The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is assessing the use of drones in search and rescue missions across the UK.
A new project is investigating whether drones could also boost missions by visiting rescue sites ahead of air, sea or land-based recovery teams to provide a full picture of the situation and develop the appropriate response.
It will assess the use of drones for regular and routine flights.
Demonstration flights will be carried out using several unmanned aerial system drones.
Last year, the MCA’s civilian search and rescue helicopters responded to an average of seven missions a day, saving more than 1,600 people.
Overall, the MCA co-ordinated more than 22,000 incidents and rescued more than 7,000 people across the year.
Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said drones could boost the capabilities of rescue teams and help to spot pollution hazards.
“Drone technology has enormous potential for our search and rescue teams, who save lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.
“This ground-breaking project will not only hope to boost the capabilities of our already fantastic teams but will also boost our ability to spot pollution hazards and protect our precious marine environment.”
Phil Hanson, the MCA’s aviation technical assurance manager, said the use of drones in search and rescue, counter-pollution and maritime aerial observation operations could potentially increase overall efficiency as well as reduce the risk to personnel.
The MCA will work with Elbit Systems UK and the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out the demonstrations in the coming months.