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SAR vessel "Jenny Wihuri" at the port of Helsinki at dawn
Rescue rope training

Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger.

Definitions of Search and Rescue

There are many different definitions of search and rescue, depending on the agency involved.

  • Canadian Forces: "Search and Rescue comprises the search for, and provision of aid to, persons, ships or other craft which are, or are feared to be, in distress or imminent danger."

  • United States Defense Departmentmarker: "An operation normally coordinated by a Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) or rescue sub-center, using available personnel and facilities to locate persons in distress" and rescue is "An operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety."


One of the world's earliest well documented SAR efforts ensued following the 1656 wreck of the Dutchmarker merchant ship Vergulde Draeckmarker off the coast of Australia. Survivors sent for help, and in response three separate SAR missions were conducted, without success.

Types of Search and Rescue

Mountain Rescue

Mountain rescue relates to search and rescue operations specifically in rugged and mountainous terrain.

Ground Search and Rescue

Ground search and rescue relates to search and rescue operations in non-urban regions (that is, backwoods or remote regions). Also referred to as wilderness search and rescue, which includes areas such as seashores, lakes, rivers or caves.

Urban search and rescue

Urban search and rescue (Also known as Suburban Search and Rescue as USAR Teams often relates to structural collapses and other technical rescue) operations are Search and Rescue operations conducted in a city.

Combat Search and Rescue

Combat search and rescue is search and rescue operations that are carried out during war that are within or near combat zones.

Air-sea rescue

Air-sea rescue (ASR) refers to the combined use of aircraft and surface vessels to search for and recover survivors of aircraft downed at sea as well as sailors and passengers of sea vessels in distress.


With or without formal underlying foundations, numerous SAR organisations develop their own proprietary training curricula and operational protocols, which are available and applicable only to their own members.

In the USmarker SAR standards are developed primarily by ASTM International and the USmarker NFPA which are then used by organizations such as the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), the USmarker National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), and the USmarker NFPA to develop training that will meet or exceed those standards.

Within ASTM International, most standards of relevance to SAR are developed by Committee F32 on Search and Rescue. Formed in 1988, the committee had 85 current members and jurisdiction of 38 approved standards.

International Divisions of Search and Rescue Responsibility

International Waters

International waters are divided into various regions according to the SOLAS convention. See the map provided by the IMO ocean atlas

United Nations

International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) is a UN Organization that promotes the exchange of information between national Urban Search and Rescue Organizations.

SAR by nation


AusSAR, which is part of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), provides a national search and rescue service.

AusSAR operates a 24 hour Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberramarker and is responsible for the national coordination of both maritime and aviation search and rescue. AusSAR is also responsible for the management and operation of the Australian ground segment of the Cospas-Sarsat distress beacon detection system. The service that spans the nation and covers 52.8 million square kilometres of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans.

AusSAR's RCC is staffed by SAR specialists who have a naval, merchant marine, air force, civil aviation or police service background. The RCC also coordinates medical evacuations, broadcasts maritime safety information and operates the Australian Ship Reporting System (AUSREP).

There is also the national non-profit Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

State search and rescue
State Police in many states operate state-based search and rescue squads, such as the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad, which provides specialist expertise, advice and practical assistance in land search and rescue on most terrain including snow and vertical cliff search and rescue.

There are also state-based volunteer search and rescue groups such as the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad in New South Walesmarker and Bush Search and Rescue in Victoriamarker. These state-based groups draw searchers from bushwalking, mountaineering and specialist rescue clubs within their State. A few groups respond on horseback as mounted search and rescue.

The State Emergency Service is a volunteer based emergency organisation which is responsible for most rescue efforts in rural areas and in any rescue that results from flood or storm activity. In rural areas the SES conducts most bush search, vertical and road traffic rescues. In urban areas they assist the police and fire services with USAR.


Search and rescue duties along the Belgian part of the North Seamarker are executed by the Belgian Air Component. From its Koksijde Air Basemarker it operates 5 Westland Sea King Mk.48 helicopters.


Search and rescue duties in Brazilmarker are the responsibility of the Para-SAR, of the Brazilian Air Force.


Search and rescue duties in Canada are the responsibility of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and private organizations. The Department of National Defence (DND) has overall responsibility for the coordinated search and rescue system. Authority for the provision of maritime SAR is assigned to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans by the Canada Shipping Act and the Canada Oceans Act. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other police forces also coordinate ground search and rescue (GSAR) operations, often using volunteer GSAR teams operating in specific districts under provincial coordinating bodies.

The Canadian Forces has five assigned SAR squadrons:

Plus three Combat Support Squadrons with SAR roles:

Some municipalities have their own SAR units:

There are also volunteer non-profit associations that conduct SAR in Canada:


Search and Rescue operators in Denmarkmarker are primarily: Danish air force Squadron 722, Danish navy air squadron, naval home guard and the Danish Maritime Safety Administration, coordinated by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, operated by the navy and air force in the Danish Naval Commands facilities near Aarhusmarker. Internationally the Danish works mainly with Germanymarker, Norwaymarker and Swedenmarker. With the two latter, the annual exercises Baltic SAREX andScan-SAR are conducted.

SAR-services in Denmark started in 1957 with seven Sikorsky S-55s. Their piston engines produced only and they had limited fuel capacity, so their operational range was short. To increase the operational area, Pembroke twin-engined fixed-wing aircraft were employed for search. These aircraft would localize the distressed person(s) and the S-55s would then rescue them. The SAR-service was started for respond to fighter-plane crashes as 79 aircraft crashed, with 62 dead, in the period 1950-1955., but civilian SAR-duties are also conducted.

In 1962 eight ship-based Aérospatiale Alouette IIIs were received. These were primarily meant for the ships patrolling the North Atlantic, but also supported the S-55s. In 1964 - 1965 the seven S-55s were replaced with eight Sikorsky S-61A helicopters. This helicopter was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare, but the Danish variant had the heavy dipping sonar equipment removed and extra fuel tanks added, giving the helicopters longer range. In 1977 radar was installed and in 1990 FLIR was added. Further avionics and navigation systems, including GPS, have also been added over time.

In 1977 the naval air squadron was re-established as an independent squadron in the navy and had their Alouette IIIs replaced with Westland Lynx helicopters. Their primary operational area was still the North Atlantic, but they continued their support role, although this was reduced with the introduction of the S-61s. In 2006, the first of the S-61s was replaced by one of 14 new AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopters.

In 2007 the Danish Defence held a public display in Horsensmarker, to raise awareness about rescue services and maritime safety. Maritime SAR is important because Denmark has a relative long coast line to its land mass..

In 2008 the SAR forces in Denmark were equipped with eight EH-101, one or two Lynx, 34 naval home guard vessels and 21 rescue vessels as well as the naval vessels at sea. The EH-101s operate from bases in Aalborgmarker (EKYTmarker), Skrydstrup (EKSP) and Roskildemarker (EKRKmarker). When the sea water temperatures are low a helicopter is also deployed to the island of Bornholmmarker (EKRN) in the Baltic Seamarker. The Lynx operates from KARUP (EKKA). Maritime vessels are spread out through the entire coastline and on islands. The S-61s and EH-101s have a crew of six: Two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer, a physician and a rescue swimmer.


The Estonian Border Guard (Piirivalve) is the Estonian security authority responsible for the border security. It is the main support organisation for search and rescue missions in Estonia, and operates a small fleet of SAR vessels and helicopters.


In Finland the responsible authority for land and inland water SAR is the Fire and the Crisis and the Frontier Guard in the maritime area. These organizations alert and decide on the most suitable response for the location and situation. The country also has several volunteer organizations such as the volunteer fire department (VPK), the Finnish Lifeboat Institution (SMPS) and the Red Cross Finland (SPR).


Search and Rescue in German waters is conducted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger DGzRS (literally translated: German Society for the Saving of Shipwrecked, more common: German Maritime Rescue Service GMRS) with air support by the German Navy and the German Air Force. All incoming requests are coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Bremenmarker. The DGzRS is a non-governmental organization entirely supported by donations .Besides the offshore Search And Rescue services, the German Air Force provides such as well, using Bell UH-1D "Huey" helicopters.. Inland, there are mounted SAR groups affiliated with Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe, an organization that provides road-based first responder services; these groups provide comparable services off road, usually at field sporting events.

Hong Kong

SAR operations are conducted by the Government Flying Service and before 1991 by the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. Their fleet consists of nine aircraft including:

Mountain rescue operations are carried by the Mountain Search and Rescue Company of Hong Kong Civil Aid Service in conjunction with the Hong Kong Fire Services Dept and the air support from the Government Flying Service. Hong Kong Marine Police vessels and rescue divers from Hong Kong Fire Services Dept work with air support from the Government Flying Service to conduct maritime SAR within Hong Kong waters.


Search and Rescue operations in Iceland are mainly handled by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg) which operates numerous vehicles and boats across the country, along with the Icelandic Coast Guard which operates SAR helicopters and patrol vessels.

The unique thing about Iceland Association for Search and Rescue is that it is operated almost solely on volunteer's contribution. The rescue units are more than 100 in total and are located in almost every part of the country. All the units contain groups of specially trained individuals.


SAR services are provided by a civilian body, the Irish Coast Guard. It has responsibility for the Irish Search and Rescue Region.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution RNLI provide the waterborne element of Search and Rescue around the coast of Ireland from 43 lifeboat stations including inland stations at Enniskillen and Lough Derg. In addition, there are community rescue boats at eleven stations: Cahore, Tramore, Bunmahon, Bantry, Derrynane, Banna, Ballybunion, Kilkee, Schull, Limerick City, Corrib/Mask. The coastguard also has inshore rescue boats around the country.


Italian Guardia Costiera CP-902 U.
Search and rescue is the responsibility of the Guardia Costiera.


The responsibility for SAR at sea in the Malta Search and Rescue Region falls under the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM). It is carried out by maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters and vessels under the co-ordination, command and control of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The AFM, in close collaboration with the US Coast Guard, also runs a Search and Rescue Training Centre for International Students[26106] in Maritime SAR Mission Co-ordination and Planning. To date more than 30 foreign students from 15 countries including Albania, Cameroon, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea and Kenya have attended these courses.

Malta is also in talks with Libyamarker about enhancing SAR cooperation between the two countries.


SAR responsibility in the Netherlands is held by the Royal Netherlands Coast Guard, carried out by vessels and aircraft from various organisations among which the Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding Maatschappij, the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management and the Navy and Air Force.. The Navy has No. 7 Squadron which flies the SAR and utility version of the Lynx maritime helicopter. The RNLAF has a specialized SAR unit, 303 Squadron, which is equipped with Agusta-Bell AB 412s and based at RNLAF Leeuwarden.

New Zealand

New Zealandmarker's Search and Rescue Region extends from the South Polemarker to the southern border of the Honolulumarker region, including Norfolk, Tonga, Samoa, and Cook Islandsmarker.

Smaller searches are controlled by the local police, who call on LandSAR for land-based operations, such as for lost hikers, and the Royal New Zealand Coastguard for coastal maritime incidents. Larger maritime search and rescue events, as well as reports of overdue aircraft, fall under the control of the National Rescue Coordination Centre, based in Wellingtonmarker, which coordinates response from local coastguard, helicopter operators, merchant marine, air force and naval resources.

There is also the charitable organization Westpac Rescue Helicopter .


Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning, also called the Redningsselskapet (English: Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (NSSR)), is Norway's maritime rescue service. They have 43 search and rescue boats based from Oslo in the south to Båtsfjord in the north. Thirteen of these boats are operated by volunteers.

The NSSR was founded on 9 July 1891, with a clearly defined goal – to save lives at sea. The NSSR is a humanitarian organization aiming at saving lives and recovering property at sea. Maintaining rescue services along the Norwegian coast, and neighbouring sea areas where such services may be necessary. The NSSR also runs an information service and educational programs designed to improve safety for boaters. The first rescue boats, the Colin Archer-class, were introduced in 1893. They were powered by only by sails and oars. NSSR’s boats and crew have saved over 6,200 people. More than 500,000 people have received assistance.

The search and rescue helicopters are operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF), who fly 12 Westland Sea Kings. These are scheduled to be replaced by the NHI NH90.

Norwegian Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps (Røde Kors Hjelpekorps) have a large number of local SAR teams spread across the country. These are all manned with volunteer SAR workers. With 13,500 members in 320 local teams, this is by far the largest SAR organisation in Norway. Missions include assisting the police searching for missing people in woodlands and the mountains, search and rescue in lakes, rivers and at sea, and finally assisting skiers and holiday makers in the mountains during winter time. All volunteers have an extended First Aid education and certification, most are certified on HeartStart machines and trained in search techniques. Many of the local teams also operates ambulances and have crews trained for this.

The Norsk Luftambulanse-group (Norwegian Air Ambulance), and the company Lufttransport provides medical evacuation services throughout the country.

South Africa

The South African Search and Rescue Organization (SASAR), is a voluntary organization that functions under the auspices of the Department of Transport. SASAR is responsible for responding to aviation and maritime incidents. Its main role is to search for, assist and carry out rescue operations for the survivors of aircraft or vessel accidents.

Depending on the nature of the accident, the RCC's (ARCC or MRCC) coordinate the search and rescue missions. These operations are carried out by other government departments, non governmental organizations, commercial/private organizations and voluntary organizations.

Local resources:


REGA (Schweizerische REttungsflugwacht / Garde Aérienne / Guardia Aerea) is the air rescue service which provides emergency medical assistance in Switzerlandmarker, notably in mountains but also in cases of life-threatening emergencies elsewhere. They will also return a citizen to Switzerland from a foreign country if they are in need of urgent medical care. Rega was established on 27 April 1952 by Dr. Rudolf Bucher, who thought that the Swiss rescue organisation needed a specialised air sub-section.

United Kingdom

In the UKmarker, maritime search and rescue is coordinated by HM Coastguard, while land-based operations are usually coordinated by the local Police force. The operation itself is carried out with aircraft from the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force or Coastguard, RNLI lifeboat and police, military or volunteer mountain rescue or ALSAR (Association of Lowland Search and Rescue) teams. Aircraft coordination is carried out by the UK Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) based at RAF Kinlossmarker in the north of Scotland. The centre is responsible for tasking and coordinating all of the UK's search and rescue helicopter and RAF mountain rescue teams.

In 2006, the government announced controversial plans to effectively privatise provision of search and rescue helicopters in order to replace the aging Sea King currently in use, although they have suggested that crews may, at least partially, still be made up of military personnel.

Local resources include:

United States of America

In January 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Securitymarker (DHS) released the National Response Framework (NRF) which, serves as the guiding document for a federal response during a national emergency. In addition to the NRF there are 15 annexes relating to Emergency Support Functions (ESF) which, includes other federal agencies that contain resources or expertise to support an emergency. Search and Rescue is included as ESF-9 and divides SAR into 4 primary elements, while assigning a federal agency with the lead role for each of the 4 elements.

Other national organizations:





New York

North Carolina
  • NCCERT (North Carolina Canine Emergency Response Team)


Virginiamarker is one of the few states that benefits from a state-coordinated system of training and response under the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). Under Title 44 of the Code of Virginia, VDEM develops and maintains the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan (COVEOP) that includes the ESF-9 Annex for Search and Rescue. Similar to the federal version of ESF-9 under the National Response Framework (NRF), VDEM divides SAR into 4 primary elements. While VDEM functions as the lead for ESF-9, many agencies, departments and volunteer organizations routinely responds to and supports SAR operations in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Search and rescue services for downed, missing, or overdue aircraft and Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs). Organizations include:

For search and rescue of lost and missing persons in a wide variety of circumstances and environments, resources include:

Providing search and rescue for vessels in distress in coastal and inland waters, resources include:

To provide response in the event of collapsed structures and significant events, organizations include:


See also


  2. Major, R. H. (editor) (1859) Early Voyages to Terra Australis, Now Called Australia, The Hakluyt Society, London (2001 facimile edition on Google Books)
  3. Algeo, John. Fifty years among the new words: a dictionary of neologisms, 1941–1991, pp. 39, 106–107. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521449715
  4. REGA official website
  5., section ESF #9-1

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