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International lifesavers of the future

A pioneering scheme is uniting students from around the world with local community volunteers with the shared aim of helping to save lives on the coast.

Thought to be a world-first, the collaborative scheme has seen the establishment of a new National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) station at the prestigious UWC Atlantic College at St Donat’s, Wales, UK where seven student NCI ‘cadets’ from Canada, Kenya, Taiwan, Pakistan, China, Peru and the Netherlands are now completing their training under the supervision of trained volunteers from the local area. It’s also part of the students’ formal International Baccalaureate qualification which requires an element of service in the community.

The NCI St Donat’s Bay station, on the rugged Vale of Glamorgan coast to the west of Cardiff, is one of nearly 60 of the charity’s stations around Wales and England. The Atlantic College students (aged between 16 and 19) are receiving the NCI’s watchkeeping training in a range of skills such as interpreting weather and tides, VHF radio operation and reading maritime charts.

Jessica Moon Bowen, Activities Team Leader at UWC Atlantic and Deputy Station Manager NCI St Donat’s Bay, said the initiative continues the college’s long connections with maritime safety.

“Here at UWC Atlantic, we have a long history of helping to save lives at sea, going back to the 1960s when our students helped develop the Atlantic class rigid hull inflatable boat (RIB) which revolutionised international maritime rescue and became the model for RNLI inshore rescue boats.

"And now, our partnership with the NCI means we are bringing our student experience and skills right up to date, creating lifesavers of the future who will help spread the word worldwide,” she said.

Ms Bowen added, “They started training in September 2022 and they already have a great sense of achievement and fulfilment to take on to their future lives and careers. One of the students is from Peru and has been so inspired by the whole experience that she’s already thinking about setting up a similar scheme when she returns home to Lima.

"It’s fantastic that our students really can help maritime safety in our local community through our partnership with the NCI and take it on to the next level.”

The St Donat’s Bay station opened in 2021 and is expected to achieve HM Coastguard Declared Facility Status in 2023 which means it is formally recognised as part of the maritime search and rescue organisation. The Covid pandemic delayed the start of training but it’s now well under-way, said Station Manager Jo Schup.

“Covid safety meant that we were only able to start our cadet training a few months ago but we’re delighted to see that the wonderful partnership with UWC Atlantic is now coming to fruition. The detailed training provided to the cadets is exactly the same as that for all our volunteers and they are really rising to the challenge.” 

Another challenge has also been the language and maritime terminology which the students have not experienced before. Jo added, “As an island nation, we take our weather and a lot of our maritime vocabulary for granted. But people from different parts of the world may never have experienced some of the words and terms we routinely use such as foghorn, tides and currents or sea mists. Our local volunteers have been amazing in helping the students with practical support and backing up the training to help them succeed.”

Seawork supporter; National Coastwatch Institution (NCI)

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