of a destination before the crew are deployed.
“Our drone team will assist both organisations – whether this is by providing a live view of the county’s coast, investigating suspicious behaviour, responding to welfare concerns or searching for a missing person,” said Essex Police of the trial. Coastguard teams from Southend and Canvey will be taking part in the trial, supported by a range of inshore and all-weather lifeboats and hovercraft strategically located at six RNLI lifeboat stations along that stretch of the Essex coastline.
Phil Hanson, Aviation Technical Assurance Manager at the MCA, said: “This will allow rescuers to make more informed decisions and ultimately help make the coast safer – particularly as the busy season is now almost upon us.
“Drones will not replace our Coastguard helicopters, Coastguard Rescue Teams, RNLI or independent lifeboats,” he continued. “However, it is entirely possible that they could be an additional tool to use in search and rescue and enhance our existing capabilities.”
Essex Police already has plenty of experience with drones, running 20 unmanned aerial vehicles and having trained 65 pilots. Up until now, though, the drones have not been used in an offshore capacity.