Chapter 18

Search and Rescue

Due to the nature of harbor craft operations (working in coastal waters, inland waters, and harbor areas) you are apt to become involved in a SAR operation. This chapter describes a limited SAR operation. This type of SAR occurs when a crewman is lost overboard, a small craft is lost, or when only your vessel is involved in the search.


  18-1. With a man overboard, time is critical. All crew members must be fully aware of what is being done and how it is done. In the event you are the victim or whether it is one person or an entire crew, survival depends on three things: courage, training, and time. Courage, is your mental attitude - DO NOT GIVE UP! Do what you were trained to do to survive if you fall in the water. Time is of the essence. The ship's response to the situation is critical. Table 18-1 gives you an estimate of survival times in various water temperatures. This table is only a guideline to emphasize the need for fast action and not a means of setting an arbitrary limit on the search effort.

Table 18-1. Survival Times in the Water

Water temperature

Survival time

(Average duration)




Less than 2

Less than 34

Less than 45 minutes

2 to 4

34 to 40

Less than 90 minutes

4 to 10

40 to 50

Less than 3 hours

10 to 15

50 to 59

Less than 6 hours

15 to 20

59 to 69

Less than 12 hours

Greater than 20

Greater than 70

Indefinite (depends on physical condition)



  18-2. Any time the sea temperature is below 70 F, the water is considered to be cold. To survive in cold water, two things must be prevented: drowning and hypothermia. Jumping into cold water will put a severe strain on your entire system. It can cause you to gasp for breath. If your head is below the surface of the water, you will drown.
  18-3. By wearing a life jacket, you will keep you head above water. That is why the wearing of a life jacket is so essential during heavy weather operations, drills, or shipboard emergencies. The life jacket will take care of the first problem, which is drowning.
  18-4. Hypothermia is defined as subnormal temperature of the body. In this case it is the lowering of the central body temperature. As the body temperature decreases it causes the person to become irrational, lose consciousness, and finally drown. To prevent hypothermia you must slow down the rate of "core" or central body cooling. Get out of the water as soon as possible. At all times keep your head up and as dry as possible. Your head is the greatest heat-loss area of your body. If you have a hat or cap on--keep it on.
  18-5. When wearing a life jacket in cold water, you can protect the high heat-loss areas of your body. This includes the head, neck, sides, and groin. There are two ways to do this (see also Figure 18-1).

Figure 18-1. Retaining Body Heat

  18-6. If you are alone, hold your upper arms against your sides with the wrists placed over your chest. Draw your legs up as close to your chest as you can and cross your ankles. If there are other persons in the water, group together. All of the people face one another with their chests and sides as close together as possible and their arms about one another. Either one of these actions will increase survival time up to 50 percent. However, even partial covering of the sides, neck, and groin will cut down the heat loss and extend the survival time.


  18-7. SAR covers many situations and many types of operations. This paragraph describes a sector search pattern for one ship (see also Figure 18-2). It is used when the position of the search target is known and within close limits, with a small probable area example. With a man overboard, the ship returns immediately to the datum; or, if the search target is once sighted and then lost, the ship heads for the datum.
  18-8. All turns are 120 degrees to the starboard. Each leg of the pattern is approximately 2 miles. The search pattern will always start from the datum point. This pattern gives a very high probability of detection close to the datum point and spreads the search over the probable area quickly.
  18-9. Upon completion of the search pattern, re-orient the pattern 30 degrees to the right and research a new pattern (see the dashed lines in Figure 18-2). This procedure can be repeated three or four times until either the victim is found or the search has been called off.

Figure 18-2. Sector Search Pattern--Ship

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