Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Responding to search and rescue

Responding to Search and Rescue within AMSA

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) operates 24 hours 7 days a week from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s head office in Canberra, and is staffed by personnel with backgrounds in naval, merchant marine, air force, civil aviation or police services.

What is the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC)?

JRCC Australia has been in operation since 1997 when the search and rescue functions of Airservices Australia and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority merged into a single agency.

Mmerging both aviation and maritime SAR coordinator responsibilities greatly enhanced the response to SAR incidents.

JRCC Australia responds to approximately 7000 incidents per year.

In the last three years nearly 2100 lives were saved in Australia’s Search and Rescue Region.

Our highly qualified search and rescue officers coordinate maritime, aviation and beacon-related incidents that fall within the Australian search and rescue region.

The JRCC is also responsible for:

  • managing and operating the Australian ground segment of the COSPAS SARSAT distress beacon detection system
  • coordinating medical evacuations
  • broadcasting maritime safety information
  • operating the Modernised Australian Ship Tracking and Reporting System (MASTREP).

The JRCC acts as the AMSA 24/7 point of contact for:

  • search and rescue
  • salvage and intervention
  • pollution
  • ship and seafarer safety.

How is the SAR system activated?

The search and rescue system activates when SAR authorities are alerted to a situation where a human life is believed to be at risk.

The JRCC can be alerted to a distress situation by:

  • distress beacon alert
  • Satellite Emergency Notification Device
  • communication functions available through the GDMSS system
  • notification of a missing civil aviation aircraft alerted by Airservices Australia
  • radio
  • phone call from concerned family or friends or general public.

Once the JRCC receives a distress situation alert, the priority is to gather as much information as possible.

This may include looking up beacon registration information, such as:

  • emergency contacts
  • flight note information, etc.

The intelligence gathering phase assists in developing the most effective response plan.

Useful information may include:

  • a location
  • vessel/aircraft type
  • number of people involved
  • medical information, etc.

SAR authorities can then determine what resources are required and take action immediately. This may include:

  • coordinating a SAR operation with assistance from organisations as appropriate
  • providing assistance to other search and rescue organisations
  • transferring coordination to the appropriate State/Territory Police organisation to conduct search and rescue operations within their jurisdiction.

Inadvertent activation of the SAR system

The SAR system responds to every distress alert on the assumption it is real distress. This can sometimes result in SAR authorities responding to incidents that turn out to be non-distress related.

The JRCC frequently deals with inadvertent alerts. These can be via:

  • accidental beacon activations
  • failure to cancel SARTIMES
  • incorrect disposal of beacons
  • mishandling of a beacon, etc.

It is important that beacon owners understand the responsibility of correctly storing or handling a distress beacon and ensuring they know what to do when accidentally activating a beacon by mistake.

This also applies for pilots who forget to cancel their nominated SARTIMES. AMSA recommends putting a reminder in your phone.

If you inadvertently activate the SAR system, contact the JRCC immediately (via the 24hr Emergency Contact numbers) to prevent SAR authorities initiating an unnecessary SAR response. Unnecessary responses can divert search and rescue resources away from a real distress situation.

There is no penalty for reporting inadvertent activations.

To report an inadvertent distress alert, please call the appropriate 24hr number on our emergency contacts page.

Related information

For further information on distress beacons, visit the official distress beacons website.

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