The RNLI and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are testing drones in real-life search and rescue scenarios this week to explore how they could used to save lives in the future

The RNLI and Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) will be undertaking a week-long test to assess how drones could help save lives and work with existing Coastguard teams and assets this week.

The teams will use drones in a variety of search and rescue operations, to test and investigate how they could be used to help save lives at sea in the future.

The scenarios to be undertaken by drones are a shoreline search for a casualty, an offshore search for multiple casualties in the sea, a mud rescue and a communications blackspot where a drone is required to relay information between rescue teams and a casualty on a cliff.

The week-long trial began on Monday and will be taking place along the Welsh coastline around St Athan.

Hannah Nobbs, from the RNLI’s Innovation Team, said: “The aim of this event is to provide realistic scenarios and an authentic operating environment to explore the use of drones in multi-agency operations. We hope this will allow us to understand the benefits and limitations of their use in search and rescue activity.

Phil Hanson, aviation technical assurance manager at the MCA, said: ‘The MCA is always ready to embrace working with new technology. There is significant evidence emerging from our overseas counterparts and more locally from UK mountain rescue teams indicating that drones can play a crucial role in emergency response.

“It’s too early to comment on how we will move forward from the trials but one thing we all agree on is that drones cannot replace helicopters, coastguard rescue teams or lifeboats. However, it is entirely possible that they could be an additional tool to use in search and rescue.”

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Six industry partners are involved in the trial and include Lockheed Martin UK, Scisys and the University of Bath.

A range of drones are being used as part of the test, including rotary platforms that offer stability for electro-optic and thermal sensor payloads, a tethered drone and fixed-wing platforms that are runway or catapult launched.