Dutch Coast Guard and its future     

As a real maritime nation the Netherlands has a rather strange coast guard organization. The Kustwacht (Dutch for Coast Guard) is actually a relative young organization with a wide range of tasks along the Dutch coast. This article contains an in depth review of today’s Kustwacht and will focus on its assets and future.


It took until 1987 before the Netherlands got a real coast guard organization. Before that time there were a lot of independent organizations which performed their own task in and around the North Sea. In the eighties 20 different organizations were working at the North Sea. In 1984 the minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management decided it was time to work more efficient, so the Kustwacht was founded in 1987. The Kustwacht is an independent organization in which five different ministries cooperate. The Kustwacht headquarter was situated in the seaport IJmuiden till 1995 until it moved to Den Helder. Today the headquarter is situated on the Dutch naval base and is under command of the Ministry of Defence.

Current organization

The current organization of the Kustwacht is cooperation between five different ministries, namely: the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Together these ministries will supply the Kustwacht with personnel and equipment. The majority of the suppliers are the Navy, Air Force, (Military) Police, Customs, Department of Waterways and Public Works and the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. Besides that there are some partners like the unsubsidized Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution and some commercial rescue companies.

Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen provides this AS365 Dauphin for Coast Guard duty.


The current tasks of the Dutch Coast Guard can be divided in two categories. The first is assistance at sea in forms of search and rescue, disaster and accident response, traffic support, sea lane marking, etc. The other tasks is a law enforcement task and consists of general police and customs work, environmental inspection, fishery inspection, vessel traffic service, inspection of shipping safety, inspection of mining at sea, and border control. All these tasks are performed on behalf of one of the participating ministries. The Kustwacht will use the personnel and material of the different participating organizations and will combine tasks as much as possible to increase efficacy.

Floating units

The majority of the Kustwacht units are floating units. Those units are supplied by different organizations. The biggest supplier of vessels is the “Rijksrederij”. This organization is part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and supplies all the ships for the Department of Waterways and Public Works. The “Rijksrederij” has four ships are permanently available for the Kustwacht. These are the patrol vessels Visarend, Zeearend, Barend Biesheuvel and the offshore supplier Guardian. The Guardian is on charter since 2016 from the towage company Multratug. The Guardian is a well known vessel for the Kustwacht because till 2015 it was on charter from Svitzer Salvage under the name Ievoli Amaranth.

Besides that there are several other vessels from the Department of Waterways and Public Works which are partly available for the Kustwacht. The most important are three seagoing buoy laying vessels the Frans Naerebout, Rotterdam and Terschelling and four shallow water buoy laying vessels namely the Nieuwe Diep, Schuitegat, Waddenzee and Vliestroom. Furthermore there is a research vessel with the name Zirfaea and the multipurpose vessel Arca which is suitable for oil clearance.  Other suppliers of vessels are the Royal Netherlands Navy which will supply an Alkmaar class minehunter. The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee and Dutch Police will supply their patrol vessels.

There are other organizations which will support the Kustwacht, mostly during search and rescue operations.  The biggest one is the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution which has a large fleet of rescue vessels. It is an unsubsidized organization with 45 rescue stations along the Dutch coast and larger inner waters. Besides those other civilian towage and salvage companies will assist during emergencies at sea as well.

The Dornier 228-212 is the main Maritime Patrol Aircraft of the Coast Guard here seen seen dropping a life raft. 

Flying units

The Kustwacht uses also some flying assets. The most important ones are two Dornier 228-212 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. These are flown by the Royal Netherlands Air Force and stationed at Schiphol Airport. The aircraft has a wide array of sensors and is mostly used to inspect and monitor shipping traffic at sea and to search for environmental pollution. However, the aircraft are also used to coordinate during search and rescue operations.

Besides the fixed wing aircraft the coast guard uses also some rotary wing assets. The first are the helicopters from Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen, which is a Belgian civil company which provides three AS365 Dauphin helicopters. Two of the helicopters are stationed at Den Helder airport and the other one in the harbor of Rotterdam. The helicopters are used for search and rescue. As a temporary solution the Kustwacht helicopters will provide patient flight to the Wadden Islands. When someone needs to be evacuated to the mainland because of a medical emergency this will be done by helicopter. Till 2014 this service was provided by the Royal Netherlands Air Force with AB412 helicopters. Due to budget cuts the helicopters are sold and the flights are put to tender. During the tender phase there were some issues which slowed down the procedure. As long as no contract is signed the flights will be carried out by the Dauphin helicopters.

The last provider of rotary wing aircraft is the Dutch Police. The Dutch Police has two AW139 helicopters which can be used for coast guard patrols. The helicopters can assist during search and rescue missions but cannot carry them out themselves because they aren’t equipped with a hoist system. The helicopters however have cameras on board which are helpful for searching.


The future will not bring much change for the Kustwacht. The assets are modern and up to date and most contracts with civil suppliers last for the next few years. Due to the decreasing budgets for governmental organizations the amount of cooperation between the different ministries will only increase. The Kustwacht is a small and efficient organization which uses all the available assets to provide security and safety along the Dutch Coast.