In 1994, when two fishermen lost their lives off the Cornish coast below a recently closed Coastguard lookout, local people decided to open and restore the visual watch. When the first station was opened at Bass Point on the Lizard, the National Coastwatch Institution was born. Today 51 stations keep a visual watch around the coastline of England and Wales.
HM Coastguard built the first lookout on Martello tower P in 1934. The current lookout was built in 1979. With changing priorities and efficiency drives in the 1990s coastal lookouts were closed down and HM Coastguard focused more on the provision of co-ordinated search and rescue services. HM Coastguard closed their Felixstowe lookout in 1994.
In 1995 the NCI Felixstowe station was a caravan which was towed each weekend into position for observations. From there we graduated to a large beach hut mounted on oil drums and concrete which we shared with Alby’s Beach Café and an ice cream kiosk.
On 26 April 1996 we moved into our present home - the recently vacated HM Coastguard lookout on top of Martello tower P. We have a wide view of Felixstowe's beaches, Felixstowe's inshore waters, the Harwich approaches, one of the busiest shipping areas in the UK, with a three lane traffic separation channel for commercial traffic.
We are the Coastguard's 'Eyes along the Coast' helping to ensure that our local beaches and inshore waters are a safe place to be and are one of fifty stations belonging to the National Coastwatch Institution.
Since 1994 we have been keeping a visual watch over
Felixstowe's beaches from Cobbold's Point to the North and Martello Park to the South and the sea from the Woodbridge Haven buoy to the North, out to Roughs Towers to the East and round to Walton on the Naze to the South.
We monitor radio channels 0, 16, 65, 67 and 71.
When we see an incident that could be life threatening we call HM Coastguard or the appropriate emergency service. In the case of HM Coastguard we act as their eyes while they co-ordinate the emergency services attending the incident.
We have 'Declared Facility Status' which means that we are fully recognised in search and rescue operations with the same status as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats and the Search and Rescue helicopters.
Martello towers were inspired by a round fortress at Mortella Point in Corsica. In 1794 two British warships spent two days unsuccessfully attacking the tower. The design was so impressive it was copied for the English Martello towers.
Between 1805 and 1812 one hundred and three Martello towers were built along the east and south coast of England as part of the defences against a possible invasion by Napoleon’s forces.
Twenty nine were built on the east coast starting at St Osyths Point in Essex and going north to Slaughden in Suffolk. The towers were named with letters of the alphabet - A to Z, AA, BB and CC.
Eight towers were built on the Felixstowe peninsular - N to U. Five of these still remain and our lookout is on top of Martello Tower P.
Martello tower P is owned by Suffolk Coastal District Council. It was built between 1810 and 1812 using about 750,000 bricks and cost approximately £2,000.
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