Today HM Coastguard is a world leader in maritime search and rescue. Looking back 200 years, the goods, which now travel by road, were carried by hundreds of small ships. Year in year out dozens of ships and hundreds of lives were lost within sight of the coast. Public shock and dismay at the tragedies drove forward the creation of national life saving organisations. Though its beginnings lie in those decades HM Coastguard originated not to meet the dangers of the seas but to combat a pernicious threat to the country’s economy and security - smuggling. As soon as Medieval taxes were charged on imports and exports, people began smuggling, shipping goods unseen by Customs officers. In the eighteenth century, Custom duties were imposed on luxuries like silk and lace, tea, tobacco and brandy. At each port, staff from the Customs House searched cargoes and collected dues. At sea, Customs Revenue Cruisers watched for vessels illegally offloading cargo. From 1698 Riding officers patrolled the coast to catch smugglers as they beached cargoes and carried them inland. The 1743 estimate that half the tea drunk in Britain was illegally imported shows that smuggling was highly profitable. This well organised ‘free trade’ employed and supplied many people, from paupers to peers. Smugglers have often been romanticised but the reality was brutal. Local people lived in fear, with violent reprisals on informers and the murder of conscientious Revenue officers, while corruption enabled captured smugglers to evade harsh penalties.