About Sunderland VLB


Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade was founded in 1877 and it was one of 40 life saving brigades and companies on the north east coast of England. VLBs were formed to assist HM Coastguards in saving lives from shipwreck and they did this by using shore based rocket equipment rather than by the use of lifeboats. The rockets were used to fire a line to a ship in distress which was then used to haul over the apparatus. This was fixed to the mast and the people could then be taken off in a breeches buoy. The first rescue took place in October 1877 and this service continued until the breeches buoy apparatus became obsolete in the mid 1980’s. Approximately 800 people have been saved by the Brigade during its long history.

The modern Brigade continues to serve the coastal and harbour areas of Sunderland by providing a Search and Rescue Team and a Coastwatch, both based in the Brigade’s Watch House at Roker. It is one of only 3 Brigades left in the country.

Sunderland VLB is a registered charity and is self-funding. We receive no financial assistance from central or local government and rely on fund raising and donations to provide essential equipment, run our emergency vehicle and maintain the Watch House. Volunteers to assist with fundraising are always very welcome.






Search and Rescue Team

Sunderland VLB Search and Rescue Team is on call 24 hours a day and works alongside other local emergency services in preserving and saving life along the coastal area. 

The members are fully trained in cliff rescues, water rescues and in carrying out searches, often working with other units.

Training is also given in first aid, casualty handling and in radio communications. Uniforms and safety equipment and clothing are provided. There is also a cycle patrol that operates in the summer months along the sea front.

A commitment to regular training and exercises ensures that the Team remains ready for any call out that may occur. Volunteers for the Search and Rescue Team are over 18 years of age and must be reasonably physically fit.

Coastwatch Team

Sunderland Coastwatch was opened in October 2005, it is affiliated to the National Coastwatch Institution and is also a Declared Facility for HM Coastguard. The Watchkeepers observe the harbour areas and coastline from the Watch House at Roker, recording the movements of vessels in and out of the river. They are trained to spot a vessel, craft or person in distress and report any incidents to HM Coastguard at the Humber. From there a decision can be made as to whether a rescue needs to be launched. 

Our aim is to have Sunderland Coastwatch operational 7 days a week and we need to train additional Watchkeepers to provide this cover all year round. Training is open to adults of all ages and we have a mix of younger and more mature volunteers. We can also train young people under 18 years of age as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.


The Watch House 

The Watch House at Roker has been the headquarters of the Brigade since 1906 and it contains a wealth of information and objects relating to the Brigade’s past. It is also the base for the Search and Rescue and the Coastwatch Teams. The Brigade opens the Watch House to the public as a museum to commemorate the service it has provided over its 135 year history.

On display are name boards from ships, displays of equipment and records of some of the rescues. We also have an extensive photograph collection.

The Watch House also features special exhibits throughout the year, including a World War One exhibit and photographic collections.

We welcome visits by groups and school parties to the Watch House and give talks on its history and its work to local groups. Details of the opening times are on our website or please contact us using the details overleaf.

We are always looking for volunteers to help out!

Several members who have gained fulltime jobs have said the skills and experience they gained volunteering with the SVLB  was really helpful in gaining the positions.-


e.g A Deck Officer with the Royal Fleet Auxilliary Service,   a trainee  Sea-going engineer and a fireman in the Royal Airforce

If you are interested in seeing how you can help, enter your details in the form below and we will be in touch!


Registered Charity Number 115980

Company Limited by Guarantee 4978640


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