Search and Rescue Satellites Helped Save 2,653 Lives in Last Ten Years – Worth the $$?

When I saw the below press item about the 307 lives SARSAT helped save last year, I wondered whether it was an unusually high number.  It is, a little. But maybe it’s more important to take a longer view.  So I went to and found that the system has helped save 2,653 lives over the last decade.  That’s a pretty impressive number.

If you are sending satellites into space anyway, it costs very little extra to include this kind of technology. Yet, in my experience, it is always a struggle to justify the relatively small expense.

Are over 2,500 lives every decade worth the effort and expense?  I think so.

Let’s hope that the folks who run our government think so too,  in spite of the many pressures to worry about only one budget year at a time.

D.A.G. – Chairman

NOAA satellites helped save 307 lives in 2016

January 19, 2017
NOAA polar orbiting (right), geostationary (middle), and the new GOES-16 (left) satellites are part of the SARSAT constellation.

Forty-six crew members, with their lives hanging in the balance, were safely pulled from a sinking fishing vessel in the Bering Sea near Alaska last July. It was the largest single rescue in, or around, the United States credited to NOAA satellites and ground systems.

In 2016, a total of 307 people were rescued — the highest number since 2007, when 353 people were saved.

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aircrews, along with good Samaritans, rescue 46 crew members from life rafts after they abandoned ship approximately 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, July 26, 2016. Watch the rescue.
Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aircrews, along with good Samaritans, rescue 46 crew members from life rafts after they abandoned ship approximately 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, July 26, 2016. Watch the rescueoffsite link. ( DVIDS)

NOAA satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT. This system uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons employed on aircraft, boats, and from handheld personal locator beacons, or PLBs.

When a NOAA satellite pinpoints the location of a distress signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues.

Of the 307 rescues in 2016, 205 were waterborne rescues, 23 were from aviation incidents and 79 were land based rescues utilizing PLBs. Other rescue highlights from 2016 include:

  • Two South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 pilots ejected from their aircraft after a mid-air explosion. Their seats were equipped with PLBs that automatically activated. Both pilots were recovered uninjured.
  • A distress signal from a PLB started the rescue of an injured hiker from a remote mountainous area of the Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah.  A local rescue helicopter transported the hiker to a medical facility for treatment of injuries.
  • Two people were rescued from their stalled boat in open waters about 13 miles off the coast of Wallops Island, Virginia. No injuries were sustained by the two people on board the vessel.

“On any given day, at any given time, NOAA satellites can play a direct role in saving lives,” said Chris O’Connors, NOAA SARSAT program manager. “These rescues underscore SARSAT’s true value.”

Since the program’s inception in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 41,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 8,000 in the United States and its surrounding waters.

Owners are required to register their emergency beacons with NOAA online. That registration information often helps provide better and faster assistance to people in distress. It may provide information about the location of the emergency, how many people need assistance, what type of help may be needed and ways to contact the owner. At the end of 2016 NOAA’s registration database contained more than 515,000 entries.


Bodies of 74 Migrants Wash Ashore in Libya

Photo: Intl Red Cross, Red Crescent Middle East & North Africa

Editor’s note:  AFRAS supports volunteer maritime rescue services trying to prevent such tragedies. We raise and donate funds, and help US taxpayers make tax-deductible donations, to support such efforts. by >DON MELVIN

February 21, 2017

The sea continued to claim the lives of migrants desperate for better lives, with 74 bodies washing ashore in Libya.

Mohammed al-Misrati, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the human remains would be taken to a cemetery for unidentified people in Tripoli.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies posted photographs on its Twitter account of dozens of corpses in body bags, lined up along the shore.

Migrant deaths have risen to record levels on the Libya-to-Italy smuggling route across the Mediterranean Sea. They generally attempt the crossing in flimsy inflatable craft loaded with small amounts of fuel which are intended to get them only as far as European rescue vessels stationed in international waters.

Libyan coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim said more than 500 migrants were rescued at sea on Friday and Saturday. The migrants’ boats were 5-7 miles from the coast of Libya.

Gassim said the coast guard is seeing the smugglers use larger rubber boats in order to pile more migrants into the weak vessels — some taking on as many as 180 people.

“This is going to be even more disastrous to the migrants,” Gassim added.

Last year a record 181,000 migrants crossed between Libya and Italy. More than 4,500 are known to have died.

Read More

“Staying With the Boat and Other Safety Myths” – Rescue Swimmer & AFRAS Member M. Vittone

Blog Editor’s Note: Mario Vittone is a widely recognized maritime survival expert, long time AFRAS member and has served on our board.

A Coast Guard Station Fire Island boatcrew rescues a distressed boater from an overturned vessel in Fire Island Inlet, October 11, 2016. Coast Guard and local partner agency crews are still searching for a missing person in the vicinity of Fire Island Inlet, New York. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Station Fire Island)

Staying With The Boat And Other Safety Myths

Cruise Ship Rescues Six Fishermen – Maritime Executive

Blog Editor’s Note: Each year dozens of cruise ships go out of their way to rescue those in distress and perform other humanitarian missions. The rescue described in the article below is just one example of many. They are so frequent that AFRAS, working with the Cruise Line Industry Association, has decided to recognize a particularly noteworthy case each year.  The first “Cruise Ship Humanitarian Assistance Award” will be presented at our annual Gold Medal reception and award ceremony in September on Capitol Hill.

MS Alabatros Photo from Maritime Executive

By MarEx 2017-02-04 17:03:09

The crew of a cruise ship saved six men from a leaky Tongan fishing boat on Saturday. The men had not had water for three days.

The Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand organized for the German cruise ship Albatros to change course after the fishing vessel crew set off an emergency rescue beacon 400 kilometers (250 miles) west south west of Tonga. The ship diverted 300 kilometers (186 miles) to help the distressed 11.5-meter (38-foot) fishing vessel.

An Airforce crew dropped emergency equipment and a radio to the boat crew, who were then able to communicate that they could not start their motor due to a flat battery.

When the Albatros rendezvoused with the fishing vessel, the fishermen jumped into the water to swim to the ship. Their fishing boat had been taking on water and was unlikely to remain afloat for more than 24 hours.

The Albatros crew helped transfer the men aboard the larger vessel, which is now bound for Auckland. A day in the Bay of Islands has been lost for the cruise passengers due to diverting to the rescue.

While the fishing boat was not carrying adequate radio equipment, its EPIRB rescue beacon enabled the crew to call for help. The men are reported to be in good health.

Original Article

NY Times Story – 4.1 Miles Rescue on the Med

Short powerful video regarding the Greek Coast Guard’s effort to save migrants on the Mediterranean.

This is not about politics.  It is about safety of life at sea.

AFRAS supports volunteer search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean through the IMRF and multiple organizations operating in the area.  Your support literally saves lives.  No one should drown at sea.

Skip Bowen President, Association for Rescue at Sea Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (ret)



Tanzania Sea Rescue & Video – AFRAS in Action

Tanzania Sea Rescue is one of the world’s newest volunteer maritime rescue and safety organizations. Less than a year old, it has already:

  • Acquired a rescue boat and recruited over 30 volunteers
  • Had its first rescue
  • Partnered with the Red Cross on water safety programs
  • Had two training team visits, one from the UK’s RNLI and one from France’s SNSM
  • Been featured on the TV News Program “Africa Live” See video below

AFRAS is proud to be a financial supporter for Tanzania Sea Rescue.

Information on how you can make a US tax-deductible in-kind or monetary donation to Tanzania Sea Rescue via AFRAS is available here.

AFRAS Fundraising Helped Save 5,000+ Lives

US Navy Photo Seaman Chelsea Milburn

Last year was the deadliest ever for the Mediterranean and Aegean.  But as bad as it was, without the efforts of volunteer lifesavers, it would have been even worse. The Association for Rescue At Sea (AFRAS) was proud to be able to support volunteers who saved over 5,000 lives.

Attached is a briefing sheet from the International Maritime Rescue Federation about the efforts we supported to establish and improve sustainable volunteer maritime rescue capabilities in the region.

Well done to all.

Let’s all resolve to do even better this year.

—- Donations to AFRAS to help save lives in the Mediterranean and Aegean received before the 30th of June 2017 will be matched by the Tatman Foundation.  We want to thank the Tatman Foundation for their generosity. —-

Donate Here

Video: RNLI Crew Rescues Reluctant Evacuee

Maritime Executive

By MarEx 2017-01-16 20:09:51

On Friday, a seafarer was evacuated from his ship off Sunderland in a coordinated operation between a volunteer lifeboat crew and a UK Coastguard rescue helicopter.

At 1300 hours on Friday, the UK Coastguard Operations Centre at Humber received a call from the captain of the geared bulker HC Jette-Marit, who reported that his chief engineer may have suffered a heart attack. The vessel was about four miles east of Sunderland, where it was due to anchor.

However, the situation was somewhat complicated: the chief, a Ukrainian national, refused to be evacuated from the ship by helicopter. He signed a disclaimer confirming his intentions, meaning that the Coastguard was unable to offer further assistance beyond urging him to change his mind.

Shortly thereafter, the captain radioed UK Coastguard to tell them that the engineer had been persuaded to evacuate by sea instead. The authorities asked the Tynemouth RNLI all-weather lifeboat to rendezvous with the bulker, and the lifeboat and its six volunteer crew members launched just six minutes after being paged.

Read More & See Video

2016 Maritime Lifesaving Award Winners Announced

Our Board of Directors has reviewed all submissions for our annual lifesaving awards program, voted on the heroes most deserving of recognition and have selected the following awardees:

  • Vice Admiral Thomas Sargent III Gold Medal – Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Benjamin Cournia, U.S. Coast Guard
  • Silver Medal – Mr. Patrick Porter, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
  • AMVER Award – Crew of the cruise ship Veendam, Holland America Line
  • AMVER Special Award – Crew of the training ship State of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy
Petty Officer 1st Class Ben Cournia, a rescue swimmer at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., poses for a photo after being awarded the Coast Guard Air Medal at the station Feb. 24, 2016. Cournia was honored for saving 12 lives during Hurricane Joaquin. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Joe Perez)
Petty Officer 1st Class Ben Cournia, a rescue swimmer at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., poses for a photo after being awarded the Coast Guard Air Medal at the station Feb. 24, 2016. Cournia was honored for saving 12 lives during Hurricane Joaquin. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Joe Perez)

Petty Officer Cournia, a helicopter rescue swimmer from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, was nominated for the Gold Medal for a rescue on the evening of Oct. 1, 2015, during which his heroic actions saved 12 lives from the sinking 212-foot freighter Minouche. The crew of the Minouche abandoned ship 60 miles west of Haiti, and just 90 miles from the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, which was a raging category four storm. Cournia and the other rescuers aboard two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopters battled 15-foot seas and 50-knot winds to complete the rescues.

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopters who rescued 12 mariners in the Caribbean while Hurricane Joaquin raged. They are displaying a personal flotation device from the freighter Minouche, with details of the rescue case written on it. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.
The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopters who rescued 12 mariners in the Caribbean while Hurricane Joaquin raged. They are displaying a personal flotation device from the freighter Minouche, with details of the rescue case written on it. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.

Cournia battled churning seas to get survivors from their life raft – which was continuously blown hundreds of yards away from the rescue scene – into the helicopter’s rescue basket for hoisting to safety. He spent two hours in the water to rescue the first eight, then had to be hoisted himself so the helicopter could return to their forward operating base in the Bahamas for fuel. The crew was back on-scene an hour later, but after Cournia rescued the ninth survivor, a malfunction aboard the helicopter forced the crew to once again return to base – this time to switch airframes and return to the scene a third time and deploy Cournia into the turbulent water, where he expertly completed the rescue of the three final survivors.

Auxiliarist Porter was nominated for the Silver Medal for actions that potentially prevented critical injury or death to two participants of the 2015 Bullhead City River Regatta, an event in Arizona that attracted more than 35,000 participants for tube-floating on a six-mile stretch of the Colorado River. During his patrol, Porter witnessed a person swimming against the current of the river without a personal flotation device, and then go under the water three times, due to fatigue. Porter rescued the individual by pulling him aboard his personal watercraft. Later that day, he witnessed another participant, among the thousands of people in the water, unconscious and foaming and the mouth – he rescued this individual and transported her to another vessel with emergency medical technicians aboard. During both rescues, Porter had to navigate carefully through the throngs of participants crowding the river, ensuring his own safety, the safety of others and the safety of the rescuees.

The Amver participating ship Veendam’s crew rescued the pilot from a single engine plane after he ditched his aircraft in the ocean, after experiencing fuel and engine problems, 200 miles northeast of Maui, Hawaii, Jan. 25, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard authorities launched rescue assets after the initial call for help, but found that the Veendam was in the path of the aircraft, using the Amver system. After the aircraft hit the water, the pilot got into his life raft and was quickly recovered by the crew of the Veendam. The pilot was uninjured and remained on the ship until it reached its next port of call.

The Amver participating ship State of Maine rescued a lone sailor after his sailboat began taking on water 520 miles southeast of Halifax, Canada, June 10, 2015. After the initial call for help, U.S. Coast Guard authorities launched search and rescue aircraft from both the U.S. and Canada, but soon discovered, using the Amver system, that the State of Maine was only 29 miles away from the sailor in distress and was willing to divert to attempt a rescue. Cadets aboard the ship readied rescue equipment, fast rescue boats and rigged a Jacob’s ladder to allow the sailor to board the ship. Within a few hours of the initial notification, the survivor was safely aboard the training ship.

The Association for Rescue at Sea will present these maritime lifesaving awards at our annual awards ceremony. The event will be held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C., Sep. 21, hosted by Congressman Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Coast Guard Subcommittee.

AFRAS Vice President on Motion Picture “The Finest Hours”

Association for Rescue at Sea Vice President Wayne Spivak is featured on this radio interview with the program Breakthrough Entertainment to talk about AFRAS and its missions, sea rescue challenges and Disney’s motion picture “The Finest Hours.” The movie details the U.S. Coast Guard’s historic 1952 Pendleton rescue, during a fierce storm off Chatham, Mass. Have a listen: