Building an intranet for HM Coastguard

Core to running the HM Coastguard lifesaving service is the need to have accurate accessible information available to support its 2500 volunteers. Read on for how we modernised an old tired knowledge base by building an intranet.

The challenge

HM Coastguard is one of the four emergency services in the UK. Preventing loss of life at the coast or at sea by coordinating and supporting search and rescue operations. Therefore the HM Coastguard conducts a 24/7 operation across the UK, with over 300 stations, manned by a team of over 2,500 volunteers. 

The Coastguard Rescue Service (CRS) website is a central repository of guidance to support the effective operation of the Coastguard Rescue Service. The system contains operational procedures, guidance and documentation for all aspects of the CRS activities.   

However, the software running the CRS website was considered no longer fit for purpose. Users found it difficult to find and access information, the process to update content was cumbersome and no management information was available from the site.  

screenshot of coastguard website

screenshot of coastguard website

The new intranet would have appropriate security, authorisation and management information capabilities. It would need to adhere to GDS standards, and be WCAG2.1 compliant.

Our Approach

Zaltek delivered the project  using the agile methodology.  For instance, we run the agile rituals day-to-day, including Daily 9:15 standups, Sprint planning, retrospectives and Show and Tells.  We use agile on all our projects as it creates predictability and gives our customers key opportunity points to provide feedback


On one hand, delivery was supported by twice-weekly reviews with the multidisciplinary working team (made up of Zaltek and CRS staff).  Meanwhile we supplemented this with workshops to reach out to the wider user base.  The working team reviews were incredibly important as due to COVID restrictions the entire nine-month delivery process was handled remotely. 

Working from the initial internal discovery and alpha, the working team conducted a deeper discovery to review and define the full list of user requirements. From these requirements, we developed a revised sitemap and Information Architecture (IA) for the new CRS website. 

coastguard sitemap

Creating the user flow and new design 

A prototype wireframe was developed following a make-learn-iterate cycle over a series of design sprints. This led to the creation of new content types, introduced feedback loops for the users and made sure that the new CRS website would be simple to use. 

screenshot of coastguard website in development screenshot of coastguard finished screenshot of coastguard news page finished screenshot of news article page finished

Technology stack

We evaluated several content management systems to find the best fit, before settling on Drupal 9.  We used API feeds from multiple providers to get the most accurate weather and tidal information.  However, a late technical challenge was the inclusion of Azure single sign on. This provided a wider gateway to others to access other MCA systems.

Aligning with the content team 

The development stage also became the content creation stage. As the CMS was configured and new content types were implemented, the CRS content team began revising or creating new content to fit the new CRS content templates.    

Making sure we met user needs 

To make sure that we were always delivering against user needs, we conducted user testing. We scheduled this throughout the delivery cycle through the working team.   

Secure by default

From the start of the project, we had security in mind, both from the technical architecture perspective, the code and through to the single-sign-on login process.  We employed a defence in depth strategy.  When it came to penetration testing we sailed through it.


In preparation for the go-live, we provided Drupal coaching via live workshops and loom videos. We also built up a knowledge base which can be used to onboard new CRS content staff.

The Results  

Following successful user feedback sessions with 50 CRO’s from around the UK, the HM Coastguard incrementally introduced CRS online into operations in early December 2021, with a full launch in early February 2022. 

coastguard banner

The project has been a key driver as part of HM Coastguard’s digital transformation drive (the future coastguard strategy). Therefore resulting in the following for HM Coastguard. 

  • We removed the need for paper-based operational manuals from the service.  
  • For HM Coastguard team members, CRSOnline is simple to use and the team members know that they are accessing the correct operational procedures and information.    
  • Content updates for CRSOnline now take minutes rather than hours.   
  • Content is secure, stable and accessible across all devices to all volunteers and staff.    
  • During the project rollout across the stations, CRSOnline became the basis to introduce a single sign-in process across all HM Coastguard volunteers throughout the UK.