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Four-time Olympic keelboat helmsman Mark Mansfield, a regular competitor at Irish IRC and one-design regattas and Irish agent for some well-known sailing brands, reviews how the 2020 sailing season 'happened' in pandemic and considers what could be done to keep the scene alive in 2021

2020 will likely go down as one of the strangest ever yacht racing seasons. It started back in January with great optimism, looking forward to such events as the Round Ireland Race, The 300th Anniversary Cork Week Regatta, Bangor Regatta on Belfast Lough and Wave Regatta in Howth. In the end, though some regattas were rescheduled for later in the year, all foundered with the ups and downs of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic.

In the few months from May to August, some reasonable racing was allowed to be had at club level around the country, including a decent number of DBSC races on Dublin Bay and a revamped ISORA series from Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

Article author Mark Mansfield believes reduced crew numbers and coastal courses can help to keep cruiser-racer going in pandemicArticle author Mark Mansfield suggests reduced crew numbers and an emphasis on coastal course racing can help to keep cruiser-racer going in 2021

One of the highlights was a pop up offshore fixture, the inaugural 260-mile Fastnet 450 Race, which involved a race from Dun Laoghaire on the East Coast around the Fastnet Rock on the South Coast and into Cork Harbour, all held under strict no contact Covid regulations with an online briefing and prizegiving.

The winner of the Fastnet 450 Race was Royal Cork yacht Nieulargo (Denis and Annamarie Murphy Photo: AfloatThe winner of the Fastnet 450 Race was Royal Cork yacht Nieulargo (Denis and Annamarie Murphy Photo: Afloat

Clearly, the lessons learned in 2020 will need to be brought into 2021 to see what was successful, and what was not.

Going forward, large onshore events which involve a lot of socialising and shoreside entertainments will not likely be a runner again in 2021. So how should we be preparing to ensure 2021 allows decent racing and allows owners to get good use out of their boats? Here are some suggestions and thoughts on this.

Boat crew numbers

When Afloat published my thoughts on the 12th of May about how keelboat racing work can with social distancing, I suggested that reducing cruiser crew numbers while racing would assist in social distancing and project the right image.

This article was picked up by the international sailing media and carried by websites around the world. I got a lot of positive feedback.

Mark Mansfield's May article in Afloat was well received across the racing worldA screenshot of Mark Mansfield's May article in Afloat setting out how keelboat racing can be kept going in pandemic

In Ireland, Irish Sailing, the national governing body, decided to effectively open up to full crews on yachts, after initially being ultra-cautious and allowing no cruiser-racing apart from same household crews. Then, when Level 3 came in, all racing was closed down again, despite other sports continuing to compete. This course of action and the zig-zag nature of their direction has led to a lot of disquiet and it continues.

In the UK, when they allowed cruiser racing to open up, it initially was with household crews, then when this was extended it was with limited numbers while racing.

80% of a boats IRC crew number rounded to the nearest whole number was the norm with events such as the RORC IRC National Championships and the J Cup, both held under these restrictions.

I appreciate sailing happens in the open air and it has been rare to find anyone being infected with Covid-19 while sailing, however, reducing crew numbers shows the sport is making the effort and the optics are much better. Eight bodies sitting out shoulder to shoulder on a 35-footer does not give the right impression.

Joker 2 going upwind in Kinsale 2017 ICRA Nationals—which she wonBefore COVID - The successful Dublin Bay J109 Joker II going upwind in Kinsale at the 2017 ICRA Nationals – which she won

With many owners struggling to fill full crew positions on their boats anyway, restricting all boat crew numbers could also help level the playing field. Maybe Irish Sailing and the Clubs it represents could look at this as an option to allow racing to continue next year?

2021 Irish Sailing Calendar

2021 is scheduled to be another big year if Covid allows it. For cruiser-racers around the country, you have, in addition to DBSC, ISORA and other club racing, the following big events.

Add to this WIORA in Tralee, and perhaps another Fastnet 450 Race and this could be a really great season—if it all goes ahead. So how does sailing position itself to be able to complete these larger regattas in what will likely still be a Summer of Covid restrictions? The answer has to be:

Good PR – Highlighting the Covid restrictions to make everyone safe—no gatherings, no briefings, no in-person prizegivings. Highlight the sailing, not the shore activities.

Reduce crew numbers  see above

Provide more coastal and longer races – rather than the three races a day that is the norm. Shorter races with more turning marks need more crew aboard and all the crew end up coming ashore at the same time. Longer Coastal races need fewer people and the boats come back home on a staggered basis.

Prepare a strong 'Plan B'  for having no onshore events or contact. July's Dun Laoghaire Regatta with four clubs to dissipate people, an on-site marina and a large town just behind, are already anticipating this by separating the event into one designs one weekend and IRC racing the next.

More offshore racing

Offshore and long coastal racing needs to be included more in boat owners plans if they are to get value from their investment. As the Fastnet 450 Race showed, there is an increasing appetite for this form of the sport, and in these Covid times, that interest has grown further. Offshore racing, with limits on crew numbers, allows for relatively safe sailing with crews being able to stay apart easier and boats arriving back to port looking for rest rather than social interaction.

ISORA managed to run eight coastal races off Dun Laoghaire Harbour this season keeping the Irish Sea offshore scene very much alive despite the pandemic Photo: AfloatISORA managed to run eight coastal races off Dun Laoghaire Harbour this season keeping the Irish Sea offshore scene very much alive despite the pandemic Photo: Afloat

ISORA can be congratulated for growing this form of the sport in Ireland and Wales and even in this difficult year, they were able to get in a range of races, all be it without being able to mix the Irish and welsh boats. The combination of shortish offshore races and long coastal racing has been very popular in 2020 and I expect you will see a few more boats join their ranks in 2021.

On the South Coast, there is a move afoot to come up with a similar series to link the Fastnet 450 race with the Kinsale/Fastnet/Kinsale race and then add some coastal day races to form a series. More to follow on this.

ISORA Champion Rockabill VI (Paul O'Higgins) from the Royal Irish Yacht ClubISORA Champion Rockabill VI (Paul O'Higgins) from the Royal Irish Yacht Club

Fingers crossed a vaccine or better treatments for Covid will come quickly, but it is doubtful that they will come quickly enough to mean our 2021 season will be back to normal. We have to expect that 2021 will be disrupted again, and now it the time to plan for this. With some small changes, a bit of luck and a bit of goodwill all or most of these big events above can happen and be a great success. Let's plan for the worst but hope for the best.

Mark Mansfield is an Irish agent for Quantum Sails and J Boats/Grand Soleil in Ireland. More details below.

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Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association (ISORA) racers will agree the 2021 Race Schedule early next month but like most things to do with the 2020 offshore season it will be a little different so there is no surprise that this year's Annual General Meeting will be conducted virtually.

Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the association managed to conduct a full season of coastal fixtures on both sides of the Irish Sea although no cross-channel racing was completed. As regular Afloat readers will know, a win in September's final race of the IRC Series gave overall victory to Royal Irish Yacht Club crew Rockabill VI (Paul O'Higgins). The last coastal race win sealed the COVID-hit season after eight races sailed with five to count.

Now, the ISORA fleet is gathering again, not as usual for the annual National Yacht Club power-wow, but virtually by 'Zoom' on Saturday, 7th November 2020 at 11.00 hours for the AGM.

ISORA's Hon Sec Stephen Tudor has set out the order of business of the meeting in a notice on the association's website:

  • To approve the minutes of the previous AGM.
  • To approve the accounts for the year to November 2020
  • To elect Officers of the Association for the ensuing year.
  • To elect members of the Committee
  • To agree the 2021 Race Management Detail and Proposed Race Schedule

The meeting is for the following categories:

  • 2019 and 2020 Skippers, or their appointed representative
  • 2021 prospective Skippers, or their appointed representative
  • 2020 Committee Members
  • 2021 Committee Members (proposed)
  • Yacht/Sailing Club Representatives

Voting will be restricted to one vote per ISORA participating boat. Questions for the AGM to be forwarded to the Hon Sec before 2nd November 2020

To attend please complete the 'AGM attendance invitation request form' here so that the Zoom invitations can be circulated by e-mail.

Published in ISORA
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One of the many "little miracles" which kept Irish sailing alive and active during the continually-changing official restrictions in the summer of 2020 was the flexible and effective administration of the Irish side of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association's annual programme by ISORA Chairman Peter Ryan of the National YC.

But in order to succeed in this, he needed the support of the skippers and crews who enjoy what ISORA has on offer, yet in a normal year would be able to plan their programme well in advance.

This wasn't possible in 2020, but thanks to a generous spirit among those involved, the Irish boats in ISORA had a very good season in the circumstances. Once again it came down to the outcome of the last race in September, and once again the final race overall winner, and new 2020 champion, was Paul O'Higgins (Royal Irish YC) with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI.

Published in Sailor of the Month

A win in Saturday's ten-boat James Eadie final race of the 2020 ISORA IRC Series gave overall victory to Royal Irish Yacht Club crew Rockabill VI. The last coastal race win sealed the COVID-hit season after eight races sailed with five to count.

Scroll down for photo slideshow.

The Class 0 JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI finished on 500.9 points, some 33 points ahead of second overall the class one J99, Juggerknot, skippered by Andrew Algeo, also of the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Third place overall went to the Class 0 J/122 Aurelia sailed by Chris Power-Smith from the Royal St.George Yacht Club.

In the absence of the Overall Championship, The Wolf’s Head, there are now two offshore champions. As government regulations prevented any traditional cross channel offshore races, two separate series were run on each side of the Irish Sea. A total of 16 races were run, 8 on each side. As there was no mixing of the fleet, the Wolf’s Head trophy for the overall ISORA champion was withdrawn.

On the UK side, Peter Dunlop’s “Mojito” took the ISORA UK / Welsh Offshore Championship 2020.

Class 1 was won by Andrew Algeo’s “Juggerknot2” and Class 2 was won by Grzegorz Kalinecki’s “More Mischief”.

2nd IRC Class 1 Juggerknot 2 IRL 3990 J99 Royal Irish Yacht Club Andrew Alego 2nd - IRC Class 1 Juggerknot 2 IRL 3990 J99 Royal Irish Yacht Club Andrew Alego 

3rd IRC Class 0 Aurelia IRL 35950 J122 Royal St George Yacht Club Chris & Patanne Power Smith3rd - IRC Class 0 Aurelia IRL 35950 J122 Royal St George Yacht Club Chris & Patanne Power Smith

4th IRC Class 0 Hot Cookie GBR7536R Sunfast 3600 National Yacht Club John O'Gorman4th - IRC Class 0 Hot Cookie GBR7536R Sunfast 3600 National Yacht Club John O'Gorman

5th IRC Class 2 More Mischief IRL 966 First 310 ISA Grzegorz Kalinecki5th IRC Class 2 More Mischief IRL 966 First 310 ISA Grzegorz Kalinecki 

James Eadie Final ISORA Race at Dun Laoghaire Harbour Photo slideshow

Published in ISORA
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Today's last race of the four-race Viking Marine sponsored ISORA Coastal Series was the only one to have started with any breeze above ten knots, providing a suitable send-off for the 12-boat fleet finale.

Overall leader Rockabill VI (Paul O'Higgins) from the Royal Irish Yacht Club sealed the series with a final race win against competition from Chris Power Smith's J122 Aurelia of the Royal St. George Yacht Club, who finished second overall and John O'Gorman's  Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie from the National Yacht Club who ended the series in third.

A good turnout for the final race of the coastal series and the penultimate ISORA race of 2020A good turnout for the final race of the coastal series and the penultimate ISORA race of 2020

The increasing appetite for offshore racing was reflected in the fact that many of today's fleet (including second and third places overall) were racing to Cork a week ago in the inaugural Fastnet 450 Race but had still managed to position back to the Bay for today's final round with a prompt 10 am start provided by National Yacht Club Race Officers Barry MacNeaney and Larry Power.

Andrew Alego's Juggerknot II (weather boat) and Paul O'Higgins' Rockabill VIAndrew Alego's Juggerknot II (leeward boat) and Paul O'Higgins' Rockabill VI arrive at the reaching start line of race four of the ISORA coastal series with seconds to go Photo: Afloat

Juggerknot II wins the inside berth and is quick to hoist. John O'Gorman's Hot Cookie is at the Committee Boat RIB(Above and below) With a gybe on to port, Juggerknot II is first to hoist. John O'Gorman's Hot Cookie is a boat length behind at the Committee Boat Juggerknot II hoists spinnaker

Of course, today's modest 35-mile coastal course was nothing compared that arduous 270-miler last weekend but nevertheless today's five-hour run along the Wicklow coast presented its fair share of tactical decisions too.

After the usual start off the Dun Laoghaire Harbour outfall buoy, the fleet sailed to a virtual mark before heading for the North Kish cardinal mark and then a long reach to the Breaches Buoy before the beat back up the coast to the Muglins at the Southern Tip of Dublin Bay and a finish at the Harbour Mouth at Dun Laoghaire.

There were some strong north westerly gusts shortly after the startThere were some strong north-westerly gusts shortly after the start

In IRC overall today, the result mirrored the overalls for the series with Rockabill winning from Aurelia and Hot Cookie. In IRC Zero,  Keith and Rodney Martin's Lively Lady was third.

In IRC One, Hot Cookie won from Juggerknot 2 (Andrew Alego). Simon Knowles J109 Indian was third.

In IRC Two, Black Velvet (Leslie Parnell) won from More Mischief (Grzegorz Kalinecki). Wardance (Sean Hawkshaw) was third.

The results are here

Hot Cookie (yellow spinnaker) and Juggerknot II on the way to the first virtual markLively Lady (Rodney and Keith Martin) was third in IRC Zero

Lively Lady (Rodney and Keith Martin) was third in IRC ZeroLively Lady (Rodney and Keith Martin) was third in IRC Zero Vincent Farrell's First 40.7 Tsunami from the National Yacht Club	Vincent Farrell's First 40.7 Tsunami from the National Yacht Club

 Grzegorz Kalinecki's First 310 More MischiefGrzegorz Kalinecki's First 310 More Mischief

Andrew Algeo's Juggerknot II - racing fully crewed for the first time in the Coastal SeriesAndrew Algeo's Juggerknot II - racing fully crewed for the first time in the Coastal Series

Published in ISORA
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ISORA has cancelled its traditional end of season climax, the James Eadie Race from Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire set for 5th September. The decision comes as a result of the worsening COVID situation.

Instead, ISORA will stage separate races on either side of the Irish Sea. The Welsh will race from Pwllheli to Holyhead.

The final race of 2020 for Dublin offshore sailors will be held off Dun Laoghaire Harbour starting and finishing in the south Dublin Bay port.

The last race is weighted 1.3 so it will be significant in determining the overall positions for the Irish and UK/ Welsh ISORA offshore championships.

Published in ISORA
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Despite all the setbacks of season, there is a busy climax for ISORA's 2020 offshore racers with two more races following quickly in the wake of last weekend's inaugural Fastnet 450 Race.

The Royal St. George line honours winner, Aurelia, will be back on her home Dublin Bay race track this Saturday for the final race of the ISORA Viking Marine Coastal Series 2020. 

Chris Power Smith's J122 is among a number of ISORA boats that completed last week's 270-mile Dublin to Cork offshore that return to the fray for the 35-mile Dun Laoghaire Coastal Race.

Lying first overall is Paul O'Higgins' Rockabill VI, second is Power Smith's Aurelia and third is the Skerries-based J109 Mojito campaign. 

The Archambault A31 A Plus is an ISORA Race winner Photo: AfloatThe Archambault A31 A Plus is an ISORA Race winner Photo: Afloat

According to ISORA chief Peter Ryan, also racing will be the Archambault 31 A Plus, the J99 Juggerknot 2, the J109 Indian, the X-45 Samatom, the Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie and possibly her sistership YoYo too. 

Andrew Algeo's Juggerknot 2 at the Fastnet 450 Race start on Dublin Bay. Photo: AfloatAndrew Algeo's Juggerknot 2 at the Fastnet 450 Race start on Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat

Unfortunately, it looks like the season has ended for Greystones competitor Red Alert that was dismasted racing to Cork Harbour.

This Saturday's final race has an overall 0.9 weighting.

National Yacht Club Race Officer Larry Power will start the last race of the coastal series at 10 am.

Samatom from Howth Yacht Club is an ISORA regularSamatom from Howth Yacht Club is an ISORA regular Photo: Afloat

Published in ISORA
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ISORA Champion Rockabill VI was the overall winner of Friday's 40-mile night race. Although short on entries, the seven boat fleet was made up of the leading contenders for this year's Irish ISORA overall prize.

It was the defending champion, Paul O'Higgins of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, in the JPK 10.80 who won out however in the first-ever ISORA race to use virtual marks entirely.

2020 Race Six ISORA Night Race overall results on IRCISORA Night Race overall results

Dublin Bay Cruisers One sailor Darius Kry captured the start of the race by drone at Dun Laoghaire Harbour and his footage is below.

Six of the seven starters last night are signed up for next Saturday's inaugural 270-mile Fastnet 450 Race from Dublin to Cork.

Published in Dublin Bay
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It's not the biggest ISORA fleet but all seven boats in contention are on the starting list for tonight's race that could yet decide the Irish championship.

Tonight's course will use 100% virtual marks – another first for ISORA. Race finish times will be recorded by the onboard trackers that provide instant results. (see tracker below)

The night race will also stand to those boats who are competing in the inaugural Fastnet 450 Race from dun Laoghaire to Cork next Saturday.

Race six's ISORA starters in tonight's 40-mile night race on Dublin BayRace six's ISORA starters in tonight's 40-mile night race on Dublin Bay

The Irish ISORA championship includes the Irish coastal and offshore and will be the defacto top award in 2020 after the cancellation of the cross-channel Wolf's Head Trophy due to COVID-19.

Overall, the coastal results don’t tend to count as weightings are applied to the offshore races. Tonight's fixture is weighted 1.1. The last race on the 5th September is 1.3!

Tonight's 40-mile course is as follows:

  • STARTING LINE at Dun Laoghaire
  • ISORA Dublin Virtual Mark (P) N53 17.110 W6 00.100
  • Virtual Mark (P) N53 27.99 W04 40.00
  • ISORA Dublin Virtual Mark (P) N53 17.110 W6 00.100
  • FINISH LINE at Dun Laoghaire

In the meantime, there are ISORA coastal races being run in Pwllheli as part of the Welsh IRC Nationals.

Live Dublin Bay webcam here and Race Tracker below

Published in ISORA
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When John Harington's IMX 38 Excession made the Dun Laoghaire Harbour startline on Saturday morning, he became the first Northern Ireland yacht to compete in ISORA racing in many years, 

The enthusiastic Royal Ulster Yacht Club crew from Bangor on Belfast Lough sailed down for the 8 am Dublin Bay start, completed the 70-mile race, turned on the finish line, refuelled and headed straight back to RUYC to complete a race there later on Sunday! The crew were rewarded for their efforts with a third in ISORA's IRC Class One.

ISORA Chief Peter Ryan and the whole Dublin fleet gave the Belfast crew a warm welcome into the Bay. The hope now is that the Northern Ireland crew will consider future offshore races on the Irish Sea. 'They are a great bunch of guys and I hope they and more from RUYC will be active participants in ISORA", Ryan told Afloat.

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The Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's fourth 'Blue Light' service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

On average, each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

Irish Coastguard FAQs

The Irish Coast Guard provides nationwide maritime emergency response, while also promoting safety and security standards. It aims to prevent the loss of life at sea, on inland waters, on mountains and in caves; and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The main role of the Irish Coast Guard is to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction. It has three marine rescue centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co Donegal, and Valentia Island, Co Kerry. The Dublin National Maritime Operations centre provides marine search and rescue responses and coordinates the response to marine casualty incidents with the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Yes, effectively, it is the fourth "blue light" service. The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for the coastal area between Ballycotton, Co Cork and Clifden, Co Galway. At the same time, the MRSC Malin Head covers the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle. Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Dublin covers Carlingford Lough, Co Louth to Ballycotton, Co Cork. Each MRCC/MRSC also broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and MF radio, including navigational and gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings.

The Irish Coast Guard handles about 3,000 marine emergencies annually, and assists 4,500 people - saving an estimated 200 lives, according to the Department of Transport. In 2016, Irish Coast Guard helicopters completed 1,000 missions in a single year for the first time.

Yes, Irish Coast Guard helicopters evacuate medical patients from offshore islands to hospital on average about 100 times a year. In September 2017, the Department of Health announced that search and rescue pilots who work 24-hour duties would not be expected to perform any inter-hospital patient transfers. The Air Corps flies the Emergency Aeromedical Service, established in 2012 and using an AW139 twin-engine helicopter. Known by its call sign "Air Corps 112", it airlifted its 3,000th patient in autumn 2020.

The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is responsible for the Northern Irish coast.

The Irish Coast Guard is a State-funded service, with both paid management personnel and volunteers, and is under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is allocated approximately 74 million euro annually in funding, some 85 per cent of which pays for a helicopter contract that costs 60 million euro annually. The overall funding figure is "variable", an Oireachtas committee was told in 2019. Other significant expenditure items include volunteer training exercises, equipment, maintenance, renewal, and information technology.

The Irish Coast Guard has four search and rescue helicopter bases at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, run on a contract worth 50 million euro annually with an additional 10 million euro in costs by CHC Ireland. It provides five medium-lift Sikorsky S-92 helicopters and trained crew. The 44 Irish Coast Guard coastal units with 1,000 volunteers are classed as onshore search units, with 23 of the 44 units having rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and 17 units having cliff rescue capability. The Irish Coast Guard has 60 buildings in total around the coast, and units have search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles or quads, first aid equipment, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Community Rescue Boats Ireland also provide lifeboats and crews to assist in search and rescue. The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the Garda Siochána, National Ambulance Service, Naval Service and Air Corps, Civil Defence, while fishing vessels, ships and other craft at sea offer assistance in search operations.

The helicopters are designated as airborne from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours, and 45 minutes at night. The aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, on inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains and cover the 32 counties. They can also assist in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and can transport offshore firefighters and ambulance teams. The Irish Coast Guard volunteers units are expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time of departing from the station house in ten minutes from notification during daylight and 20 minutes at night. They are also expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by day and 75 minutes at night, subject to geographical limitations.

Units are managed by an officer-in-charge (three stripes on the uniform) and a deputy officer in charge (two stripes). Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a range of maritime skills, while certain units are also trained in cliff rescue.

Volunteers receive an allowance for time spent on exercises and call-outs. What is the difference between the Irish Coast Guard and the RNLI? The RNLI is a registered charity which has been saving lives at sea since 1824, and runs a 24/7 volunteer lifeboat service around the British and Irish coasts. It is a declared asset of the British Maritime and Coast Guard Agency and the Irish Coast Guard. Community Rescue Boats Ireland is a community rescue network of volunteers under the auspices of Water Safety Ireland.

No, it does not charge for rescue and nor do the RNLI or Community Rescue Boats Ireland.

The marine rescue centres maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites around the Irish coastline and a digital paging system. There are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. Does Ireland have a national search and rescue plan? The first national search and rescue plan was published in July, 2019. It establishes the national framework for the overall development, deployment and improvement of search and rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue Region and to meet domestic and international commitments. The purpose of the national search and rescue plan is to promote a planned and nationally coordinated search and rescue response to persons in distress at sea, in the air or on land.

Yes, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for responding to spills of oil and other hazardous substances with the Irish pollution responsibility zone, along with providing an effective response to marine casualties and monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations. It provides and maintains a 24-hour marine pollution notification at the three marine rescue centres. It coordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans.

The first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die on duty was Caitriona Lucas, a highly trained member of the Doolin Coast Guard unit, while assisting in a search for a missing man by the Kilkee unit in September 2016. Six months later, four Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew – Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith -died when their Sikorsky S-92 struck Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on March 14, 2017. The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew were providing "top cover" or communications for a medical emergency off the west coast and had been approaching Blacksod to refuel. Up until the five fatalities, the Irish Coast Guard recorded that more than a million "man hours" had been spent on more than 30,000 rescue missions since 1991.

Several investigations were initiated into each incident. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was critical of the Irish Coast Guard in its final report into the death of Caitriona Lucas, while a separate Health and Safety Authority investigation has been completed, but not published. The Air Accident Investigation Unit final report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has not yet been published.

The Irish Coast Guard in its present form dates back to 1991, when the Irish Marine Emergency Service was formed after a campaign initiated by Dr Joan McGinley to improve air/sea rescue services on the west Irish coast. Before Irish independence, the British Admiralty was responsible for a Coast Guard (formerly the Water Guard or Preventative Boat Service) dating back to 1809. The West Coast Search and Rescue Action Committee was initiated with a public meeting in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in 1988 and the group was so effective that a Government report was commissioned, which recommended setting up a new division of the Department of the Marine to run the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC), then based at Shannon, along with the existing coast radio service, and coast and cliff rescue. A medium-range helicopter base was established at Shannon within two years. Initially, the base was served by the Air Corps.

The first director of what was then IMES was Capt Liam Kirwan, who had spent 20 years at sea and latterly worked with the Marine Survey Office. Capt Kirwan transformed a poorly funded voluntary coast and cliff rescue service into a trained network of cliff and sea rescue units – largely voluntary, but with paid management. The MRCC was relocated from Shannon to an IMES headquarters at the then Department of the Marine (now Department of Transport) in Leeson Lane, Dublin. The coast radio stations at Valentia, Co Kerry, and Malin Head, Co Donegal, became marine rescue-sub-centres.

The current director is Chris Reynolds, who has been in place since August 2007 and was formerly with the Naval Service. He has been seconded to the head of mission with the EUCAP Somalia - which has a mandate to enhance Somalia's maritime civilian law enforcement capacity – since January 2019.

  • Achill, Co. Mayo
  • Ardmore, Co. Waterford
  • Arklow, Co. Wicklow
  • Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
  • Ballycotton, Co. Cork
  • Ballyglass, Co. Mayo
  • Bonmahon, Co. Waterford
  • Bunbeg, Co. Donegal
  • Carnsore, Co. Wexford
  • Castlefreake, Co. Cork
  • Castletownbere, Co. Cork
  • Cleggan, Co. Galway
  • Clogherhead, Co. Louth
  • Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway
  • Courtown, Co. Wexford
  • Crosshaven, Co. Cork
  • Curracloe, Co. Wexford
  • Dingle, Co. Kerry
  • Doolin, Co. Clare
  • Drogheda, Co. Louth
  • Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
  • Fethard, Co. Wexford
  • Glandore, Co. Cork
  • Glenderry, Co. Kerry
  • Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Greencastle, Co. Donegal
  • Greenore, Co. Louth
  • Greystones, Co. Wicklow
  • Guileen, Co. Cork
  • Howth, Co. Dublin
  • Kilkee, Co. Clare
  • Killala, Co. Mayo
  • Killybegs, Co. Donegal
  • Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford
  • Knightstown, Co. Kerry
  • Mulroy, Co. Donegal
  • North Aran, Co. Galway
  • Old Head Of Kinsale, Co. Cork
  • Oysterhaven, Co. Cork
  • Rosslare, Co. Wexford
  • Seven Heads, Co. Cork
  • Skerries, Co. Dublin Summercove, Co. Cork
  • Toe Head, Co. Cork
  • Tory Island, Co. Donegal
  • Tramore, Co. Waterford
  • Waterville, Co. Kerry
  • Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Wicklow
  • Youghal, Co. Cork

Sources: Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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