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How does a search and rescue operation work and what is a good system for boaters?

Coast Guard Life Savers


In the United States, we split the system into two areas. The Air Force coordinates all the search and rescues on land. The Coast Guard coordinates all the search and rescues on the water. The Coast Guard has a system they call SARs (search and rescue coordinators). This system helps the Coast Guard rescue boaters. Each Coast Guard station has their own area of responsibility. These areas depend on where in the United States they are. Coast Guard Active Duty and Auxiliary units also participate in Search and Rescue missions.

So where and how are these areas broken down?

The Coast Guard has about 17 districts. Alaska (District 17) is one district and it commands out of Juneau, the state capital. Hawaii is its own district. Then there's a couple of what they call Captain of the Port—one in Anchorage and the other in Juneau. They [Coast Guard] break it up that way to make it manageable.
The best thing a boater can do to assist a rescue is make sure everyone on board the boat is wearing their lifejackets. That's the best way to save lives if there's a problem on the water. For additional things, a boater needs to purchase a marine VHF radio and learn how to use it. That's real important. The second thing is to file a float plan with your local harbormaster or a friend. That way, people have an idea of:

• How many people are on board your boat
• Where you intend to travel
• When you plan on getting back.

G-d forbid someone needs to find you later, at least there’s a record of your trip. Last, but not least, recreational boaters should put an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) on board their boat.

Robin G. Coles is a passionate marine enthusiast and sailor who has interviewed countless industry experts as well as visited, interviewed personnel at, written about, and photographed hundreds of marine ports in the US and abroad. She is also an author, columnist in her local paper and owner of For more information on her book: Boating Secrets: 127 Top Tips to Help You Buy and/or Enjoy Your Boat, go to



Print | posted on Thursday, December 13, 2012 1:43 PM