The Coastguard was established in 1822, in a bid to patrol the shores to ward off potential smugglers. However, these days the Coastguard is the fourth emergency service, and seen as a life saving service rather than money saving. In coastal areas where maritime occupations make up just as much as those on the land, the Coastguard is a vital ally in keeping those who work on the sea safe from the ever present perils that the turbulent waters can present.
The first official Coast Guard Station in Ullapool was built in the 1880s on West Terrace. In 1886 Henry Hagills was posted from the Gourock Station to take charge at the new Ullapool station as the Chief Boatman in Charge. At some point in the mid twentieth century, the Ullapool Coastguard Station moved a few doors down, as seen in the OS maps, to a smaller premises. George Ross, an Ullapool native, recalls the West Terrace Coastguard Station being called out on a particularly stormy night, when cries of ” Help help” were heard across the water at Lochside. The Coastguards and Norman Campbell were sent out. Norman had to borrow another boat because the Coastguards rowing boat was high and dry at the time. It turned out that it was a tramp who was doing the hazardous walk in the dark between Loggie and Altnaharrie who was bawling “Help Help”.
The Coastguard did not only deploy lifeboats to aid those in peril, a rake of equipment also furnished each station. The Ullapool station was home to a Breeches Buoy, a rescue device that is used to extract people from stricken ships by creating a type of zipwire. These can be used from ship to shore, or from ship to ship. They are deployed from either a Manby mortar, a Rocket or Kite system. One of the Breeches Buoy stationed at Ullapool used a rocket system, which was displayed at an open day in the 1980s. Newspaper articles show the use of these devices well into the modern age. Reports of the Lochinver Lifeboat crew using Breeches Buoys in the 1970s to rescue stranded fishermen from Ullapool on the Summer Isles.
The coastguard would routinely hone their skills by conducting demonstrations and competitions. While equipment such as Breeches Buoys have been replaced with modern helicopters and winches, they are still commonly used by the sea cadets and sea scouts as part of their training and have national drill competitions to see how fast they can be set up. First Aid has also been high on the priority list for any budding coastguard and by conducting demonstrations for the general public they spread awareness of what to do in an emergency. Early demonstrations in Achiltibuie show the coast guard training the locals on artificial resuscitation, CPR.
Over the past two centuries, HM Coastguard has gone from strength to strength. In 2022, coastguard operations centres coordinate responses to emergency situations at the coast calling on 310 Coastguard Rescue Teams – made up of 3500 dedicated volunteers – and using 10 search and rescue helicopter bases.
Watch Breeches Buoy Demonstration
Watch HM Coastguard Saving Lives for 200 Years Video
Ross-shire and Cromartyshire XIV.13 Revised: 1902, Published: 1904, National Library of Scotland, ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ https://maps.nls.uk/view/82901844 Copyright: NLS
Breeches Buoy Rocket, ULMPH_2000_0543: Copyright Ullapool Museum Trust
Artificial Resuscitation, Achiltibuie, ULMPH_2000_0094: Copyright Ullapool Museum Trust.
Coastguard Ullapool Harbour 1981, ULMPH_2000_0438: Copyright Ullapool Museum Trust.