Coastguard station closures and "mixed messages" from ministers have been blamed by MPs for rapidly increasing vacancies in Britain's coastguard.
A report from the Commons' transport committee found the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010 because coastguards are "disillusioned and confused" by the government's modernisation programme.
Uncertainty is at the heart of the problem, after ministers failed to lay out a timetable for coastguard closures.
It is now far from clear what coastguards are supposed to do from day to day. A new Maritime Operations Centre has been set up but it is also uncertain how they are supposed to work with local coastguards.
The withdrawal of the maritime incident response group also raises questions about arrangements for fire-fighting at sea and emergency towing vessels, used to assist ships in distress, MPs said.
"The programme of coastguard closures, the change in provision of emergency towing vessels and inadequate arrangements for fire fighting at sea are causing unrest and concern," committee chair Louise Ellman said.
"The government must rule out further closures and ensure that its reforms do not undermine safety and make proper use of local knowledge when applicable."
MPs attacked the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for providing a response to their inquiry dismissed as "complacent and lacking in detail".
Sir Alan Massey argued that local knowledge is not important for coastguards in coordination centres.
"The MCA needs to set out its strategy for staff training and articulate its vision of why coastguards in MRCCs need to gain and retain local knowledge," Ellman added.
"MCA management must schedule and remunerate staff to pursue this expertise, not leave them to organise themselves when they are off duty."