A call for help can be raised by several means. The main two forms are to contact HM Coastguard on Ch16 via a pan-pan or mayday, or to dial 999 and request the Coastguard. They in turn will decide which of the resources available to them will be most effective for the incident.
Portsmouth Lifeboats station’s average time to launch, from first pager message to boat launched is 8 minutes.
The lifeboat will then communicate with the Coastguard to gain further details of the situation and which other craft, if any, have been tasked as well.
For casualties who need immediate medical treatment, it may be quicker to air lift them to the hospital. The transfer of persons at sea between the lifeboat and the helicopter whilst underway requires precise manoeuvring by both craft, and is therefore practiced on a regular basis.
History of Helicopter Search and Rescue in the Solent
The Search and Rescue Service, originally operated by the Royal Navy, was taken over by HM Coastguard on 15th May 1988, and continues to operate out of the former Naval Fleet Air Arm base, H.M.S. Daedalus, at Lee-on-Solent.
Since it was established the Lee-on-Solent based Coastguard Helicopter has proved to be the busiest Maritime Search and Rescue helicopter unit in the United Kingdom.
Between 1988 and 2008 the Coastguard rescue helicopter was a Sikorsky S-61N aircraft especially configured for search and rescue.
In 2008 this was replaced by the lighter and faster Agusta-Westland AW139 medium twin engine machine which is in service today.