Irish Coast Guard warns against over-reliance on mobile phones when at sea

‘Phone coverage at sea is limited and unreliable,’ it said

The Irish Coast Guard saved more than 370 lives this year, new figures show, as the organisation warns people against relying on mobile phones as their only means of communication when at sea.

In an end-of-year statement, the coast guard said the capacity to raise an alarm and stay afloat are central to the prevention of drownings at sea or on inland waterways.

The water safety body’s core message for the New Year is to warn people to never engage in a boating activity without wearing a “fully serviced life jacket or personal flotation device”.

Individuals heading out to sea should also inform shore-based colleagues of their intended activity and anticipated return time, the body added.


The Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, also cautioned against mobile phones being considered as a suitable substitute or to be relied upon as the only means of emergency communication at sea.

“Phone coverage at sea is limited and unreliable. Mobile phones are also highly susceptible to failure due to water ingress,” the statement said.

"Into 2020, the Coast Guard will continue to focus on the importance of prevention as a core safety theme and will continue to work with colleagues in Water Safety Ireland, RNLI, BIM and the Irish Sailing Association in promoting water safety and identifying key risk areas."

There were fewer incidents that required the coast guard’s intervention this year, when compared with the two previous years.

Over the past year, the coast guard's three rescue co-ordination centres at Malin Head, Valentia Island and Dublin managed a total of 2,487 incidents, down from 2,647 in 2018 and 2,503 in 2017.

In total, 378 people were saved from circumstances in which there was a significant threat to life.

By year end, coast guard helicopters will have flown in excess of 770 missions, including inland searches for missing persons, in support of An Garda Síochána and Mountain Rescue Teams.

The coast guard also provides support services to offshore islands, and in 2019 there were 123 emergency missions from the offshore islands to the mainland.

Coast guard helicopters assist the national ambulance service through emergency helicopter medical service, which includes inter-hospital transfers.

The busiest inter-hospital transfer route is from Letterkenny hospital to University Hospital Galway, the organisation said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times