Who we are

The National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) has re-established the building at the top of Hengistbury Head as a manned lookout.

This bridges a crucial gap between the existing NCI Stations at The Needles on the western tip of the Isle of Wight and Swanage to the west.

Hengistbury Head NCI is one of 57 stations manned by  2600 volunteers.

Each NCI Station is expected to fund the provision and maintenance of its lookout, equipment and building, and also recruit and train Watchkeepers to a national standard.

NCI Watchkeepers are volunteers who come from all walks of life and have a wide variety of skills and experience. They share a strong desire to help improve the safety of seafarers and walkers in our area.

In the immediate area of Hengistbury Head we have numerous navigational dangers, including Beerpan Rocks off the end of the Long Groyne and Clarendon Rocks off the Mudeford sandspit beach. In addition, there is the treacherous entrance to Christchurch Harbour with its shallow shifting channel and fast flowing tides. All these dangers create incidents every year that will keep Watchkeepers busy.


BCP Council has a very useful website page dedicated to Christchurch Harbour.  Mariners should find the sections relating to Approach, Entrance and Speed limits valuable.

    Watchkeeper’s duties include:

  • Maintaining a visual and radio watch and, when identified, record and report emergencies to the Coastguard;
  • Assisting with search & rescue by advising rescue authorities of a casualty’s exact position and the conditions on the scene;
  • Informing mariners of the current local weather and sea conditions;
  • Acting as an emergency contact point for walkers on the Head;
  • Co-operating with agencies involved in the protection of fisheries, wildlife and historic wrecks.

Each NCI Station forms part of the national Search and Rescue (SAR) organisation, working closely with HM Coastguard. Hengistbury Head NCI works with local SAR partners including:

NCI Staions are seen as a valuable addition to the local SAR community.
Prior to our becoming operational the Mudeford RNLI Station manager said “There is no doubt that having NCI observers there will reduce the response times and lead to faster location of casualties”.