Collecting place names with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Today’s guest blog is by Jo Rawlings, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, explaining how a vernacular geography project called FINTAN is helping to pinpoint locations for emergency responses.

When receiving an emergency or distress call, understanding the position of the person in difficulty is vital in delivering a swift response. 

HM Coastguard is working in partnership with the Ordnance Survey on a dataset that will help with this process. 

Expanding the depth of the dataset 

Developed by Ordnance Survey with a pilot run within the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the vernacular project (FINTAN) is a software data collection and management web application covering Great Britain. The dataset initially included within FINTAN will locate any place name already shown on an Ordnance Survey map. However, to deal with the fact many locations are known by alternative local names, work is underway to identify and verify these, and then add them to the FINTAN database. 

When a person calls 999 and asks for the Coastguard, they may not be certain of their exact location or the position where they can see someone in trouble.

However they may know the area by its nickname, such as Cow Beach, otherwise known as Prisk Cove in south Cornwall. 

There are also many sections of the coastline which don’t have an official name at all, but are given an identity by the local community. For example, Dell Rock off Stornoway, Butchers Shops on theYorkshire coast, and Sausage Island in northWales. 

All of the above place names, plus many hundreds more, have now been entered into FINTAN by Coastguards, and the web application used for data collection can be accessed from all the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) around the coast. New locations are continually being added, expanding the database even further, and as a trial of this system MRCCs are also using the data collection web application to search for place names in support of live operations. 

Expanding the breadth of the dataset 

The 3,500 Coastguard Rescue Officers (CROs) also bring an important dimension to this data collection programme. 

These volunteers, organised into 365 teams, are drawn from coastal communities around our entire coastline. Trained in a range of emergency response skills such as search, cliff rescue and mud rescue, they also bring a wealth of in depth knowledge of the area in which they live and work. 

They are involved in passing on details of locations and place names in their area which are not already shown on Ordnance Survey mapping back to their local MRCC. These are then entered into FINTAN by staff in the MRCC. 

Next steps

Once this initial data collection project is complete the information will be embedded into HM Coastguard search and rescue coordination systems as a permanent aid to improving the search and rescue response capability for our coastline. 

So next time you’re visiting the coast, you may well be walking past Pangbournes Tip on Portland on the south coast, or near Lobster Rocks in the Outer Hebrides. We now have a better chance than ever of knowing precisely where you are talking about if you call needing our help. 

And if you do venture out, you’re advised to make sure you are properly equipped for walking along coastal paths by wearing sturdy shoes or boots, and check the weather forecast before you set out. 

Equally, if you’re heading out to sea, the key message is stay safe and keep in touch. Recreational sailors and motor boaters should wear lifejackets at all times whilst on deck. Kayakers, canoeists, rowers, dinghy sailors and the like should wearing buoyancy aids as recommended by their sport’s national governing body. 

Details of some of the most newsworthy incidents that Her Majesty’s Coastguard deals with are covered in press releases. These can be found on our website http://www.dft.gov.uk/mca/mcga07-home/newsandpublications/press-releases.htm

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