The Maritime Volunteer Service

MVS East Sussex 1

Looking forward to the next twenty years

Freelance shipping journalist and MVS Trustee David Hughes PhD MNI explains how the Service is meeting the challenges of the 21st century

Back in 1994 members of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (RNXS) founded a charity that would continue to use their expertise when the RNXS disbanded at the end of the Cold War. The Maritime Volunteer Service was born.

Changes and challenges

The twenty years since 1994 have seen a transformation in the environment in which charities operate, and, in addition, some major changes in the regulatory regime that governs the operation of small craft. Today, the trustees of the MVS are thus facing a far more demanding environment in the field of charity governance, and also a more stringent regulatory regime for their maritime activities.

The MVS also faces the same challenges that beset all charities – an ageing membership base, a shortage of volunteers and, in recent years, a lack of funding as individuals, companies and foundations feel the effects of the global financial crisis.

The trustees are responding to these challenges in many ways, redefining the charity’s aims and objectives and putting in place new structures to meet the requirements of the twenty-first century. The MVS is also taking positive steps to work more closely with other organisations, with the aim of further developing the delivery of its mission.

The MVS sums up its mission as: ‘We change lives by training people in maritime skills and we support communities in and around all UK waters and waterways.’

In support of the community

The MVS has two stated aims – training its own members and members of the public in maritime skills, and using those skills to protect and preserve life and property. These aims are delivered in a variety of ways that are as diverse as the volunteers who make up the charity.

Some units work closely with local youth groups, while others support the community by using their craft to provide safety patrols. For example, the Poole Unit works closely with the harbour authority to ensure the safety of people on the water within the busy port, while other units are closely involved with their local resilience forums and provide an invaluable additional resource in emergencies. Although the MVS is not, and never will be, a ‘blue light’ responder or a rescue organisation, having the craft and expertise of the charity available to them enhances the ability of local organisations to respond when necessary. In recent years, several MVS units have provided practical assistance during floods in their localities.

The MVS also acts as a valuable resource or organisations such as Scouts, Sea Cadets, Police Cadets and other youth movements, providing both expertise and craft. The leaders within these organisations can also make use of the charity to enhance their own skills and gain valuable experience.

During the recent summer season, a number of MVS units have worked with Scouts around the country. East Sussex Sovereign Harbour Unit has been providing experience afloat to Bexhill Sea Scouts for several years on board the Training Vessel East Sussex 1. In addition, this summer, the unit ran a weekend sea-experience trip for scout leaders. Elsewhere, Thanet Unit and Liverpool City Unit regularly provide experience afloat and simple boating training for their local Scouts. More such projects are in the pipeline around the country.

Adult organisations can also profit from making use of the facilities that we have to offer, whether it is to gain qualifications that will increase career prospects or to improve confidence and general life skills. In addition, we are now starting to work with vulnerable adults and people who could benefit from taking part in our activities to develop their social skills.

MVS Thanet Unit is leading the way in this area, engaging in various activities to promote awareness of the sea and the local environment, from beach cleaning exercises to carnivals and beach events. The unit holds short training sessions covering boat handling, sea safety, radio, fire precautions, first aid and diesel engines.

Members and non-members

As a national charity we deliver our training objective in two main ways. We encourage adults to join the MVS and attend our regular, usually weekly, training meetings, and to gain experience afloat in our fleet. Additionally, because the MVS is a registered RYA training school, training can be given to non-members either on an individual basis or to improve the skills of members of other organisations.

The trustees have also recognised that membership of the charity makes other demands on its volunteers that are not directly concerned with maritime skills. Units and regions need management and administrative skills, and a training programme has been set up to train members in the largely unrecognised field of charity administration. The MVS ultimately aims to have this administrative training recognised through outside certification. Volunteers who attain the appropriate qualification will be able to transfer these skills into other walks of life, which will enhance their employability.

In search of sponsorship

There are around thirty MVS units located around the UK, operating a fleet of some sixty training craft, ranging from small inflatables to the 17-metre East Sussex 1, which is capable of undertaking coastal and cross-Channel trips.

Inevitably, operating this fleet, running our training programmes and maintaining a national administration does not come cheap. In general our local units fund their activities through local initiatives, but we are now at a stage where there is a need to launch nationally funded programmes – and to this end the MVS is now seeking corporate sponsorship.

For more information about the MVS, visit