Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Arrangements in Australia

The arrangements for search and rescue (SAR) in Australia have been influenced by the physical size of the island continent, the large size of the search and rescue region, Australia's relatively small population and the nature of governmental processes. Dedicated SAR facilities are limited in Australia. When necessary, other facilities are diverted from their primary function by arrangement or request. Australia has developed a SAR organisation to direct, coordinate and control search and rescue operations within the Australian Search and Rescue region (SRR) and to provide the organisational basis for cooperation between different SAR authorities. This is especially necessary in Australia because of our political system involving a federation of States and Territories, and the particular SAR responsibilities assumed by the Defence Forces.

National Search and Rescue Council

In 1976, the Commonwealth, State and Territory SAR Authorities formed a national conference to ensure consistency and uniformity in SAR procedures within the Australian search and rescue region (SRR). In 1999 a shift in perspective saw the group renamed the National Search and Rescue Council with the role of formulating, discussing and ratifying national search and rescue policies. This role has been strengthened and given more recognition with the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement on National Search and Rescue Response Arrangements (IGA) by the Commonwealth Justice and Transport Ministers and the State and Territory Ministers for Police in June 2004. The parties to the Arrangements agreed that the National SAR Council will continue to be the national coordinating body for search and rescue operations by overseeing search and rescue arrangements in Australia's search and rescue region, sponsoring the National SAR Manual, and overseeing the ongoing effectiveness of the cooperative arrangements between Australian search and rescue authorities.

Membership of the Council comprises representative of the Australian search and rescue authority, the State and Territories search and rescue authorities, and representatives from the Australian Defence Force.

For further information go to the National Search and Rescue Council's Website.

Federal and state responsibilities

In each state and territory the Police are the Search and Rescue authority. The Australian Federal Police are the Search and Rescue authority for the Australian Capital Territory, the Jervis Bay Territory and offshore territories. Under an Australian Federal Government - state/territory Agreement the State/Territory police forces are responsible for:

  • Marine search and rescue operations for persons or ships in waters within the limits of ports of the state/territory and in respect of pleasure craft and fishing vessels;
  • Provision and coordination of land searches for missing civil aircraft; and
  • Overall coordination of searches for hikers and land vehicles.
  • Australia's search and rescue region

    Australia, as signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944; the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974; and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979, is responsible for search and rescue over a vast area made up of the East Indian, South-west Pacific and Southern oceans. The internationally agreed Australian Search and Rescue Region covers 52.8 million square kilometres - over one-tenth of the earth's surface. Unlike some countries, Australia is fortunate to have the same boundaries for aviation and maritime search and rescue.

    chart of Australian maritime search and rescue region

    The Australian maritime search and rescue region (SRR).

    Department of Defence

    The Federal government through Headquarters Australian Defence Force (HQADF) is responsible for the provision of Search and Rescue for all military and visiting military forces. This responsibility is exercised through the Navy, Army and Air Force depending upon the circumstances of the distress situation. Operational control of Defence force Search and Rescue facilities will normally be retained by the appropriate Defence authority. When Defence assets assist in Search and Rescue actions coordinated by other Search and Rescue authorities, direct liaison between the Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator (SMC) and the Defence unit is usually authorised.

    Other Australian national agencies

    A number of national organisations have a special interest in emergency operations; they provide helpful ancillary services, or have Search and Rescue facilities that may be of assistance in special cases.

    These agencies include:

  • The Bureau of Meteorology which provides routine or special weather forecasts as well as historical data for search planning
  • Kordia Solutions provides an HF DSC terrestrial radio service through two Maritime Communications Stations (MCS) located at Wiluna and Charleville. Inmarsat provides satellite services through the Land Earth Station (LES) in Perth
  • Emergency Management Australia coordinates the Federal government's response in natural disasters
  • Airservices Australia provides air traffic services in Australia including inflight Emergency Response Division s for aircraft declaring an emergency. The situation is passed to Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) when the aircraft is believed to be lost, ditched or crash landed or when a rescue operation outside the vicinity of an airport is required
  • The Australian Customs Service conducts surveillance in major ports, can provide assistance in tracing vessels and coordinates airborne civil coastal surveillance (COASTWATCH)
  • The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) can provide communications facilities and may assist in direction finding services
  • The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigates transport safety matters.
  • Volunteer, commercial and private organisations

    The cooperative nature of Search and Rescue in Australia is borne out by the involvement of volunteer rescue organisations. These organisations promote safety and conduct local rescues and come under the control of State/Territory Police for these operations. There are certain commercial and private organisations which are capable of providing assistance during a Search and Rescue incident. AusSAR provides specific training to selected aircraft operators, who are known as Search and Rescue Units (SRU). Aircraft and marine craft in transit may be able to assist in cases of distress within their area of operations. Other commercial and private organisations which might volunteer to assist in a Search and Rescue operation are: commercial airlines, general aviation operators, oil companies, fishing companies, aero clubs, and large landholders.

    Joint Standard Operating Procedures (Restricted access)

    This document is to define the Scope of Operations for the Search and Rescue (SAR) services to be provided by AeroRescue and related Joint Standard Operating Procedures (JSOP) to be followed by AeroRescue and the AMSA Emergency Response business unit through the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) during the tasking and conduct of search and rescue missions, Environment Protection Response and the support for the conduct of operations provided by SAR Resources and Training (SR&T).

    Reporting systems

    Modernised Australian Ship Tracking and Reporting System (MASTREP)

    MASTREP Guide [pdf iconPDF: 251kB]

    Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef (Inner Route) Ship Reporting System (REEFREP)

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