HM Coastguard stations around the UK were closed by the government as a means of cost saving in 1994. Following the death of two young fishermen immediately in front of the lookout at Bass Point in Cornwall just after the closure, a group of mariners, lead by Captain Starling Lark, decided to form a group of like minded people who then set about re-opening the closed lookouts. To date 46 stations around the UK coastline have been re-opened, each being run completely independently, financially, all having their own management responsible for their own lookout. Portland Bill was one of the last lookouts to close in 1997 as it was considered to be vital given the treacherous sea area, the infamous ‘Portland Race’.
The lookout was in dire need of repair, having originally been built in 1939. A massive fund raising campaign was started by the Station Manager, Geoff Peters & in 2004 we completed the rebuild which gave us a watch room almost twice the size. The official opening was carried out by HRH The Princess Royal.
The lookout is run entirely on public donations, together with all the local fund raising we carry out. We receive no help from local councils or the government whatsoever. It costs £8,000 p.a. just to keep the doors open.
The lookout is manned in 4 hour shifts, usually by 3 watchkeepers, from 07.00 – 19.00, 364 days each year but we remain on standby throughout the hours of closure, including Christmas Day.
We have 65 very highly trained volunteers of all ages & from all walks of life, all of whom give their time for free, buy their own uniforms & claim no expenses whatsoever. The team give 9,417 man hours to the community each year (excluding time ‘on call’ & given to administration work & training).
We are officially part of the Dorset Search & Rescue and work very closely with National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC), the Search & Rescue Helicopter, the RNLI, UK Border Agencies, Immigration, Drug Alliance, Dorset Police & the Marine Police. We also give regular weather reports to NMOC at Fareham.
The lookout is equipped with all the very latest technology, state of the art Radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System) for identifying shipping, up to the minute weather monitoring system and very high powered binoculars. We have just had a CCTV camera installed which is mounted at the top of the lighthouse enabling us to monitor the inshore passage, around the Bill, an area of water we were previously unable to see but is used by numerous smaller vessels avoiding the ‘Race’, this is in addition to the 640 sq miles of sea previously monitored.
We not only monitor all shipping, leisure & commercial craft using the waters around the Bill, we also watch out for walkers, climbers, horse riders, in fact anyone using the land & sea areas around Portland Bill. Last year alone we logged 15,962 vessels & were involved with over 160 incidents, all of which could have ended very differently had Coastwatch not been there.
In the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year (2012) we were presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, this is the highest recognition possible for volunteers, the equivalent of an MBE. We were delighted when in August HRH The Princess Royal returned, together with Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, to present us with this prestigious award, whilst at the same time officially opening our recently completed Training Centre.
HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence have since officially joined the team at Portland Bill by becoming Honorary Watchkeepers, a further endorsement of the importance of the work the volunteers carry out daily at the lookout.
Contact details (to make a donation or if you are interested in joining the team): Geoff Peters, Station Manager. Tel: 01305 837216.
Lookout (for current weather conditions): Tel 01305 860178 (07.00-19.00, daily).
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