Winter is with us and training is now the main occupation. We do this at our monthly Meeting at Portscatho, following on the ordinary business. It’s pretty informal, no one gets worked up over it, and we find that even those of us who have been there a long time or have some form of emergency service experience get caught out and make mistakes. I suppose that is what it is all about. Even if you should know the subject backwards lack of use will make us all rusty.
There is an imposing collection of files and books in the Lookout. There ought to be one entitled ‘ 101 Things a Good Watchkeeper Should Know’. With such a book we could throw all the others out of the window and make a bit more space. We cover how to take a bearing and plot it on a chart, how to read a chart, Distress Signals, International Code of Flags, Radio Procedures, NATO Alphabet, weather, tides, how to fill in the Log Book, and Opening and Closing the Station, plus, I am sure, a few I have forgotten. There is even a section on how to find the bit you want in the reference books – a sort of Reference Book to the Reference Books,
It seems a large list and when we get visitors or even first time recruits, often their reaction is ‘Goodness, do you have to know that lot?”.The answer is “Well, yes, you should – but not all at once”. You do not need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the lot in order to be accepted as a Qualified Watchkeeper so you can stand your watch alone. We assume you know how to use binoculars and, on your first accompanied watch someone will show you the intricacies of our expensive telescope. You need to know how to take and plot a bearing on a chart. You must be able to work the radio, follow radio procedures and use the NATO alphabet. We assume you can use a telephone.
Chart plotting, bearings etc come with practice. We have the equipment to do this and it is not difficult. If you can work the mechanics of a mobile telephone you can soon work the mechanics of the radio. You need to learn the right procedures to speak on the radio and you need to learn the NATO alphabet. This last is, in some ways , the most challenging, a bit like when you learnt your tables at school. You can practice this at home on children, grandchildren, husband or dog, though you may not get much reaction there. It comes with practice like most things. You need to know how to write things up in the log (follow what others have done if you get stuck – though there is a crib sheet provided). You need to know how to open and close the station. Sounds simple but, because of the isolation of the Lookout, we have set procedures and places to put things so as to guard against theft and vandalism. I think this makes a total of about six things which are essential, none difficult. The rest is Common Sense. Think about it. Even now if you saw someone in difficulties on the water what would you do? Tell someone and you would at least point them out or say which direction they were. That is all we are asking you to do but we are giving you the equipment and the training to do it professionally. Someone comes to the
Lookout and says they think a companion has fallen and broken their arm. What would you do if someone came to your house and said this? Dial 999 and call an Ambulance. Again we give you the means to do this. You are not expected to treat the casualty – indeed you must not. You are probably not a trained First Aider and your place is by the telephone and radio in the Lookout so that when the ambulance or, more likely, a helicopter comes you can direct them to the casualty.
It’s all Common Sense. Yes, it’s good to know the International Distress Signals but if you see some man on a yacht apparently having a bonfire on his foredeck Common Sense will kick in and you will think, “That’s unusual – he might need help.” The man in the water waving his arms as he goes up and down is not being familiar – he is in trouble. The older man in the kayak who has paddled sublimely round in front of the Lookout with a strong wind behind him, going like the clappers, appears to be struggling as he tries to come back into that same wind. The fact his paddling is getting slower and slower does not mean he is admiring the scenery. He is possibly close to collapse and will be very grateful if you call Falmouth Coastguard (using your radio or telephone skills) and they then send the Inshore Boat to help him. When you close up that evening you can go home, sit with a cup of tea or gin and tonic and think to yourself ‘I might have saved someone’s life today’.
You are going to supply the missing element. Not for nothing is our motto ‘Eyes Along The Coast’. Situated as you are high up on the cliff top you will be able to see better than anyone on the beach or the water. The fact that you are there may be the start of a Lifeboat or Helicopter rescue.
All the books, all the skills which we have on display, are important. However to start with you can be selective and concentrate on those in which you need to be competent to do the job and become a Qualified Watchkeeper. That and Common Sense will see you through. Pat Rigley’s ‘phone number – 01872-501838