Search and Rescue, SAR

Effective approaches to safety at sea everywhere in the world and at all levels rely on three lines of defense, as follows:

Prevention: This first line of defence is the most important line and will save most lives if properly managed. Information and awareness building, and the provision of suitable and affordable equipment and training assist fishermen and other seafarers make informed decisions, helping them avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

Survival and self-rescue: The second line of defence is a result of well-managed prevention activities. Someone in distress will make the best use of skills, training, equipment and attitudes necessary to survive and carry out self-rescue when things start to go wrong.

Search and Rescue: SAR is the third and last line of defence, built on systems of alert, search and rescue, which are called on when the first two lines of defence have failed.

Each line of defence is intended to decrease the number of lives lost at sea and is a part of the overall SAR system. Prevention is by far the most important activity, but usually all lines of defence are integrated in the portfolio of tasks of the SAR organization. Ideally, the most effective SAR organization will not have to launch their SAR capacity.

Investments in the SAR system should start with facilitating prevention and awareness-raising activities. At a later stage, basic SAR capacity can be added or developed within the same framework.

The IMO SAR Convention was adopted in 1979 and entry into force 1985. The Convention was amended in 1998 and entry into force 2000. The 1979 Convention, was aimed at developing an international SAR plan, so that, no matter where an accident occurs, the rescue of persons in distress at sea will be co-ordinated by a SAR organization and, when necessary, by co-operation between neighbouring SAR organizations.


Various FAO publications related to search and rescue.

More publications could be found at the FI website.

last updated:  Wednesday, April 4, 2012