Specialist resources: Water search and rescue

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Specialist resources: Search


The police are responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue on land and inland waters. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), through HM Coastguard (HMCG), will respond to rescues at sea, on the coastline, within tidal waters and in certain delegated inland waters. HMCG are responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue at sea. Local arrangements may exist for governing responsibility between HMCG and the police in certain areas.

HMCG Search and Rescue have capabilities including:

  • Search
  • Water rescue
  • Mud rescue
  • Rope rescue

HMCG and the police can call on various search and rescue assets, for example, fire and rescue services, lifeboats, helicopters, ambulance, cave rescue, mountain rescue and lowland search and rescue. Fire and rescue services will often provide an initial response or offer support in HMCG’s statutory area of responsibility.

The ambulance service is responsible for the clinical care of casualties in the pre-hospital environment. It has a legal duty of care for casualties that is not shared by other responding agencies.

Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) and Special Operations Rescue Teams (SORT) have skills and equipment that enable them to work with rescue agencies. They may be able to provide an on or in water response to assist personnel when stabilising casualties before extrication and can provide tactical medical advice.

However, there may be incidents where it would be unsafe for medical responders to go to the casualty. If personnel need to rescue the casualty, they should maintain communication with the medical responders.

It is vital for the successful rescue of a person from water that agencies apply JESIP principles for a co-ordinated approach, shared situational awareness and joint decision-making. This should be done at the earliest opportunity, to prevent any delay in commencing the search. Joint training and exercises may help fire and rescue service personnel to understand the priorities and capabilities of other responding agencies and specialist resources.

Attendance of the police should be requested to manage the co-ordination of inland search operations by police search advisers (PolSA). Alternatively, for sea or coastal search operations, attendance of the MCA should be requested. Communication between all responders should be established and effectively used throughout the incident.

The (page 29) provides details about the type of search resources that may be available.

Specialist resources for water search and rescue include:

  • Water rescue teams from other agencies
  • Voluntary search teams and community assets, such as mountain or lowland rescue teams
  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
  • HM Coastguard (HMCG) Search and Rescue
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
  • Public technicians and specialists
  • Specialist water search dogs
  • Inland Waterways Rescue Association members
  • Technical rope over water rescue teams
  • Drones (classified as a type of unmanned aircraft by the Civil Aviation Authority) – for more information refer to Search, rescue and casualty care – Aerial resources: Drones for search
  • Helicopters – for more information refer to Search, rescue and casualty care – Aerial resources: Helicopters for search and rescue

For more information refer to:

Body search and recovery

For information refer to Apply the survivability model: Water rescue.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions