Search and Rescue Q: What is Master obligations on having a distress message?


Search and Rescue

Q: What is Master obligations on having a distress message?

A: a) While in a position to able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source, acknowledge receipt of message and is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance. If possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so, & enter in the OLB.

b) The Master of ship in distress or the search and rescue service concerned, after consultation, so far as may be possible, with the master of ship which answer the distress alert, has the right to requisition one or more of those ships such as the master of the ship in distress or the search and rescue service considers best able to render assistance, and it shall be the duty of the masters of the ship or ships so requisitioned to comply with the requisition by continuing to proceed with all speed to assistance of persons in distress.

c) Master of ships shall be released from the obligation imposed by paragraph (a) of this regulation on learning that their ships have not been requisitioned and that one or more other ships have been requisitioned and are complying with the requisition. This decision shall, if possible, be communicated to the other requisitioned ships and to the search and rescue service.

d) The master of a ship shall be released from the obligation imposed by paragraph (a) of this regulation, and, if the ship has been requisitioned, from the obligation imposed by paragraph (b) of this regulation, on being informed by the persons in distress or by the search and rescue service or by the master of another ship which has reached such persons that assistance is no longer necessary.

e) The provisions of this regulation do not prejudice the convention for the Unification of Certain of Law Relating to Assistance and Salvage at Sea, signed at Brussels on 23 September 1910, particularly the obligation to render assistance imposed by article 11 of that Convention.

Q: What preparation you will make whilst proceeding for distress?


  • Establish a traffic co-ordination system among v/l’s proceeding to same area of distress.
  • Radar plots on v/l’s in the vicinity.
  • Estimate ETA’s of own and other v/l assisting.
  • Asses distress situation to prepare for operation on scene.
  • Make an appropriate entry in the ship’s log book.
  • If the master had previously acknowledged and respond to the alert, report the decision not to proceed to the SAR service concerned.
  • Consider reports unnecessary if no contact has been made with the SAR service.
  • Reconsider the decision not to proceed nor report to the SAR service when vessel in distress is far from land or in an area where density of shipping is low.
  • Care must be taken to avoid worsening a survivors condition by excessive interrogation.
  • If the survivors is frightened or excited, the questioner should assess these statements carefully.
  • designated SRUs
  • civil aircraft and vessels, military and naval or other facilities with SAR capability.
  • Weather and sea conditions
  • the results of search to date
  • any actions taken
  • any future plans or recommendations.
  • on-scene arrival and departure times of SAR facilities, other vessels and aircraft engaged in operation
  • areas searched
  • track spacing used
  • sightings and leads reported
  • actions taken
  • result obtained.
  • For surface and air facilities to search patterns and procedures must be pre-planned so ships and aircraft can co-operate in co-ordinated operations with the minimum risk and delay.
  • Standard search patterns have been established to meet varying circumstances.
  • The OSC should obtain a search action plan from the SMC via the RCC or RSC as soon as possible. Normally, search planning is performed using trained personnel, advanced search planning techniques, and information about the incident or distressed craft not normally available to the OSC. However, the OSC may still need to plan a search under some circumstances. Search operations should commence as soon as facilities are available at the scene. If a search plan has not been provided by the SMC, the OSC should do the planning until an SMC assumes the search planing function. Simplified techniques are presented below.
  • Modify search plans based on changes in the on-scene situation, such as:
  • In case of language difficulties, the International Code of Signals and Standard Marine Navigational Vocabulary should be used.
  • On assuming the duty, the OSC should inform the appropriate CRS or ATS unit and keep it informed of developments at regular intervals.
  • The OSC should keep the SMC informed at regular intervals and whenever the situation has changed.
  • It will be necessary to establish a datum, or geographic reference, for the area to be searched. The following factors should be considered:
  • Plot the Search area:
  • Search Patterns
  • Most effective when the location of the search object is known within relatively close limits.
  • The commence search point is always the datum position.
  • Often appropriate for vessels or small boats to use when searching for persons in the water or other search objects with little or no leeway.
  • Due to small area involved, this procedure must not be used simultaneously by multiple aircraft at similar altitudes or by multiple vessels.
  • Accurate navigation is required; the first is usually oriented directly into the wind to minimize navigational errors.
  • It is difficult for fixed-wing aircraft to fly legs close to datum if S is less than 2 NM.
  • Most effective when the position of the search object is accurately known and the search area is small.
  • Used to search a circular area centred on a datum point.
  • Due to small area involved, this procedure must not be used simultaneously by multiple aircraft at a similar altitudes or by multiple vessels.
  • An aircraft and a vessel may be used together to perform independent sector searches of the same area.
  • A suitable marker ( for example, a smoke float or a radio beacon ) may be dropped at the datum position and used as a reference or navigational aid marking the centre of the pattern.
  • For aircraft, the search pattern radius is usually between 5 NM and 20 NM.
  • For Vessel, the search pattern radius is usually between 2 NM and 5 NM, and each turn is 120º, normally turned to starboard.
  • The OSC will normally consider the initial phase to have been completed when, in the absence of further information, searching ships have competed one search of the most probable area.
  • If at that stage nothing has been located, it will be necessary for the OSC to consider the most effective method of continuing the search.
  • Failure to locate the search object may be due to one or more of the following causing:
  • Navigational inaccuracies of Searching Ships
  • This is most likely to apply when navigational fixes cannot be obtained. In this situation, the OSC may:
  • Determine a new probable area based upon any additional information received.
  • Where information is received to indicate that the original datum was grossly inaccurate, determining an entirely new probable area would be advisable.
  • A small search object, which is easily missed in the day time, may become visible at night time if it shows lights, flares, or other pyrotechnics.
  • The OSC should, therefore, consider using surface craft at night to re-search areas covered by day.
  • It is good practice when searching for survivors in small craft, in survival craft, or in the water, to stop the engines occasionally at night and in restricted visibility by day to listen for cries for help.
  • Evidence of Distressed Craft Found
  • In some case, the search may provide evidence of the distressed craft without survivors being found.
  • This evidence may provide information for a recalculation of datum and revision of the search area.
  • A low-lying, half-sunken loaded ship or aircraft may drift more slowly than a floating survival craft, even if a drogue is used.
  • A derelict may drift at a considerable angle off the prevailing wind direction.
  • When wreckage is located it usually consists of debris, possibly with an oil slick.
  • Should this have come from the distressed craft, survival craft will usually be found downwind from the debris.
  • Inform local authorities / owner with position, extent of aground, weather, wind, sea, and swell, Condition of hull and machinery, any visible damage, and of the possibilities of re-floating. As well as available assistance, P & I, flag state control, Agent of last and next port of call, coast guard, classification society.
  • As soon as possible report MAIB as stranded.
  • Take the con.
  • Stop/manoeuvre the ship so as to minimise effects of collision. (leave one v/l embedded to other unless there is a fire risk, explosion or toxic escape from other v/l, which could endanger the safety of your v/l and crew.
  • Sound general alarm.
  • Mustering all crew/head count. Establish communication.
  • Close water tight door.
  • Inform engine room/ other department.
  • Order radio officer to standby radio room for obtaining v/l’s position
  • Deck light on / not under command signal hoisted.
  • Order engine room to start pump out from damage compartment.
  • Stand by life boat ready to embarkation dk.
  • Order chief officer for damage assessment.
  • If any compartment damaged and ingress of water exist :
  • Transmit URGENCY signal if appropriate
  • Transmit DISTRESS signal if appropriate
  • {{Investigate safe port operation, and/or beaching situation in order to save the v/l from being totally lost.
  • If delaying tactics are not holding the situation transmit the distress signal and order an abandonment to save life.}}
  • Calculate damage stability
  • Inform owner, P & I, classification society, flag state control, Charterer, Agent of last & next port of call & coast guard.
  • Standby for render assistant provided own v/l’s and crew safety,
  • Exchange information between both the v/l : Name of v/l., Port of registry, Last port call, Next port of call.
  • Entry into the OLB.
  • Inform MAIB.

On-Board Preparation :

Life Saving and Rescue equipment’s:

  • Life boat.
  • Inflatable life raft
  • Life jackets
  • Survival suits for crew.
  • Life buoys
  • Breeches buoys
  • Line throwing apparatus
  • Portable VHF radios for communications with the ship and boats deployed.
  • Buoyant lifelines.
  • Heaving lines
  • Non-sparkling boat hooks or graping hooks.
  • Hatches.
  • Rescue baskets
  • Litters
  • Pilot ladders
  • Scrambling nets
  • International Cod of Signals.
  • On board radio ( MF/HF ) equipment’s
  • Fire fighting equipment’s
  • Portable ejector pumps
  • Binoculars
  • Cameras
  • Bailers and
  • Oars.

Signalling Equipment’s:

  • Signalling lamps
  • Search light
  • Torches
  • Flare pistol with colour coded signal flares.
  • Buoyant VHF/UHF marker beacons.
  • Floating lights
  • Smoke generators
  • Flame and smoke floats
  • Dye markers
  • Loud hailers.

Preparation for Medical assistance, including:

  • Stretchers.
  • Blankets.
  • Medical supplies and medicines.
  • Clothing.
  • Food.
  • Shelter.


  • If fitted crane for hoisting on each side of ship with cargo net for recovering of survivors.
  • Line running from bow to stern at the water’s edge on both side for boats and craft to secure alongside.
  • On the lowest weather deck, pilot ladders and man rope to assist survivors boarding the vessel.
  • Lifeboat ready for use as a boarding station.
  • Line throwing apparatus ready for making connection with either ship in distress or survival craft.
  • Flooding light set in appropriate locations, if recovery at night.

Q: When vessel not Assisting?

A: The master deciding not to proceed to the scene of a distress due to sailing time involved and in the knowledge that a rescue operation is under way should:

Q: What information you will gather from the survivors?

A: 1) What was the time and date of the incident?

  • Did you bail out or was the aircraft ditched ?
  • If you bail out, at what altitude ?
  • How many others you see leave air craft by parachute ?
  • How many ditched with the air craft ?
  • How many survivors did you see in the water ?
  • What floating gears had they ?
  • What was the total number of persons on board ?
  • What caused the emergency ?
  • What was the last known position ?
  • Were any of persons able to leave by life boat or raft ?
  • How long was the survivor in the water
  • Were search craft seen before, if so dates and times of sighting ?
  • Were any signals or devices used to try to attract the attention of search craft ? if so what were they and when were they used ?
  • About their medical history
  • All information should be noted.

Q: What is the purpose of questioning ?

A: 1) To ensure that all survivors are rescued.

  • To attend to the physical welfare of each survivor.
  • To obtain information which may assist and improve SAR service.

Note: Questions should be asked avoid suggesting answers to the survivor. Explain that the information required is for the success of the SAR operation and may be of great value for future SAR operations.

Q: On-Scene Co-ordination

A: # The types of facilities involved in the response and the region of the SAR incident affect on-scene co-ordination.

# Available facilities may be include:

# In remote regions, SAR aircraft may not always be available, to participate.

# In most oceanic region, ships will normally be available, depending on shipping density.

# Ships may receive information from land-based SAR authorities or by monitoring distress traffic.

# No advice received from these authorities can set aside the duties of any master as set forth in regulation V/10 of SOLAS 1974 (see appendix A).

Q: Who will be On-Scene Co-ordinator (OSC)?

A: 1. When two or more SAR facilities conduct operations together, the SMC should designated an OSC.

2. If this is not practicable, facilities involved should designate, by mutual agreement, an OSC.

3. This should be done as early as practicable and preferably before arrival within the search area.

4. Until an OSC has been designated, the first facility arriving at the scene should assume the duties of an OSC.

5. When deciding how much responsibility to delegate to the OSC, the SMC normally considers the communications and personnel capabilities of the facilities involved.

Q: What is duties of OSC?

A: # Co-ordinate operations of all SAR facilities on-scene.

# Receive the search action plan from the SMC or plan the search or rescue operation, if no plan is otherwise available. (See Planning and Conducting the Search in this section.)

# Modify the search action or rescue action plan as the situation on- scene dictates, keeping the SMC advised ( do in consultation with the SMC when practicable.)

# Co-ordinate on-scene communications.

# Monitor the performance of other participating facilities.

# Ensure operations are conducted safely, paying particular attention to maintaining safe separations among all facilities, both surface and air.

# Make periodic situation reports (SITREPs) to the SMC. The standard SITREP format may be found in appendix D. SITREPs should include but not be limited to:

# Maintain a detailed record of the operation:

# Advise the SMC to release facilities no longer required.

# Report the number and names of survivors to the SMC.

# Provide the SMC with the names and designations of facilities with survivors aboard.

# Report which survivors are each facility.

# Request additional SMC assistance when necessary (for example, medical evacuation of seriously injured survivors).

Q: Planning and Conducting the Search

A: General:

Responsibilities of OSC

Ÿ arrival of additional assisting facilities

Ÿ receipt of additional information

Ÿ changes in weather, visibility, lighting conditions etc.

§ Planning the Search


Ÿ reported position and time of the SAR incident

Ÿ any supplementary information such as DF bearing or sightings

Ÿ time interval between the incident and the arrival of SAR facilities

Ÿ estimated surface movements of the distress craft or survival craft, depending on drift ( The two figures following this discussion are used in calculating drift.) The datum position for the search is found as follows:

- drift has two components: leeway and total water current

- leeway direction is downwind

- leeway speed depends on wind speed

- the observed wind speed when approaching the scene may be used for estimating leeway speed of liferafts by using the graph following this discussion ( Persons in the water (PIW) have no leeway while liferaft stability and speed vary with or without drogue or ballast.)

- total water current may be estimated by computing set and drift when approaching the scene

- drift direction and speed is the vector sum of leeway and total water current

Ÿ drift distance is drift speed multiplied by the time interval between the incident time, or time of the last computed datum, and the commenced search time

Ÿ datum position is found by moving from the incident position, or last computed datum position, the drift distance in the drift direction and plotting the resulting position on a suitable chart.

Total water current (kts)

leeway (kts)

drift (kts)

Computing drift speed and direction from total water current and leeway.

Datum 1

Drift distance (NM)

datum 2

determining a new datum

( drift distance = drift speed X drift time)

‡ draw a circle centred on datum with radius R.

‡ using tangents to the circle, from a square as shown below

‡ if several facilities will be searching at the same time, divided the square into sub-areas of the appropriate size and assign search facilities accordingly.

Most probable area



Use r =10 miles for initial area

Expanding Squire Search (SS)



3s s s 2s 4s



Expanding squire search (SS)

Sector Search (VS)

ž errors in position owing to navigational inaccuracies or inaccuracy in the distress communications reporting the position. This is especially likely to apply if the position of datum was based on an estimated position using incomplete information

ž an error in drift estimation

ž failure to the search object during the search although it was in the search area. This is most likely to occur if the search object is a small craft, or survivors in the water

ž the craft having sunk without a trace. Other than the case of a small ship or craft in rough weather, experience has shown that there are usually some trace, even if only debris or oil patches.

ž re-search the same area, allowing for added drift during the time elapsed since calculating last datum;

ž expand the most probable area, after allowing for added drift, and search the expanded area; or

ž expand the area more in one direction than another, depending on circumstance and information available.

Q: Where will you get the information regarding search pattern.




A: Take the con & follow Emergency checklist procedure from International Chamber of Shipping

  • Stop Engines
  • Sound general emergency alarm - head count, look for casualty, establish communication inform all department.
  • Close watertight doors, if fitted

4) Order chief officer for damage assessment.

- Water tight integrity of hull and subsequent breaches of same.

- Obtain sounding form all tanks, bilge’s, hold

- Condition of machinery space.

- Details casualties.

- Any fire risk

- Any other information regarding associate problems.

5) Maintained VHF watch.

6) Exhibit light / shapes and any appropriate sound signals

7) switch on deck lighting at night

8) Check hull for damage

9) Sound bilge’s and tanks.

10) Visually inspect compartments where possible

11) Sound around the ship.

12) Determine which way deep water lies

13) Obtain information on local currents and tides, particularly details of the rise and fall of the tide.

14) Reduce draught of ship.

15) Make Ship’s position available to Radio / GMDSS room

16) Broadcast Urgency / Distress massage as required.


  • Water tight integrity of hull and subsequent breaches of same.
  • Obtain sounding form all tanks, bilge’s, hold
  • Condition of machinery space.
  • Details casualties.
  • Any fire risk
  • Any other information regarding associate problems.
  • List the v/l over to raise damage area above water line
  • Build and position collision patch.
  • Co-ordinate pumping out on to effected area


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