Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Search and rescue arrangements in Australia

The Australian search and rescue service

Australia’s search and rescue (SAR) service is framed by the federated nature of the country, bringing together the strengths of the Commonwealth and States and Territories in a collaborative and cooperative arrangement.

What is the NATSAR Council?

As with many countries, the design and provision of Australia's national SAR service has developed over time to meet the geographic and cultural needs of our nation.

Australia's size, sparse population and active lifestyle have resulted in the SAR system responding to a broad range of user groups while being highly inclusive of organisations assisting in SAR responses.

This includes:

  • professional SAR practitioners
  • volunteers
  • general aviation aircraft
  • shipping
  • the public.

Australia’s SAR system is based on collaboration, cooperation and the concept of operational coordination by the authority best placed to do so.

The National Search and Rescue (NATSAR) Council originally formed in 1976, and comprises representatives from the following SAR Authorities:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
  • Australian Defence Force (ADF)
  • Federal, State and Territory Police Services.

The NATSAR Council is the national coordinating body for search and rescue response arrangements. 

The Inter-Governmental Agreement on National Search and Rescue Response Arrangements (IGA) gives effect to the collaborative arrangements of the NATSAR Council.

The IGA provides the framework for Australia’s SAR system by bringing together the 10 SAR Authorities of the NATSAR Council to work on a collaborative basis. This includes:

  • the 8 State, Territory and Federal Police services
  • the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
  • the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

It outlines the principles that underpin each SAR Authority's responsibility in regards resourcing, coordination and cooperation, and the Council’s role in formulating operational level guidance related to SAR processes and procedures documented in the NATSAR Manual.

This national arrangement continues to facilitate our collaborative commitment to rescuing persons in distress and contributing to the safety of Australia’s citizens.

The IGA describes the NATSAR Council’s functions as the following:

  • Oversee the implementation of search and rescue arrangements within Australia’s search and rescue region for consistency with the National Search and Rescue Response Arrangements
  • sponsor and promote the development and use of the National SAR Manual, which details agreed search and rescue response and coordination arrangements in Australia
  • promote the ongoing effectiveness of the cooperative arrangements between the SAR Authorities.

The Council’s role of ensuring SAR Authorities and other organisations can operate seamlessly together is very important because many of the SAR operations are conducted jointly by AMSA, the Police, the ADF, volunteer organisations and other emergency services agencies. 

Standardised procedures and operational techniques ensure everyone is working and communicating in the same way, ensuring the best chance of an effective search and rescue response. 

These principles and procedures are outlined in the National SAR Manual.


What are the roles and responsibilities?

Only one SAR Authority will have overall coordination of a search and rescue incident at one time with other SAR Authorities acting in support. This is determined by a ‘best placed’ principle.

Commonwealth level

Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

Coordinates search and rescue operations for:

  • Vessels & people at sea
  • International civil aircraft
  • Manned space vehicles
  • Registered civil and recreational aircraft

Liaison with international search and rescue authorities and overall coordination of any national emergency plan or arrangement involving search and rescue within the Australian search and rescue region.

Alerting post for receiving international distress alerts and onward distribution to the responsible SAR Authority.

Australian Defence Force (ADF)

Coordinate search and rescue operations for:

  • ADF and Foreign Military Personnel, Aircraft, Ships and Submarines

Provides SAR assistance to Civil SAR Authorities.

State/Territory level

State and Territory SAR Authorities (Police)

Coordinate search and rescue operations for:

  • vessels & people at sea
  • inland waterways & ports
  • land searches
  • aircraft other than those that AMSA is responsible
  • land searches for missing registered civil aircraft in support of AMSA.

Coordination of volunteer rescue organisations within respective jurisdictions.

Related information

For non-emergency Australian Maritime Safety Authority contacts, please visit the contact us page.

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