Recreational Boating Safety – Search and Rescue

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08
Search and Rescue (SAR) is one of the Coast Guard’s oldest missions. Minimizing the loss of life, injury, property damage or loss by rendering aid to persons in distress in the maritime environment has always been a Coast Guard priority. Coast Guard SAR response involves multi-mission stations, cutters, aircraft and boats linked by communications networks. The National SAR Plan divides the U.S. area of SAR responsibility into internationally recognized inland and maritime SAR regions.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

The Coast Guard is the maritime SAR Coordinator. To meet this responsibility, the Coast Guard maintains SAR facilities on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts; in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico; as well as on the Great Lakes and inland U.S. waterways. The Coast Guard is recognized worldwide as a leader in the field of search and rescue. The Coast Guard does not charge a fee for their search and rescue services.

How the SAR System Works

SAR Mission
When a call for assistance is received by the Coast Guard, a determination is made by the SAR Mission Coordinator as to whether the emergency is a case of “distress.” Distress is said to exist when grave or imminent danger, requiring immediate response, threatens a craft or person. The Coast Guard will always render assistance to persons and property in genuine distress, so long as the resources for the rescue are available and the assistance can itself be rendered safely. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is authorized to perform most of the duties of the regular Coast Guard, so the scope of assistance provided by the Coast Guard may also be provided by the Auxiliary, as is the case with our Virtual Boat Station mission in the Clear Lake area, mentioned in a previous column.

Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston Rescue 21 Coverage Area

The Coast Guard generally will not provide assistance in non-distress cases if alternative assistance is available. These cases are usually referred to a commercial assistance towing company through a Marine Assistance Request Broadcast (MARB) issued by the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16. Depending on the response to the MARB, the Coast Guard may render assistance in non-distress situations if commercial assistance is not available within a reasonable period of time, and if no higher priority missions exist at the time of the incident.

Most coastal waters frequented by recreational boaters in the U.S. are serviced by at least one commercial assistance towing company. For instance, in our area BoatU.S. and SeaTow provide towing services. Towing insurance programs are available from both services, and consist of an annual membership fee and provide great peace of mind. The Coast Guard will generally not render direct assistance to recreational boaters except under circumstances of genuine distress. Boaters should therefore seriously consider a subscription membership with one of the towing organizations. That said, in the SAR cases below please note that the Coast Guard did provide towing assistance in four of the seven cases, a Good Samaritan offered a tow in two of the cases, and in one case no tow was needed.

Area Search and Rescue Missions
Below are the preliminary reports issued by area SAR teams via text message from last week, just as they were sent by the SAR units. The following abbreviations are explained to help you understand the messages:

MARB: Marine Assistance Request Broadcast
POB: Persons on Board
Good Sam: Good Samaritan- a private citizen providing assistance
UMIB: Urgent Marine Information Broadcast
GPS: Global Positioning System
Comms: Communications

SAR 20 Nautical Miles West of Freeport Jetties
Sector Command Center monitoring situation with 4 Persons on Board with grounded vessel on sandbar/beach 20 Nautical miles West of Freeport Jetties. 4 persons not in distress but unwilling to leave boat behind in remote area. Good Sam is on scene.
Matagorda County Sheriff Deputy used own personal craft to tow aground vessel from beach.

SAR 17 Foot Disabled Freeport initial
Station Freeport received a call from 17 Foot boat 3 Persons on board (1Teen) disabled being pushed off shore San Louis Pass with strong current. All wearing life jackets, cell phone comms. Issued UMIB. Launched station Freeport. Has GPS 1 nautical miles off-shore. Will tow to Freeport.
Station Freeport arrived on scene and found personal craft washed upon beach with 3/POB standing on beach near toll booth. Unable to assist. Canceled UMIB

SAR Sabine-One and final
22 Foot Center Console, disabled with 2 POB 5 Nautical miles South of Sabine. Issued MARB, no response. Good Sam came along and offered Tow. Vessel stated they no longer needed assistance.

SAR Disabled 25 Foot SEACAT
Launched Station Freeport to assist a 25 Foot SEACAT out of gas 20 Nautical miles Southwest of the Freeport jetties with 3 POB.
CG45689 took disabled vessel in tow, moored at Bridge City Marina.

SAR Disabled 16 Foot Personal Craft Galveston Causeway.
Received a report of a 16 Foot Personal Craft with 4 POB disabled in view of Galveston Causeway. No response to MARB, Launched Station Galveston. Station Galveston took vessel in Tow to Galveston Bait & Tackle. SAR boarding complete.

SAR Freeport
Sector Command Center received a report of a disabled 19 Foot personal craft with 2 POB (Adults) 6 Nautical miles off Freeport. Vessel has no anchor and unreliable comms. Issued UMIB Launch Station Freeport. Station Freeport successfully completed Tow of 19 Foot disabled back to Station Freeport

SAR Freeport
Sector Command Center received a report of a disabled anchored 31 Foot vessel with 5 POB, 5 Nautical miles South of Freeport, Texas. R/S stated there was an adult male on board suffering from dehydration, with food and water onboard. Sector Command Center advised the POB of the Coast Guard disabled vessel policy and MARB was accepted and issued. However the vessel contacted Station Freeport and stated person on board with medical condition is now dying and unresponsive prompting Freeport to self-launch, Sector Command Center issued UMIB and briefed D8 Command Center Duty Flight Surgeon, who approved the medivac.

Station Freeport arrived on scene of disabled vessel 9 Nautical Miles South of Freeport, TX, embarked dehydrated person and returned to Station Freeport where EMS took the adult male to local hospital in stable condition. Station Freeport returned to disabled vessel and towed safely to Freeport Marina.

When you are in trouble on the water, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary are there to help. All we ask is that you do your best to operate your boat safely, and that includes having a means of contacting us if you do run into problems on the water. The best method of communication is a marine VHF radio either using the automatic Digital Selective Calling (DSC) Distress button or contacting us on channel 16. Cell phones work, but cell phone communications are spotty at best offshore. Taking your family out to dinner at a nice restaurant costs more than a marine radio. Also, you may have noted that one distress call concerned a vessel that ran out of gas. Remember the rule of thumb: one third of your fuel to go out, one third to get back in, and one third for reserve.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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