|There were Coastguards living on Mersea for a long time. By 1760 the Customs had two boatmen on Mersea and two at Brightlingsea. They were part of the Customs at the time, but in 1822 the Coast Guard service started, under control of the Customs, and it is the Coast Guard we are mainly concerned with here.
Their role in the early days was not so much to do with safety, it was more to do with preventing smuggling. The many Essex creeks were ideal country for smuggling and many local people were involved.
The sandbanks off the coast were hazardous in sailing ship days, and there were many wrecks. There were no lifeboats, but many local boats would be on the scene when there was a wreck. They were interested in saving life, but in many cases more interested in the cargo on the ship. Salvaged cargo should be taken to the local Custom House where it would be assessed and auctioned - but very often the cargo would not reach the warehouse.
The local Coast Guards were very busy. They were usually moved on after a few years, so they did not get too friendly with the locals - but several became friendly enough to get married, and a number of well-known Mersea families are descended from someone who came here with the Coast Guard. Three of the Mersea men killed in WW1 were on Mersea because of the Coastguards - Thomas Funnell, Albert Jordan and Walter Beynon.
Coastguard Cottages at the lower end of Churchfields, West Mersea. They were burnt out in 1949.
In the 1820s and 1830s, cottages were built for the Coast Guards in several of the villages in the area. Mersea had its row of Coastguard cottages at the end of Church Road, though we do not know exactly when they were built. They were probably a little later. As well as the cottages, there was an Armoury and a path down to an enclosure on Coast Road, where there was a lookout post and a signalling station. The Coast Guard station at Tollesbury would be visible from here.
Coastguard signalling station on Coast Road, West Mersea
The coast guards at Stansgate on the south bank of the Blackwater were not so lucky - they had to live in a hulk pulled up on the shore. Five families lived on the hulk - it cannot have been the height of luxury. It is said the commanding officer spent more time calming quarreling wives than he did worrying about smugglers.
The first hulk RICHMOND was replaced by one named WATCH VESSEL 21, which was a feature of the narrows there until the 1920s.
Coastguards stopped living on Mersea some time after World War I and the Coastguard cottages were then let by West Mersea council along with their other Council Houses.
There are still Coastguards on Mersea. In 1987 a Auxiliary group was established on the Island, called out when needed.
The role of the coastguard has changed over the years, and now their job is mainly to coordinate search and rescue at sea.
Until 2015 there was a manned Coastguard Station just up the coast at Walton-on-the-Naze, but communications are currently  handled by Humber Coastguard.