GSAR Participant Manual - Justice Institute Of British Columbia

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This review and revision of the Basic Search and Rescue Manual is a collaborative effort
involving many people. The combined expertise, experience and effort of these people have
led to a manual that is much more reflective of the field’s actual requirements.
Ground Search and Rescue Advisory Committee
Don Blakely - Vernon SAR Hamish Murray – Comox Valley SAR
Carl Doey - Sparwood SAR Shelly Ohland - Ft. St. John SAR
Art Eickmeyer - Prince George SAR Michael Pavich – Rescue 15 (Prince Rupert)
Linda Hillard - Victoria SAR Pete Wise - Vernon SAR
Paul Kindree - Squamish SAR Dennis Zaharoff - Barriere SAR
Richard Laing - Ridge Meadows SAR Geoff Amy – PEP
Wayne Merry – Atlin SAR
Special recognition goes to:
Andrew Spray, who was the principal author of the original Basic Search and Rescue
Manual for BC.
Wayne Merry, whose Basic Ground Search and Rescue in the Yukon Territory
Manual has been used as the basis for some sections of the GSAR Manual.
Gord Sweeting, who distilled the information from the study guide for the
Radiotelephone Operator’s Restricted Certificate for inclusion in the Communication
Martin Colwell, whose research on Sweep Searches is the basis for the Sweep
Search Chapter.
Dave Brewer, whose information on conducting a SAR operation review was used in
the Search Termination Chapter.
All the participants at the GSAR Instructor Workshops who provided verbal and
written feedback on the GSAR course and manual.
Emergency Management Division
Peter Pershick Director
Linda West Supervisor, Administrative Services
Search and Rescue Training
Jon Heshka Program Coordinator
Stuart MacDonald Instructor/Coordinator
Sandy Hamilton Program Assistant
This is the second edition of the GSAR manual. Many suggestions were forwarded from the users
of the manual and these have been incorporated into this edition. The first edition was dated 1998
(in the footer) while the second edition is dated 1999. A revision sheet listing the changes made to
the first edition is available upon request.
© 1999, Justice Institute of British Columbia
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced,
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written
consent of the copyright owners is an infringement of copyright law.
First Edition - November, 1998
Second Edition - July, 1999
Additional copies of this manual may be ordered from:
Emergency Management Division
Justice Institute of British Columbia
715 McBride Blvd.
New Westminster, BC
Phone (604) 528-5786
Fax (604) 528-5798
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Main entry under title:
Ground search and rescue. – 2nd ed.
“Provincial Emergency Program.”
Includes bibliographical references: p.
ISBN 0-7726-3964-7
1. Search and rescue operations – Handbooks, manuals,
etc. 2. Rescue work – Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Justice Institute of
British Columbia. Emergency Management Division.
GV200.5.G76 1999 363.34’81 C99-960262-4
Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) Manual
Second Edition
Table of Contents
1. Search and Rescue in British Columbia (BC)
Search Organization
2. Initiating a Search
3. Search Progression
4. Search Termination
Wilderness Navigation
5. Maps
6. Compass
7. Map and Compass
Searcher Skills
8. Survival Skills
9. Communications
10. Orientation to Rope Management
11. Orientation to Tracking
12. Helicopter Safety
13. Avalanche Orientation
14. Evacuation
Search Tactics
15. Type I Methods – Initial Response Searches
16. Type II Methods – Sweep Searches
17. Type III Methods – Closed Grid Searches
18. Shoreline Searches and Safety
19. Chapter Review Answer Key
20. Bibliography and Index
Chapter 1 - Search and Rescue in BC
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe the three basic categories of search and rescue
• Describe specifically the jurisdictional mandates of the
Department of National Defence (DND), the RCMP and
municipal police forces, the Provincial Emergency Program
(PEP), the BC Ambulance Service (BCAS), and the Coroner’s
• Outline PEP’s SAR Policy as it relates to:
- Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB)
- Liability insurance
• Outline the SAR training course structure in BC.
• Outline the roles and responsibilities of the
- Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC)
- Regional Manager
- SAR (Incident) Commander
- Emergency Program Coordinator
- SAR Manager (Deputy Incident Commander)
- SAR Team Leader
- SAR Advisory Committee
- Volunteer SAR Regional Representative
- Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC)
- PEP Air Service
• Outline SAR agreements between PEP and the RCMP,
municipal police forces, the Coroner’s Service, Workers
Compensation Board of BC and Parks Canada.
• Explain the following components of SAR operations:
- preplanning
- notification
- planning/strategy
- tactics/operations
- suspension/termination
- review
• Describe the functions of the Incident Command System (ICS).
Vision Statement Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) team members:
1. are dedicated volunteers who must possess the skills necessary
to perform SAR related tasks with a high degree of proficiency;
2. must act professionally and follow a code of conduct which
relies heavily on trust, integrity and teamwork;
3. must be able to follow directions, work with limited supervision,
have strong communication skills, be able to assess risk and
complete tasks without endangering themselves or others.
As search and rescue (SAR) volunteers registered with the
Provincial Emergency Program (PEP), it is necessary to appreciate
and understand a sense of the “big picture”. Consequently, chapter
one deals with SAR organization, agreements and training
Like all areas of emergency response, the field of ground search
and rescue is in a continuous state of improvement and evolution. It
is undergoing great change due to increasing technology, the
development of alternate and improved techniques, the integration
of volunteers and professionals, and concerns with legal liability,
standard of care and negligence.
This reference is intended to serve as both an operational manual
for the PEP and as a training manual administered and managed by
the Justice Institute of BC to which PEP-registered SAR volunteers
must refer to in order to become a certified ground searcher. This
edition updates the initial version primarily written by SAR volunteer
and former regional advisory representative Andrew Spray and
published by the JIBC in 1989.
Publication of this edition involved review and revision of the
existing program by an advisory panel. This advisory panel was
comprised of volunteer search and rescue representation from
across British Columbia. They were consulted and have provided
constructive feedback to the development of the new GSAR
This manual effectively replaces the Basic Search and Rescue
Manual produced and distributed by the JIBC. It is now regarded as
the training and operational manual in Ground SAR for PEP and
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police within the Province of British
Intent This manual has been prepared to present a minimum operating
standard or guideline for ground searchers in BC. Personnel should
possess certification in GSAR in order to be deployed into the field.
SAR is inherently dangerous. There should always be a
conscious effort to balance the benefits against the costs of
conducting a search or a rescue. SAR requires ground searchers to
make informed decisions as opposed to ignorant guesses in the
field. The consequences of making a wrong decision may be fatal
or at least terribly inconvenient.
The GSAR Course is more than merely reading the manual. SAR is
a serious undertaking and requires an enormous degree of
commitment and effort. Ground SAR cannot be learned merely
from a book. This manual is regarded as a reference guide to assist
the ground searcher in improving their field skills.
Competency requires expert instruction, supervision, field exercises
and practice. Only then will the ground searcher possess the
knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to safely and swiftly
perform their task. It is expected that the manual will be used in
conjunction with standardized training provided by volunteer
instructors and co-ordinated through the Justice Institute of BC.
SAR Categories SAR operations within British Columbia fall into three basic
categories: Air SAR, Marine SAR, and Ground and Inland Waters
Jurisdiction When a SAR Emergency arises, the primary responsibility for the
response depends on the category of search and/or rescue
involved. Jurisdictional authority and responsibility for SAR
operations is divided among several federal and provincial
governmental departments and is supported by volunteer SAR
Department of
National Defence
Both air and marine search and rescue are a federal responsibility.
Air SAR is the responsibility of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Marine SAR is the responsibility of the Canadian Coast Guard.
Marine SAR is supported by the volunteer Canadian Coast Guard
Auxiliary. Both air and marine SAR are coordinated by the Rescue
Coordination Centre (RCC) in Victoria.
Police Authority The authority and responsibility for Ground and Inland Water SAR
within the province of BC ultimately falls to the police detachment
having jurisdiction. Throughout most of BC, this is the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) while in thirteen communities it is
municipal police forces.
Emergency Program
The Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) is part of the Ministry of
Attorney General. In cooperation with other ministries and
agencies, PEP advises and assists in preventative measures, and
coordinates the emergency preparedness, response and recovery
measures of the provincial government. PEP encourages and
assists local governments to develop and exercise local emergency
Specific to SAR, PEP is responsible for facilitating the maintenance
of a provincial ground and inland water SAR capability and assisting
in coordinating the operational response of local SAR volunteer
groups when requested by the police, BC Ambulance Service
(BCAS), Department of National Defence (DND) or other agencies.
At present, PEP and the police authorities have a non-written
agreement that PEP will provide SAR services when requested to
do so by the RCMP or municipal forces. The intention is that PEP
will act in support of the police authority's ultimate responsibility for
SAR within British Columbia.
PEP supports authorized SAR activities providing individuals with
Worker’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage, third party liability
insurance and legal representation as a result of losses or claims
arising out of authorized operations and pre-approved training tasks.
PEP will reimburse SAR volunteers for expenses incurred during
operations and sometimes for training. PEP will replace some or all
of essential equipment lost or damaged during an operation but not
on training tasks. PEP will not purchase the SAR Group's initial
capital outlay of equipment.
It should be realized that PEP’s mandate covers more than SAR.
PEP is involved in emergency planning, emergency preparedness
and emergency social services.
BC Ambulance
The BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) is the agency with whom SAR
Groups interact with when the subject is injured in a known location
and requires pre-hospital care.
Coroner's Service In the event that human remains are located, the matter becomes
the responsibility of the Office of the Provincial Coroner who often
act through the local police.
There is a written agreement between the Office of the Chief
Coroner of BC, the RCMP and the Provincial Emergency Program
which states that:
• SAR volunteers who are involved in police directed SAR
operations may assist in or effect a body recovery under the
direction of a Coroner or other person as provided under the
Coroner’s Act;
• SAR volunteers may be tasked to assist in or effect a body
recovery in instances which do not begin as SAR operations,
and which are initiated as operations to recover a deceased
Board Coverage
There are two written agreements between the Government of
Canada and the Government of British Columbia. They use the
term "Emergency Services Worker" to refer to what includes search
and rescue personnel. It states that:
• Where the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) decides that
an accident causing death or injury arose out of and in the
course of "Emergency Services Work", it shall determine and
pay the amount of compensation and provide medical aid
including rehabilitation and retraining costs, according to the
Workers’ Compensation Act of BC.
• "Emergency Services Work" means work, for no compensation,
which is designed or intended to protect and preserve life,
property, the environment or public services in the event of an
emergency …and includes training therefor.
• "Emergency Services Worker" defines any person who has
volunteered for Emergency Services work and has been
registered with the Provincial Emergency Program for volunteer
Emergency Services.
Further information regarding WCB, insurance and liability
protection is located in the PEP brochure included with this manual.
SAR Training Under the direction of the Provincial Emergency Program and in
consultation with experienced SAR volunteers, the Emergency
Management Division – PEP Academy at the Justice Institute of BC
is responsible for developing, and designing the course curriculum,
standards and evaluation practices for SAR volunteers in BC.
Course delivery is done either through the PEP Academy directly, or
at the regional or local level with either the assistance of PEP
funding or local fundraising efforts. Regionally-based SAR courses
like Ground Search Team Leader, Rope Rescue, SAR Management
and Organized Avalanche Response are co-ordinated by the Justice
Institute of BC.
Figure 1.2 (located at the end of Chapter 1) depicts the Conceptual
Framework for SAR Training in BC. Note: some of the listed
courses have not been developed as of 1999.
ECC The Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC), situated at PEP
headquarters (PEP HQ) in Victoria, operates 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week to provide a central coordinating agency for all routine
provincial emergency response activities, particularly those for
which the Ministry of Attorney General/PEP is the key ministry.
Specific activities include:
• receiving notification of emergency incidents, records
information and notifies applicable agencies;
• maintaining a chronological event log of all calls received and
made; and
• allocating funds from the Emergency Assistance Vote for
emergency responses on the direction of Regional Managers
and PEP HQ Management.
In regards to SAR, ECC responsibilities include:
• Issuing task numbers to SAR Managers and Emergency
Program Coordinators. A SAR response is not authorized by
PEP unless a task number has been issued. To receive a task
number, SAR Group assistance must be requested by the
RCMP/Local Police, BC Ambulance Department of National
Defence (DND) or other agencies.
• Notification of PEP Regional Managers of all SAR activity 24
hours a day, 7 days a week. See responsibilities of PEP
Regional Managers listed below. Notification of SAR activities
as and when required to PEP HQ staff including PEP SAR
Coordinator and the Deputy Director.
PEP Regional
There are six PEP regions with a PEP Regional Manager (RM) and
an Administrative Assistant in each, except for the Southwest
Region Office which has an Assistant Regional Manager and
second Administrative Assistant. PEP Regional Manager
responsibilities include:
• Providing assistance to local governments and other ministries
in emergency preparedness, response and recovery.
• Receiving training task applications, approving requests for
funding and forwarding them to headquarters; and
In regards to SAR incidents, PEP Regional Manager responsibilities
• Providing assistance and/or coordination as and when required
on a 24 hour basis to SAR Managers and other agency
representatives to enhance SAR response. Aside from having a
comprehensive knowledge of SAR operations, PEP Regional
Managers have resources such as helicopters and other agency
personnel at their disposal to assist with SAR incidents.
• Approval of costs associated with SAR incident task numbers,
helicopter and fixed wing use as well as equipment such as
snowmobiles and ATV’s.
SAR (Incident)
Commander Police Authority
The SAR Commander (usually a police officer) is ultimately
responsible and retains authority over the SAR operation. However,
management of SAR operations is usually delegated to qualified
SAR personnel. The delegation of responsibilities does not mean
that the police have forfeited their authority over the incident. The
police remain in charge.
It is a police decision whether or not to use a SAR Group.
The SAR Commanders responsibilities include:
• Conducts pre-investigation prior to initial notification of PEP
SAR Manager.
• Continues investigation regarding operation (may be done in
conjunction with the SAR Manager).
• Contacts either the SAR Manager, Emergency Program
Coordinator or PEP ECC to initiate the search and/or rescue .
• Initiates the start of the operation.
• Determines the extent of the operation.
• Determines suspension and termination of the operation.
• Maintains a liaison with the SAR Manager during the operation.
• Accesses police resources (search & tracking dogs, Forward
Looking Infra-Red, helicopters).
• Develops and maintain the SAR operation progress report.
• Liases with the media and the subject's family.
• Chairs and contributes to operational reviews.
• Oversees body recovery for the Coroner's office.
Emergency Program
In most cities or municipalities there is an emergency program that
is directed by the Emergency Program Coordinator. However, the
relationship between the SAR Group and the Emergency Program
Coordinator varies considerably between municipalities.
Responsibilities include:
• possibly receiving the initial search or rescue call-out from police
or from the SAR Manager
• may call ECC to get a task number, report the incident, provide
daily updates and for task closure
• possibly notifying and contacting the SAR Manager for group
• liasing with the SAR Manager and the police regarding the
• functioning as the official link with municipal government and
provincial ministries
• functioning as the official link between the SAR Group and PEP
Regional Offices
• representing local, municipal or regional district government
• liaising with the PEP Regional Manager to request additional
resources and for information updates
It must be remembered that the responsibilities of the Emergency
Program Coordinator are not restricted to SAR activities.
Search and Rescue
GSAR team members are an essential component of ground and
inland water SAR in BC. There are presently 75 active SAR Groups
in BC comprised of approximately 5000 volunteers. GSAR team
members volunteer tens of thousands of hours annually towards
SAR operations and training.
SAR Manager
(Deputy Incident
The person who will lead the SAR Group during the operation is
called the SAR Manager (Deputy Incident Commander). This
person should be an experienced member of the group with good
leadership skills.
Responsibilities include:
• Receives initial call-out usually from the police but may be from
the emergency program coordinator or ECC.
• May contact ECC for acquisition of an operational task number.
• Manages the SAR Group during the operation.
• Liases with the police and possibly PEP Regional Manager
during the operation.
• Manages the SAR operation with police permission and
• Initiates SAR Group call-outs.
• Manages incident out of the Incident Command Post (SAR
• Initiates other SAR Group mutual aid.
• Determines the strategy and tactics of search operations.
• Allocates SAR Group resources to the field.
• Oversees SAR Group functions and PEP requirements.
• Evaluates rescue requirements and allocates as necessary to
the field.
• Delegates rescue operation control to the rescue team field
• Initiates and may chair operation review.
• Completes required PEP registration and task reports.
• Provides daily updates to ECC and report task closure.
Team Leader During a SAR incident a group of volunteers may be sent into the
field as a team. One person will be designated the Team Leader.
There are various types of team leaders in SAR such as Ground
Search Team Leader (GSTL), Rope Rescue Team Leader, or
Swiftwater Rescue Team Leader. The role of the team leader is to
supervise and monitor the conduct and activities of the team. This
• Safety
• Performance
• Supervision
• Accountability
• Logistics
• Briefing
• Review
• Communications
• Record keeping
• Liasing with the SAR Manager
SAR Advisory
In 1990 the SAR Advisory Committee was formed to:
• Advise PEP on SAR policy, legislation, standards, resources,
training and related priorities;
• Provide channels of communication among participating SAR
Groups as well as between agencies such as the RCMP and the
• Facilitate the establishment of a standards and assessment
group to ensure one standard of SAR is adopted for the
province and to assess the quality of delivery of the service.
The members of the SAR Advisory Committee include:
• SAR Coordinator (volunteer) appointed as Chair.
• Eight (8) volunteer SAR Regional Representatives
• RCMP Representative
• Municipal Police Representative
• PEP SAR Coordinator
• JIBC SAR Training Program Coordinator
Volunteer SAR
The volunteer SAR Regional Representative is selected from the
SAR Groups in the region. The SAR regional rep duties include:
• Provides communication between SAR Groups, the Regional
Manager, the SAR Advisory Committee, police, PEP
headquarters, the Justice Institute, etc.
• Creating regional training plans in consultation with SAR Groups
in their area, the Regional Manager and the Justice Institute.
• Hosting an annual regional workshop/meeting.
• Involvement in issues relating to mutual aid.
RCC The Canadian Forces Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in
Victoria is responsible for the coordination of all air and marine
search and rescue activities within the province. The RCC
maintains a squadron of both fixed and rotary winged aircraft at the
Canadian Forces Base in Comox and coordinates the deployment
of marine vessels located throughout many communities in British
During an air or marine SAR operation, the RCC may request the
services of PEP SAR Groups or PEP Air/CASARA (Civil Air Search
and Rescue Association).
PEP Air/CASARA PEP Air consists of volunteers, whose interests lie with aviation and
who dedicate their time and/or aircraft to assist PEP, Search and
Rescue Groups, Canadian Armed Forces or the Canadian Coast
Guard. PEP Air crews operate under the volunteer umbrella of the
Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
Each PEP region of BC has a commander who is the coordinator for
all air volunteers in the region. The commander is responsible to
the PEP Regional Manager and is the regional manager's advisor
during SAR operations involving the use of fixed wing aircraft. PEP
Air may be called upon to respond to requests from PEP and may
be of particular assistance in spotting parked vehicles, locating
overturned boats, and acting as a communications platform. The
PEP Air Service contact with the Province is through the PEP
Regional Manager.
Parks Canada There is a written agreement between Parks Canada and PEP
which states that:
• It is the intent of PEP and the Canadian Parks Service to assist
each other in BC and in Federal Parks within BC with personnel,
equipment or other resources in any emergency or disaster as
deemed appropriate.
SAR Components
Preplanning “Preplanning” is a term applied to the overall planning which occurs
before an incident and addresses all phases of likely SAR
situations. Good preplanning means being ready in terms of
equipment, organization, management and training. In most cases,
this is the most important, yet overlooked, component of the SAR
incident cycle. A proper preplan can minimize the need for, and
enhance the safety of every subsequent action. Lessons learned
from previous situations provide the foundation for a preplan.
Notification First notice is the moment in time that an incident is made known to
SAR personnel. SAR personnel are most often informed of a SAR
incident by either the police directly, the Emergency Coordination
Centre, their Municipal Emergency Program Coordinator or a SAR
Manager from an adjacent SAR Group. Regardless of the reporting
party, the SAR response now begins to take shape.
Planning and
As each SAR phase begins (ie. Locate, Access, Stabilize,
Transport), situation-specific planning and strategy development
arise from and compliment preplanning efforts and plans. This
incident planning stage is where the details are developed regarding
how the current incident will be managed.
Investigation is usually the first stage of planning and involves the
timely gathering of accurate information so that an effective
assessment of the situation can be made. Once the initial
investigation has been accomplished, a list of options are outlined
with backup contingencies for optimum flexibility.
A relative urgency rating is determined by weighting factors that
might effect the risk to the subject(s) such as their age, skill level,
equipment, weather conditions, etc. The specific level of urgency
determines the speed and nature of the response by rescuers.
Finally, just before the physical operation begins, goals and
objectives are established for the first operational period. These
objectives are key to the proper field operations being carried out.
Tactics / Operations Once the incident strategy is laid out and the objectives have been
established, the tactical component of the incident cycle can begin.
This component of the cycle is where the plans are implemented
and physically carried out in the field. Tactical assignments may
include both passive (ie. Investigation, confinement, attraction, etc)
and/or active (ie. Field searching, tracking) search techniques.
Suspension At the end of a search, if the subject has been located, the search is
terminated and the access phase can commence. However, if the
subject has not been found, the decision to discontinue active
search efforts is a difficult one which involves complex management
issues that are rarely easy to resolve.
Once there is no longer a need to continue the current phase for
whatever reason (ie. Subject is located, access has been
accomplished, stabilization is completed, or subject has been
transported), suspension of that particular phase takes place.
Incident suspension or termination occurs when an incident is
called-off and resources are demobilized to ready status.
In larger incidents, this may involve structured deactivation of
multiple resources, pulling teams out of the field, dismantling
facilities, completion of documentation, and returning resources to
service. All of this takes planning and preparation, and should be
addressed in the overall preplan long before it is required.
Review After every incident, participants will realize that if they had to do it
all over again, they would do some things differently. If these
thoughts and ideas are not documented, they can be lost and future
incidents are destined to relive past mistakes. This is one reason
every incident should contain some type of evaluation.
It can be formal, involving every participant at a sit-down meeting, or
informal, involving just a brief discussion of recent events.
Whichever the case, it serves to document lessons learned and
allows a basis for revision of the preplan.
ICS The Incident Command System (ICS) is used to manage a SAR
emergency incident or non-emergency event. It can be used
equally well for both small and large situations. The system has
considerable internal flexibility. It can grow or shrink to meet
differing needs. This makes it a very cost-effective and efficient
management system.
Organization of the ICS is built around five major management
activities: Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics,
Figure 1.1 ICS Organization Chart
Command • sets objectives and priorities
• has overall responsibility of the incident
As mentioned earlier, the Incident Commander (SAR Commander)
is the police officer in charge. It is the Incident Commanders role to
deal with the media and with the family and friends of the missing
person. Sometimes this responsibility is handed over to the SAR
Manager (Deputy Incident Commander) who may have a better
understanding of what is happening in the field.
As the SAR Manager is more directly involved in the planning of the
SAR tactics, the safety officer often reports directly to the SAR
Manager instead of the Incident Commander.
Operations • conducts tactical operations to carry out the plan
• develops the tactical objectives and organization
• directs all resources
Planning • develops the Incident (SAR) Action Plan to accomplish the
• the situation unit collects and evaluates information
• the resource unit maintains information on personnel and
equipment status
• the documentation unit maintains all documents relevant to the
Logistics • provides support to meet incident needs (eg. supplies, facilities)
• provides services (eg. communications, medical)
• monitors costs related to incident
• provides accounting, procurement, time recording and cost
ICS Forms Throughout this manual standardized ICS forms are referred to and
samples provided. These forms are available on the SARINFO web
site at .
The current PEP policy permits the use of SAR specific ICS forms
as well as team specific forms.
Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of the Attorney General.
Policy and Procedures Manual. 1998
Provincial Emergency Program. Search and Rescue Advisory
Committee, Information Booklet. Victoria, BC, 1998.
SARINFO web site at
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What are the three categories of Search and Rescue
2. What is the mandate of the RCMP (or local police force)?
3. The _________ decides whether a Search and Rescue Group
will be used on an incident.
4. Who supervises the activities of a SAR team in the field?
5. What are the three functions of the SAR Advisory Committee?
6. The __________issues a task number for a SAR incident.
7. SAR volunteers may assist in a body recovery under the
direction of the _______________.
Answer True or False to the following statements:
8. SAR volunteers receive WCB coverage during training tasks.
9. ICS is only useful in large scale incidents.
10. The SAR Manager controls the budget for their region.
11. SAR training only occurs at the Justice Institute.
12. The operations section sets objectives and priorities for the SAR
13. Demobilization is an important part of a preplan.
14. The Volunteer SAR Advisory Representatives are involved in
determining training needs for their area.
15. PEP Air crews are paid staff of PEP.
Figure 1.2 A Conceptual Framework for SAR Training
Chapter 2 - Initiating the Search
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Explain why a rapid response is needed in SAR.
• Explain the call-out procedures for your area.
• Explain the use of the Relative Urgency Rating Chart.
• Travel in an appropriate manner to the rendezvous site.
• Describe the Missing Person Questionnaire used by SAR
Managers for outlining information about missing persons.
• Explain sign-in procedures and why it is important to sign-in.
• Define the initial planning point (IPP), point last seen (PLS) and
last known point (LKP).
Search is an
In the 1970’s William Syrotuck analyzed data from searches in New
York State and Washington State. He found that, on average, 11%
of the search subjects were found dead. The percentage was
higher (22%) for cool, wet conditions than for cold, dry conditions
(2%) due to the effects of hypothermia.
Of the people who were found dead, 50% had died within the first
day of being lost and a further 24% had died within the second day.
This means that within 2 days of being lost, nearly ¾ of the subjects
that will be found dead, have already expired. Therefore, it is
necessary to initiate a swift response in order to reduce the
likelihood of the lost person dying.
A Rapid Response
is Crucial to Finding
a Live Subject.
Another reason why a rapid response is crucial is that with a mobile
subject, the search area grows with each passing hour. For
example, if a person walked at 2.5 km per hour from the last known
position for 3 hours the search area would be 177 square km. This
is a large area to search! The sooner the search is initiated the
smaller the area there is to search.
hour 2hours 3
Fig 2.1 After 2 hours the search area is 4 times larger.
After 3 hours the search area is 9 times larger.
Modern search techniques are used to search areas effectively and
efficiently. These techniques include:
• Building the search up rapidly (remember 74% of the subjects
who die are dead within 2 days).
• Searching for clues not the subject (every subject leaves many
• Searching for responsive subjects using techniques such as
sound sweeps (to be discussed in a later chapter).
• Searching at night.
The Importance of
It is often impossible to be sure exactly how urgent any search will
turn out to be. Today’s “alive and responsible” search techniques
require that the search teams are in the field and searching while
the subject can still respond. The most effective searches expend
considerable effort within the first 48 hours.
It is imperative that all GSAR members have personal
equipment ready to go at all times. Keeping a ready pack “ready”
is often a struggle for SAR volunteers as their gear is used for other
activities besides SAR. However, once the pager goes off or the
call comes in, time should not be wasted hunting for gear.
It is important that all GSAR members go into any wilderness search
prepared to be unsupported for 24 to 48 hours, depending on local
policy and conditions. If you are unprepared, support may not arrive
in time and the search effort is hampered when searchers are
forced to take care of themselves or each other. Remember,
Murphy’s Law likes nothing better than a search situation. Go fast,
but go prepared!
Initial Call-out
When the police authority decides to activate a SAR Group, they
may contact the Emergency Program Coordinator but most likely
they will contact the Duty Officer (Duty SAR Manager) directly.
The Duty Officer is usually one of the groups SAR Managers who,
for a particular period of time, is the one person from the SAR
Group who is always available to respond to the police. The
manner in which the Duty Officer is contacted varies between SAR
Groups with some using pagers, cell phones or regular phones.
Many groups also have a backup Duty Officer who is also available
should the Duty Officer be unavailable.
Once contacted, the Duty Officer will collect information. Two forms
that are immediately used are the Relative Urgency Rating and the
Missing Person. Although it is unlikely in an established SAR Group
that a person with only Ground SAR training will be involved in the
initial gathering of information, it is worthwhile knowing the kind of
information that is used by the SAR Manager.
Relative Urgency
The SAR Manager will use information collected to develop a
relative urgency rating (Figure 2.2). Values are assigned to different
factors affecting survivability and by totaling these values, a
reasonable estimate of urgency of response can be determined.
Note that the lower the number, the higher the urgency.
Circumstances such as young or old subjects, bad weather, no
experience or inadequate equipment require a more urgent
response. In some cases one situation alone may make it a serious
emergency. A very young child, serious medical problem or severe
weather are examples which might necessitate a rapid response.
Response Urgency Chart
The lower the numerical rating of the factor, the higher the relative
Very young
Very old
Known or suspected injured, ill or mental illness
Known fatality
One alone
More than one (very young, very old)
More than one (unless separation suspected)
Inadequate for environment and weather
Questionable for environment and weather
Adequate for environment and weather
Not experienced, does not know area
Not experienced, knows area
Experienced, not familiar with area
Experienced, knows area
Know hazardous terrain or other hazard
Few or no hazards
*Consider Elapsed Time in Response
Past and/or existing hazardous weather
Predicted hazardous weather, (8 hours or less)
Predicted hazardous weather, (more than 8 hours)
No hazardous weather predicted
Response Decision
8 10 12 14 16 18 20
If any of the factors rate as a 1 regardless of totals, the search requires the highest
Figure 2.1 Response Urgency Chart
Missing Person
The SAR Manager will try to obtain as much information about the
subject as possible from the police and will likely interview other
people such as family, witnesses, or friends. The SAR Manager
may use a Missing Person Questionnaire (ICS 302) to record this
The use of a form while collecting information ensures that all the
information that may be useful is collected. If you review the form
included at the end of this chapter, it will give you an idea of what
type of information is collected. Many SAR groups teams have
developed their own one or two page form for collecting this
An important part of the Questionnaire is the informant identification.
This may be important if at a later time in the search further
clarification is needed about some of the information.
Knowledge of the subject’s clothing is useful in estimating
survivability, in determining how detectable he may be and in
identification of clothing found in the bush. It is not uncommon to
find items of clothing in the course of a search, especially when a
subject is seriously hypothermic and is losing or discarding clothing.
As there is a surprising amount of litter on the backcountry, positive
identification of such items is critical.
Clearly, complete knowledge of the subject’s personal equipment
and supplies will be essential to the searcher as such items are
often found and become clues. A search team member should be
absolutely sure that he has received all such information before
searching an assigned area. If you have questions, ask!
Identification of footprints is key to many searches. Once the
subject’s print is identified, then discovery of only a thumbnail-size
section of that print may be enough to change the direction of a
search. A few years ago, charts of individual tread patterns were
used, but there are now so many that such a chart would be
impossible to keep current. It is very important that searchers be
able to describe sole patterns and measurements on a radio. Sole
patterns and measurements are covered in more detail in the
chapter “Orientation to Tracking”.
Personal information is critical for the ground searcher. Some
information is obvious; was the person a smoker, and is this
cigarette butt his brand? Is she familiar with the area and thus likely
to take logical travel routes? Is the lost person a risk taker or is he
meek and mild? How does he react to stress. How fit are they?
Other personal information will be valuable primarily to the search
planning team.
If the person travels regularly in the area, knowledge of favourite
destinations will certainly be helpful, and these must be checked
out early in the search.
In one case in northern Canada, a young man who was mentally
challenged went missing in winter. He was known to like to visit
friends across a five-kilometre wide lake. The frozen lake was
checked for footprints on the route to this destination, and tracks
were immediately found that led to his rescue.
PLS, LKP and IPP It is obvious that we must know exactly where the person was last
seen (Point Last Seen [PLS]) and the exact time he was seen
there. The expected or observed direction of travel from that
point is also important.
Sometimes the search subject has no PLS but was known to have
driven his vehicle into a general area. When the vehicle is located it
provides a strong clue similar to the PLS. It becomes the Last
Known Position (LKP), rather than the PLS. It differs from the PLS
in that the subject was not actually seen there.
More recently, SAR Managers have begun to identify an Initial
Planning Point (IPP). This is the geographic reference point upon
which the search planning process is based. It is the place and time
that the search began and it does not change during the search. It
may be the PLS, the LKP or an entirely different point.
All these points (IPP, PLS, LKP) are used to establish the probable
search area.
Team Member
Once the SAR Manager has decided that team members are
required, the call-out procedure is initiated. The call-out procedure
for team members varies between different SAR Groups with many
groups using pagers or a telephone fan out system to alert
members that their assistance is required. The team page normally
contains information regarding the type and location of the incident
and the rendezvous point.
You now have to decide whether you can or cannot respond to the
call. If you are at work and plan to leave, prior arrangements should
have been made with your employer. There is no requirement that
employers give SAR volunteers time off for search and rescue
incidents. If you are at home, thought has to be given about your
spouse, children or significant other. It is not heroic to always be
out rescuing people you do not know while your personal life is
At this point you should also be thinking about how much time you
have for this particular SAR incident. Do you have three hours or
three days? This information must be passed on to the SAR
Manager once you arrive at the rendezvous site. They will use this
information when deciding your assignment. It hinders the search
or rescue for a SAR member to be out on an extended assignment
only to radio base and say that he has to leave before the
assignment is complete.
Travelling to the
Rendezvous Point
With the adrenaline coarsing through our veins there is a tendency
to race to the rendezvous site. However, as SAR volunteers in BC,
we have no authority to drive above the speed limit, run red lights or
have flashing lights on our vehicles. The time that is saved by
ignoring traffic rules will not make a difference in most SAR
incidents. We must look after the safety of ourselves and other
people before trying to help the subject as best we can.
Try to avoid driving to the SAR site in your own vehicle. When
every SAR volunteer drives separately to the site a massive parking
lot can be created in which vehicles cannot move and ambulances
can not make it close to the scene. Go to the SAR hall or other
rendezvous site and travel in the rescue truck or car pool.
Signing In
Once at the rendezvous point or at the SAR site, find the person
who is in charge of the sign-in sheet (check-in list) and sign-in. This
is very important as the SAR Manager needs to know who is
present to formulate a Incident Action Plan and to make sure
everyone is accounted for at the end of the task. WCB coverage for
operational tasks begins when the registered SAR volunteer is
notified of the event (see PEP brochure on WCB, Insurance and
Liability included with this manual). A check-in list form (ICS 211) is
included at the end of this chapter. Many teams have developed
their own sign-in sheets with the volunteers name, address and
phone numbers already printed on the sheet. This way you only
have to sign beside your name.
Do not bother the SAR Management Team with questions once you
have signed in. They are trying to develop an Incident Action Plan
and any distractions will slow the process. This is the time for you
to check your gear, remove anything you do not need, fill water
bottles or put on appropriate clothing. If you know the approximate
area of the incident then spend time studying the map to become
more familiar with the area.
SAR volunteers often rush to the rendezvous point only to wait to be
given an assignment. Do not get impatient! The human
resources that are available are used most effectively if there is a
plan in place based on good information. Sending searchers out in
the field with no plan is an ineffective and inefficient use of
Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of Attorney General. Policy
and Procedures Manual. 1998
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Brewer, Dave and Brewer, Gerry. How to Organize a Search and/or
Rescue (A Handy Reference Guide). New Westminster, BC,
Justice Institute of BC, 1998.
Merry, Wayne. Basic Ground Search and Rescue in Yukon
Territory. 1998.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. Why is a rapid response the most effective way to handle a
2. Who handles the initial call-out from the police?
3. What should you do when you reach the rendezvous point?
4. What is the difference between PLS and LKP?
5. Using the Relative Urgency Rating chart, determine the
response level for the following subject:
A healthy, athletic, 42 year-old man, dressed in shorts and t-shirt
has not returned from a hike in steep mountainous terrain in the
Lower Mainland. He started hiking Saturday July 5 at 1 p.m. from
the trailhead. It is now 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 6, there has been
low clouds and drizzle since Saturday afternoon. The man was
planning to hike up a steep trail that leads to a meadow . He is an
experienced hiker but has not been to the area before. He has
nothing with him. The surrounding area around the trail is riddled
with steep cliffs that lead into gullies. There is no possibility of
negligent or intentional harm. There is a history of hikers getting
lost in the gully systems.
Answer: _______________________
Answer True or False to the following statements:
6. In BC, SAR volunteers may speed to a task as long as they
have their emergency flashers on.
7. The Duty Officer is always a SAR Manager.
8. Searching at night is not effective.
9. Most people who are found dead on a search die before the end
of the second day.
10. Employers must give time off to SAR volunteers.
Chapter 3 - Search Progression
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Explain how probabilities are used in planning searches.
• Describe how SAR Managers develop strategy and tactics.
• Outline what type of behaviour can and cannot be expected
from the missing person.
• Summarize what type of information is given in a team
assignment briefing.
• Explain why GSAR personnel search for clues not subjects.
• Be aware of sign.
• Isolate, mark and protect clues and area.
• Interview witnesses to obtain and record accurate information.
• Deal correctly with relatives and media.
• Outline the type of information that is collected during a team
assignment review.
• Define mutual aid and explain its importance.
• Understand the importance of stabilizing a search subject before
• Describe the four phases of a SAR operation.
Search Planning
Search team members should understand why they receive
instructions for searching with specific techniques. If the
assignments do not seem to make sense, searchers may lose
confidence in their management team and search less
For example, if a team gets instructions to sweep-search an area at
a very wide separation that appears to give little chance of finding
the subject, they may be puzzled and angry. For this reason, every
searcher should understand at least the rudiments of search
management, even though he has not been trained in probability
Working with
Search planners work with probabilities. That’s all they have to
work with. If they had facts, there wouldn’t be a search. The types
of probabilities they work with are:
Probability of Area
Probability of Area (POA) is the probability, expressed as a
percentage, that the subject is in a given search area or segment. It
helps to determine which of several segments should be searched
first. Each time a segment is searched unsuccessfully, its
percentage goes down and that of other segments goes up. POA’s
may be applied to a route as well as an area.
Probability of
Detection (POD)
Probability of Detection (POD) is also expressed as a percentage.
This represents the probability that a search team on a given
assignment will locate a clue or the subject. POD’s of various
sweep searches have been determined by experiment. For
example, it has been calculated that a visual grid search for a
subject dressed in bright clothing in thick forest should yield an 80%
POD at a spacing of 41 metres, or a 40% POD at a spacing of 63
metres. A crude method of determining a POD for an area already
searched is to ask the searchers, “If there were ten people in the
area you searched, how many of them do you think you would have
spotted?” If the answer is 7, then the estimated POD for that sweep
was 70%.
Typical Search
When a search is initiated, an experienced SAR Manager and his or
her team will probably follow a procedure something similar to what
follows. They will:
• establish the urgency of the incident as we saw in Chapter 2
• alert all resources, including mutual aid and other agencies,
• dispatch his Initial Response (IR) resources as early as
• map the search area, and segment it into sections small enough
to be searched in one operational period,
• assign Probabilities of Area (POA) to the various segments,
• determine the Search Objectives for the first operational period,
develop a Search Action Plan with appropriate strategies and
tactics to meet those objectives,
• assign teams to search areas with the highest Probability of
Area using search methods giving a high Probability of
Detection (POD),
• calculate the combined POD’s of the various search methods for
each segment, and not
• do not consider any segment well searched until a cumulative
POD is in excess of 80%,
• if an area is searched unsuccessfully, recalculate the shifting
POA’s for each area, change priorities, and assign teams
• develop objectives and a search plan for the second operational
• deal with relatives and media throughout (usually through the
• develop an evacuation plan for the time the subject is located,
• plan for relief teams and shift changes.
The procedure above is simplified for the sake of brevity. It is a
tremendous job, and team members must avoid distracting the
management team. However, every bit of information you gather is
important, and should be passed on through the Team Leader.
Even if you saw something that might have been a clue, report it. A
series of “possibles” becomes something probable. As in police
work, SAR Managers tend to be suspicious of coincidences.
Lost Person
Searchers need to have some knowledge about the expected
behaviour of a lost person. Knowledge of this behaviour can help
identify high probability locations for the victim. The SAR Manager
can specify a general area in which a team should operate but only
searchers in that area can fully evaluate its terrain and thereby
direct their efforts most efficiently.
The original work on lost person behaviour was done in the US by
William G. Syrotuck in his paper “Analysis of Lost Person
Behaviour”. The detailed statistical analyses he provides are
essential reading for any SAR Manager, but go beyond the
requirements of a GSAR team member. Only the most general
observations are included here.
Irrational Behaviour
It is important to realize that missing persons will seldom behave
rationally. When a person is lost, some degree of fear will always
be present and may override the good judgement of an otherwise
sensible person. The resulting panic may result in aimless running
or frantic scrambling.
The failure to act sensibly will become more likely with the onset of
cold and exhaustion. Few individuals build a fire or erect a shelter
and the very few who do build shelters usually neglect to realize the
camouflaging effect it may have on their location.
Most lost persons are poorly equipped. The few who are wellequipped seldom use the materials they have, often discarding
useful items along the way. Clothing frequently suffers this fate.
The fact that people will be looking for them is not recognized by
many lost persons, and these people make no effort to make their
presence known, even going so far as hiding from would-be
The irrational behaviour just described means definite conclusions
can seldom be made about what a missing person will and will not
do and where he or she will be. Nevertheless, studies of lost person
behaviour show some trends do exist.
The great majority of lost persons (between 56% and 86%) head
downhill from the Point Last Seen in mountainous terrain.
Dr. Ken Hill in Nova Scotia has done studies showing the distances
that the various categories of lost persons are found. He has found
that the median distance that lost persons are found ranges from 1
to 2.6 km from the point of origin.
This information can help the SAR Manager set high probability
areas to be searched first. The highest probability areas being
between 1 and 2.6 Km downhill from the PLS.
Lost Person
Further generalities about specific categories of lost persons have
been assembled. Some of the sample categories are Hunters,
Children (1-3 years), Children (3-6 years), Children (6-12 years)
Hikers, Elderly, Fishers, Climbers, Mentally Challenged, Trappers,
Boaters, Snowmobilers and Depressed Persons.
Two examples of the type of information that are in the categories
Hikers • rely on trails,
• have a destination in mind,
• get lost at forks in trail or if the trail is obscured by snow, rocks,
• person who falls behind gets lost,
• tend to be easily detectable.
Children (3-6 years)
• very mobile,
• understand being lost and try to get home,
• become lost by following other children, animals or when just
• try to find a sleeping spot,
• may not respond to calls of searchers, have been warned about
SAR Managers use these general guidelines to plan the search but
it must be remembered that these are only averages and will not
always correctly predict where the lost person is located.
The probable direction of travel is a key factor in planning
where to search.
People who become lost at a location such as a campground or
picnic area are usually very young or very old. Look for something
that would attract them to establish their initial direction of travel.
People who become lost while following a trail often do so as a
result of attempting some form of short cut. Poorly marked trails
can also be a significant factor, particularly in areas honeycombed
with old unmapped logging roads. People who become lost while
away from major paths are typically hunters, or berry or mushroom
pickers. The majority of such people have been found to locate a
travel aid such as a creek or game trail and then follow it.
Detailed information about a missing person and their likely
behaviour is essential in determining search strategy. It is one
way to reduce the search area and increase the likelihood of
Team Briefings
Usually, the SAR Manager will brief the Team Leaders (GSTL or
Rope Rescue Team Leader), and the team leader will brief the
teams just before they go out. The information included in a team
briefing is:
• Information about the situation (past and present),
• Subject profile,
• Clue considerations,
• The team’s search area,
• Type of search pattern to be used,
• Weather forecasts,
• Potential hazards in the search area,
• Equipment required,
• Radio frequencies and whistle signals,
• How long it is expected to take.
Written briefing statements including maps and a picture of the
subject may be handed out as these greatly increase the efficiency
of the search.
You must know exactly what is expected of you before you head out
into the field. If there is any doubt, now is the time to bring it up. It
should also be remembered that the Team Leader is in charge and
has total authority and responsibility for the team.
Search Managers may use a Team Assignment Sheet (ICS 204,
example included at the end of this chapter) to keep track of all the
teams. This sheet may be handed out with the other briefing
information given to GSAR team members.
Operational Periods
Once the search is underway, the SAR Manager will determine the
shifts or Operational Periods as they are called in SAR. An
Operational Period may be anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, depending
on circumstances. Field and management teams change shifts on
this schedule.
Your field search assignment will usually be for 4 to 6 hours and you
will likely be very tired when it is over. Searching is physically
fatiguing and often emotionally draining too. Rest is vitally important
for your efficiency and your safety. Get all you can between
assignments – you may need all your endurance as the search
continues. Do not be embarrassed to be seen resting and
“refueling” between assignments. You must be fit to do a good job.
Clues and Sign If a lost person is mobile, the search area will be increasing rapidly
with time. Locating one person in such a large area would be an
almost impossible task were it not for one fundamental fact. As the
subject moves through an area they are leaving clues and sign and
it becomes our challenge to find them.
Clues are objects or information that can be used to find a person’s
location. Sign is the evidence of a person’s passage. Becoming
clue aware and having a basic understanding of tracking are
important skills for a GSAR Team Member to have.
Always remember that there are more clues than subjects and being
able to identify these clues is critical to the success of the search.
Therefore, we must not forget to Search for Clues Not Subjects.
A searcher who looks for clues is much more effective than many
searchers looking for the missing person. Finding clues reduces the
search area and can provide the basis for tactics used in the field.
Types of Clues Clues can be broken down into a number of different categories
such as people, physical, recorded and events.
People Relatives, companions and witnesses can provide useful
information on the subject. Information such as state of mind,
equipment and clothing, health, stated destination, and experience
is obtained by filling out the Missing Person Questionnaire at the
beginning of the search. This information is important for planning
how the search is going to proceed.
Other people in the search area may or may not have seen the
subject. Both positive sightings and negative sightings are useful
clues. Correct interviewing procedures will be discussed later in this
Physical Clues
Physical clues are tracks or sign that a subject leaves as they travel
or items that have been dropped or abandoned. Sign can range
from clearly visible tracks to slightly bruised or flattened foliage that
is only visible to very experienced trackers.
There are many items that could be dropped by the lost person such
as cigarette butts, clothing, or candy-bar wrappers. However, it
takes practice to know what clues are important to the search and
which are not. Do not make an immediate opinion about the value
of a clue.
Recorded Clues Recorded clues that can be useful are items such as notes left in
cars about proposed travel plans, notes recorded in cabin journals,
/sign-out forms at trail heads and summit registers.
Events These more obvious and intentional clues include smoke from fires,
flashing lights, whistle blasts and yelling for help. These clues are
almost as good as finding the subject.
Clues and Their
Of vital importance in any search is the preservation of clues,
particularly the subtle ones which are also the ones most easily
destroyed. If skilled trackers are immediately available they
should be brought in before other search resources. Vehicle
tires can easily erase footprints on a logging road. The tracks of
searchers on a trail can obliterate the victim's tracks, and searchers
can easily create false clues by crashing through woods on their
Clearly, keeping all searchers at Base is not a solution, but
searchers must be very conscious of what they may be doing
to clues and must be constantly searching for them. Searchers
who lack the necessary training to identify the most subtle clues
should stay out of the areas where there seems a high probability of
finding such clues. If Base Camp is near the point last seen,
searchers should stay close to their vehicles while waiting for
orders, rather than wandering around and possibly obliterating
valuable clues.
Isolating and
Marking Clues
When a clue is found on a search it has to be protected because it
may be:
• Important for the search
• Important for a criminal investigation
• Used in court
Isolating and
Marking Clues
To protect clues the following procedure should be followed:
• Limit access, mark and cordon off area.
• One person approaches and accesses the clue. Do not pick up
or move unless absolutely necessary.
• Notify SAR base.
• Collect clue only if it will perish without protection from weather
or if requested to by SAR base.
• If collecting a clue:
• Map area where found
• Bag it
• Mark on bag
- What the item appears to be
- Task number, date, time, place
• Note when, where and who you gave it to
• All members should keep notes remembering to:
• Record only facts.
• Keep notes continuous.
• And notes should be in pen with errors marked with a single
line (no erasures or obliterations). If conditions are such
that only pencil can be used then use a pencil. Notes in
pencil are better than no notes at all.
Effective Searching
During the search you must concentrate totally on what you are
doing. Search is no place for small talk or horseplay. Use every
sense you have to try to detect clues or the subject.
Put yourself in the subject’s shoes. Ask, “if I were at this point,
where might I have gone or what might I have done? What would I
have seen, and how would it affect me? Given the weather at the
time, what would I have done? What is the easiest travel path
there?” However, also keep an open mind. Remember that lost
subjects may act irrationally and go places you would not expect.
Sight is arguably the primary search sense, best used to find clues.
There is only one subject, but there are thousands of clues.
Hearing is extremely important, especially early when the subject is
responsive. One can hear much farther than she can see,
especially in dense bush. A search subject may reply in a very faint
voice, easily missed. Listen constantly, check any unexplained
Radios must be used only for absolutely necessary
communications. Too much traffic will hamper efficiency and
distract searchers; too much radio noise may drown out the
response of the subject.
Smell or scent frequently plays an important part. In one
improbable case in the North, a helicopter crew smelled the
woodsmoke of an unseen campfire, solving the search. Campfire
smoke, cigarette smoke, and fuels can often be smelled far
downwind. So, sadly, can decomposition.
Touch is often used by trackers to detect a depression under leaf
cover or to determine if dirt is recently disturbed. It may be used to
guess how old a campfire is or whether discarded clothing has been
there long enough to become wet from dew.
No one has reported detecting a subject with his sense of taste yet,
except on television.
When searching, look for anything that is not natural. Don’t have
a preconceived idea of what you are looking for. If you are looking
for little things you will miss big ones; if looking for big ones you will
miss little ones. Look ahead, to the side, back the way you came,
even up into trees. Think, “If I were the subject, where would I have
put my feet?” Look constantly for sign. A person cannot walk a
kilometre without leaving one or two thousand signs behind her.
Flag and report anything even vaguely suspicious.
Flagging Search
Regardless of what type of active search you are doing, you must
flag your route so that later searchers can tell where you have been,
and so that your sign is not mistaken for that of the missing person.
You can mark flagging tape with a felt pen in summer or a wax
pencil or crayon in subzero temperatures. Show your team
designation, date, time and bearing if you are following a compass
course. It is not necessary to inscribe every flag in a continuous
chain. Flagging tape has to be removed at the end of a search.
Urban Search
As a GSAR team member you will eventually be involved in urban
searches. Before proceeding to search any private property the
permission of the homeowner or landowner must be obtained. Most
people will allow you to search their property but any refusals have
to be reported back to the Incident Command Post (SAR Base).
Information is
Information Too!
If you search an area carefully and find nothing, you have not failed!
At least, you will have reduced the area in which the subject may
be. It has been said, “the best way to find someone is to know
where he is not!” You will have made a major contribution whether
you find anything or not so long as you have searched carefully.
On occasion a less experienced member of a SAR group may find it
necessary to do some interviewing. This often occurs when, in the
course of searching a popular wilderness area, a person other than
the missing person is encountered. Hikers or hunters would be the
most likely examples. The searcher must be prepared to ask
appropriate questions of such a person.
To begin with, the searcher should identify himself or herself and
state in general terms only the purpose of the search. Precise
details of the victim's appearance and clothing should not be stated.
The person should then be asked to describe where he or she has
been and to describe any people encountered in the area. If
anyone has been observed, it is better to ask "what was the colour
of the person's clothing?" rather than "was he wearing a red parka?"
Avoid putting words in the mouth of the witness and do not ask
leading questions.
Where specific details are volunteered, these details should be
repeated back slowly to the witness in an attempt to assess the
confidence of these observations. A time and location for any
sighting is essential. If practical, an attempt should be made to get
the witness to take the searcher to the exact spot.
The direction of travel is also vital, but again, the question should be
asked "which way was he heading?" rather than "was he heading
south?" If no one has been sighted, the possibility of other evidence
should be explored. Again, care should be taken in phrasing the
question. The evidence sought would include any of the more
obvious clues previously discussed. Noting precise times and
locations are vital.
If, at the end of the interview, the witness is willing to give his name
and likely future whereabouts, this information should be obtained,
but the issue should not be pressed if the witness seems unwilling
(an unlikely situation). The searcher has no legal right to this
information. If the witness has provided some especially useful
information, it is useful to encourage them to go to the Incident
Command Post (SAR Base) for a further interview with the SAR
Manager and/or the police. It may be worthwhile, and practical, to
accompany the witness back to base. It is quite likely that the
witness will want to join the search.
If the witness is unwilling to go to base camp, or if there seems no
need to do so, he or she should be given the names and telephone
numbers of a person to contact. In addition, ensure that you have
their telephone numbers. Finally, the witness should be thanked for
their assistance.
Regardless of the responses of the witness, base must be informed
of any encounter with a non-searcher in the area, and the precise
details of any information obtained immediately relayed. Other
teams must be aware of the person. The notes that were made
must be carefully stored and delivered to base according to the
instructions of the SAR Manager.
To summarize:
• Treat the witness with the utmost courtesy
• avoid asking leading questions
• make careful note of any observations
• report any encounter
Dealing with
Relatives and the
Media: State the
Relations with relatives and media are often extremely sensitive.
Fortunately for SAR volunteers, these jobs are the responsibility of
the police authority and should be referred to them whenever
possible, especially if difficult questions are being asked, such as
the subject’s prospects for survival.
Frequently, relatives and friends of the subject want to participate in
the search and you may not know who they are. They may be
present at briefings. For this reason, use discretion in speaking to
any unknown person. Beware of black humour in a crowd.
Field searchers are often approached by the media. As a GSAR
team member you should refer reporters to the police or designated
SAR Manager. Wild speculation can easily wind up in print or on TV
and can be upsetting to friends and relatives or hinder a police
Do not say, “No comment!” This suggests that you have something
to hide. A good rule, when pressed for a personal statement is to
“state the obvious”; comments like, “It is really rough, exhausting
country, but we have high hopes.” Or, “The rain is making things
difficult, but we are getting the job done anyway.” Don’t indicate
your hopes are fading, even if they are.
Reviews (Debriefing)
Reviews are a critical part of the search effort. They are performed
at two points – when a search team returns from its mission, and
after the incident is over. The search team review will help to
determine the subsequent strategy and tactics; the incident review
will tell the organization how it can improve its efficiency on the next
Team Assignment
Review (Debriefing)
This activity usually takes place after a tiring assigment, and it may
be difficult to approach with enthusiasm. However, every searcher
should recognize that reviewing is the method of discovering
the clues that may end the search, and that even if a team
found nothing, that too is important information. All searchers
must recognize that reviewing is an absolutely critical part of the
In a small operation, the SAR Manager may conduct the team
review. In a large operation, the Team Leader may review the
team, and then be reviewed in turn by the Operations Chief or
someone in the Plans and Records group.
If possible, each team member is reviewed individually, because in
a group the stronger personalities may dominate and seemingly
unimportant observations may be left unspoken. This should occur
as soon as the team comes in and before they have a chance to talk
with anyone else. Miscellaneous conversation tends to change
what people recall and how importantly they regard it. Searchers
should mention all of their observations, even if they seem
The exact area covered will be determined and mapped, along
with the location of any clues, regardless of how minor they seem.
The Probability of Detection will be determined. This is the
likelihood that the subject would have been found in the area. You
may be asked, “If there were ten subjects in the area you searched,
how many of them do you think would have been found?” The
averaged answers should give something close to the POD – e.g.
seven out of ten would equal 70%. Any area that could not be
properly searched should be identified as well as any hazards in the
search area.
Ideas and recommendations for future searching should be
suggested at this time. A sample Team Assignment Debriefing
Form is included at the end of this chapter.
Mutual Aid Mutual Aid is the calling in of other SAR Groups to assist with a
SAR incident. Usually, neighbouring SAR Groups are called first as
they can most quickly respond. Mutual aid is now being activated
earlier in a SAR operation as the chances of finding the subject alive
are best during the initial hours and first couple of days.
Conducting mutual training exercises with neighbouring SAR groups
greatly benefits everyone involved as the SAR volunteers get to
know the skills and abilities of the other group’s volunteers.
Finding the Subject In a perfect world, the subject would be found in good shape and be
able to walk out on his own. In the real world, he will often require
stabilization and evacuation.
This underlines the importance of all searchers having as much
first aid training as possible. Any searcher may be involved in the
immediate care of the subject.
You don’t do a search subject any favour if you let him die after he
is found!
The four phases of a complete SAR operation are:
• Locate
• Access
• Stabilize
• Transport (Evacuate)
If there is any question as to whether the subject is stable and can
be safely moved, he should be protected, given first aid, and kept
warm and comfortable until more experienced medical help can be
brought in. The rough handling involved in some rescues can kill a
victim who is not stable.
What do we mean by “stable”?
There are two common types of instability. If a subject is badly
injured, he may be in shock. His pulse and respiration are high and
he may still be bleeding, either internally or externally. Dehydration,
pain, and a degree of hypothermia may be contributing to the
problem. The subjects’ medical condition may worsen if they are
roughly handled during transport. On the other hand, if medical
care is brought in or first aid is provided without moving him, the
subjects’ vital signs may improve and he may then be safely moved.
The other type of instability is technically not instability at all. A
severely hypothermic subject is quite stable as long as he is not
roughly handled or does not try to exert himself. If either of these
things happen, his heart may go into fibrillation and he may die.
This subject must not be transported without careful forethought.
Either he must be transported very gently or medical care should be
brought in to attempt field re-warming which is a risky procedure. A
good knowledge of hypothermia is mandatory for every search team
Once a subject is stable, and transportation is safe and will not
cause him great pain, he may then be evacuated. Evacuations are
covered more thoroughly in the Evacuation Chapter.
Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of Attorney General. Policy
and Procedures Manual. 1998
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Merry, Wayne. Basic Ground Search and Rescue in Yukon
Territory. 1998.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. Describe where (in relation to the point last seen) you are most
likely to find a missing person.
2. What type of information should be included in a team briefing
3. A normal operational period for search teams is ______ to
______ hours, depending on circumstances.
4. A good rule for dealing with the press is to state
_________________________, and refer them to the
5. What is the purpose of team assignment reviews?
6. The four phases of a SAR operation are:
___________________________, ______________________,
______________________, ________________________.
7. Define POD.
Answer True or False to the following statements:
8. A team review is not needed if no clues were found.
9. Search for subjects not clues.
10. Hypothermia victims should not be moved.
11. Lost person behaviour can always be predicted.
12. State the obvious when dealing with media.
Chapter 4 - Search Termination
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe search demobilization.
• Explain the importance of a rapid and thorough clean up at the
end of a search.
• Understand the process of search suspension.
• Outline the procedure for dealing with a deceased search
• Describe how personal expenses are handled by your SAR
• Explain the importance of following sign-out procedures.
• Explain the value and availability of Critical Incident Stress
• Participate effectively and objectively in field and incident
Introduction There is no better feeling in the world than to return a lost child to its
distraught parents.
In a National Park, a three year old girl was missing for three days
and nights in thick forest, with the temperature dropping to near
freezing at night. Everyone, including the parents, thought she was
dead. She was found alive and well on the third day. There were
about two hundred people present when she was handed to her
mother. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
That is the ideal ending although sooner would have been better.
Unfortunately, there are always the “bad ones”. In a certain number
of cases, somewhere between 5% and 15%, depending on when
and where in North America, the subject is not found. Some are
never found while some are found dead at a later time.
A searcher must recognize that there will be times when he has
done his utmost but it is not enough. Like any other emergency,
service you do your best, and that is all that can be expected and all
that you can expect from yourself. Sometimes there will be secondguessing criticism. Fortunately, there are enough “good ones” that
we can usually feel pride at saving a life.
When field searchers hear that the search has ended, no matter
what the reason, there is a tremendous tendency to drop everything
and head for home, a good meal, a hot shower and a cold drink.
You must resist this urge!
A great deal of work remains to be done. All equipment must be
turned in, sorted and returned to its owners. It must all be checked
and repairs arranged if necessary. Some items, such as batteries,
will have to be replaced. Fabric items and ropes that have become
wet must be dried before storing, and equipment that is dirty will
have to be cleaned. Base camp must be broken and left clean. It is
not only the Equipment Officer’s job to do this, it is every team
Flagging tape and string lines should be removed from the search
area. Search packs must be checked and missing equipment
Everything must be done to ensure that the SAR Group will be
ready to respond to another call-out. There have been many times
in BC when a SAR Group has just completed one incident when
they get called out to the next.
Often, equipment goes home in a searcher’s pack. He fully intends
to return it at the first opportunity, but it is still outstanding when the
next search is called out. Some of it simply disappears, especially
in massive searches with many unknown volunteers.
One of the most important responsibilities of a GSAR member is to
check-in when returning from the field and sign-out when he goes
home. The SAR Manager needs to be certain that no one has been
“lost” or forgotten in the operation. Many SAR incidents have
dragged on long after the subject was found because SAR
volunteers had left without informing anyone and time was spent
searching for them.
The Suspended
It is the responsibility of the Police to suspend a search. This is an
incredibly difficult decision, considering that the missing person’s life
may depend on it. A search will continue as long as there is a
reasonable chance of survival, but the time may come when those
chances are gone or the subject is thought not to be in the area.
A search is sometimes scaled down to a limited continuous search.
This may occur when the subject is presumed to be deceased (or
perhaps is not even in the area) but there is an interest in recovering
the body. This may take the form of continued but limited air
search, broadcasting of public service announcements or
publication of advisories and bulletins, or conducting training
exercises in the possible search area. Sometimes, this search will
result in body recovery, especially in drownings or after snow melts.
There are countless examples of people surviving much longer than
anyone would have thought possible. The Coast Guard suggests
multiplying the realistic time estimated for survival by three. Even if
it is quite certain the victim is dead, the search for the body may still
continue, but it must be stressed that the purpose of search and
rescue is to save lives, not to retrieve bodies.
Body Recovery
No person should be forced to miss work or put herself at any kind
of risk in order to look for a dead body. However, SAR Groups may
occasionally be asked by police to help locate persons that are
presumed dead or to recover and transport bodies. Provided the
recovery is not hazardous, GSAR members should be prepared to
assist. Such help may relieve anxiety, provide closure for relatives,
and be excellent public relations. In the end, it is a matter of
personal choice.
Dealing with Death
There is always the possibility that the victim will be found dead.
This immediately throws many first-aid trained persons into a panic
because they have been told that they cannot declare death and
must commence CPR and continue it until exhaustion. In fact, you
should check with your local coroner on legalities. If there is the
slightest doubt about whether the subject is dead then the subject
should be treated as a live victim.
There are certain conditions that mimic death, and hypothermia is
one of them. In profound hypothermia, respiration and heartbeat
may be so slow and faint that it cannot be detected by a first aider
and the body may be as cold, pale and rigid as death. If he is far
from medical facilities, the subject must be protected from further
heat loss and be rewarmed by medical personnel on the spot.
CPR is usually not recommended as it may cause fibrillation and
death. (Note: this is still debated in medical circles and advanced
first aid is beyond the scope of this manual. SAR members should
seek advanced training in hypothermia treatment).
The determination of death is aided by several signs. If the subject
is beheaded, bloated, decomposed, or has been under water for an
hour or more, there is no question. A person is probably dead if:
• there is not the slightest response to any sight, sound or painful
• there is no pulse detectable at either wrist, neck or by placing an
ear to the bared chest,
• there is no breathing detectable by sight, sound or touch, and
• the subject’s pupils are mid-sized or larger, and do not respond
to changes in light.
In time, three other indisputable signs will show:
• the body will cool, extremities first, even in a warm place,
• the body will stiffen (rigor mortis) several hours after death,
• a bruised, mottled appearance will appear on the parts of the
body which are lowest, except on pressure points. This is
caused by the blood settling.
If the subject is believed to be dead, the searcher’s job is not
over, as there will be a coroner’s and possibly a police investigation.
He must:
• ensure there are no hazards that threaten the search team,
• disturb the scene as little as possible,
• mark the access route used by the searchers to get to and to
move away from the subject,
• rope off an area around the body and allow no disturbance by
human or animal,
• notify search headquarters, being sure not to announce death or
identify the subject on the radio except by prearranged code,
• record what he has seen and done,
• flag a route from the body to base or to a known point of
reference if it is a hard to find area (do this only if enough SAR
personnel are available), and
• keep watch until Police or Coroner arrives.
Staying with the deceased until the authorities arrive is a job that
someone has to do, like it or not, unless it would be hazardous to
the rescuer. Under some situations neither the coroner nor the
police will be able to view the body. In these situations they may
request that you take notes or photograph the area and package
and transport the body.
SAR Task Reports After every SAR task the SAR Manager has to write-up a SAR Task
Report to be sent to PEP. The reports are used to inform PEP
about details of the task and to claim expenses which occurred on
the task back from PEP. As a GSAR team member you will not be
filling out one of these reports but the SAR Manager will want some
information from you.
Personal Expense
In BC, PEP covers some personal costs incurred when a volunteer
responds to a SAR Task. Costs such as meals, mileage and
personal equipment replacement or repair are ordinarily covered by
PEP. Expense claim requests are turned in with the Task Report
and PEP either approves or rejects the claim. The general
procedures for expense claims are as follows:
Once a SAR Task is complete the volunteer should immediately fill
out an Expense Claim Form (ICS 304 is shown at the end of this
chapter although some teams use their own forms), and hand this in
to the SAR Manager. This informs the SAR Manager of personal
meals, mileage and the approximate cost of any pieces of personal
equipment that were damaged or lost on the task. These expense
requests are included with the SAR Task Report. Do not wait for 2
or 3 weeks after the task to turn in you expense claim. If you
turn it in after the Task Report has been sent to PEP you will not get
PEP will then approve or reject the expense claim. Once approved,
the equipment can be repaired or replaced. The original receipts go
to the SAR Manager who forwards them to PEP for reimbursement.
If you decide to repair or replace equipment before PEP approves
the request, you must realize that they may reject the request and
you will have to cover the cost.
Critical Incident
Stress Debriefing
Stress is any normal reaction to an abnormal event. Critical Incident
stress is the overwhelming of a person’s normal coping abilities due
to an intense or extreme event. Many SAR events, such as the
death of a child, a multiple casualty incident, threat to your life or a
situation where the victim is known, can cause critical incident
As a SAR volunteer you should be aware of how you and your
fellow volunteers are handling critical incident stress. Each person
will react differently to a critical incident. Anyone whose behaviour
has changed should be approached and asked if they are having
problems as a result of the incident. Some relief may occur simply
by rescuers discussing their feelings frankly among themselves.
But no searcher should hesitate to ask for professional counselling.
Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) can be arranged through
the SAR Manager.
It should also be recognized that members who were not present at
the incident may also be affected. They may be experiencing
problems because they where not able to help and now feel
responsible for the outcome.
In addition, the family and close friends of SAR volunteers may be
experiencing problems. The difficulties that the SAR volunteer is
experiencing may affect the family or friend or the family or friend
may experience anxiety when the volunteer is out on potentially
dangerous incidents.
Incident Reviews
Reviews (formerly called critique, postmortem or debrief) should be
conducted for every SAR incident. Reviews can be conducted at
the end of each day or at the end of each operational period as the
incident progresses and a formal incident review should be
conducted at the completion of the SAR incident.
It is also highly desirable to have a quick field review at the
Command Post before demobilizing. This will help to ensure that all
personnel and equipment are accounted for, and will bring
cooperating agencies together briefly before the formal incident
Most formal incident reviews occur a few days after the search but
may occur several weeks after the search. These are fairly formal
affairs involving SAR members, PEP, the police, other SAR
Managers and other mutual aid personnel.
The two basic objectives to be achieved by the review:
• To provide the Police, SAR members, PEP, other mutual aid
personnel and other SAR Managers with a chronological,
straightforward review of all activities that have taken place up
to the time of the review.
• to discover operational opportunities which will allow the SAR
team(s), other responding mutual aid agencies and individual
members to provide a more effective and efficient SAR
The review process must include the displaying of three basic
questions that must be asked during or after any phase or
conclusion of any SAR operation.
• Was the SAR operation a success?
• Did anything unusual happen that helped or hindered the SAR
• What can we learn from this SAR operation?
A common problem with any review is that if it is not carefully
structured it tends to degenerate into a session where participants
complain about each others’ performance and conduct a thinly
disguised witch hunt to place the blame for an imperfect operation.
Some participants come in feeling aggressive, defensive or both.
People or groups, who know things did not go well or who got
negative press, feel defensive and emotions defeat the purpose of
the meeting. Everyone involved should recognize that no
operation is perfect; that every last one can be improved. The
object is to identify problems and determine solutions, and to assign
definite responsibility for making the changes. Look at a review as
an opportunity to improve. Of course there were problems! There
always are.
Incident reviews usually start with one or more of the SAR
Managers describing what was done. After that, the group tries to
determine how it can be done better next time. Here is where
confrontations start. A good way to ensure reviews remain
constructive and objective is to insist that everyone use the format:
• Observation
• Comment
• Suggestion
• Action
• Responsibility for Action
• Date Action to be Taken
What do these mean? Here’s an example. A member of the
review, using this format, says:
“I noticed that when new people came into the Command Post,
nobody knew who was in charge or what each person was doing.”
“There were no name tags or signing to identify people, and we
spent a lot of time explaining who was doing what. Also, the
volunteers who didn’t know who the SAR Manager was didn’t pay
any attention to her.”
“Name tags or arm bands should be provided for quick
“Prepare identifying tags for each member of an organization, and
place them in the field kit. Wearing the tags should be included in
the standard operational procedures (SOP’s).”
Responsibility for Action:
(usually volunteered or assigned by a senior agency representative)
SAR group Equipment Officer and Secretary.
Date Action to be Taken:
To be done by next meeting.
If the subject is willing to participate, he can be a tremendous help.
He can explain his thinking and behaviour which may be of help in
future searches. However, many subjects feel as though they will
be "on trial” and are unwilling to attend.
With the right attitude of participants and a good facilitator, the
incident review can be an extremely useful way for SAR
Groups to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their
SAR response.
Brewer, Dave. Standardized Review Process. SAR Reference
Memo, Provincial Emergency Program. Victoria, BC, 1998.
Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of Attorney General. Policy
and Procedures Manual. 1998
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Merry, Wayne. Basic Ground Search and Rescue in Yukon
Territory. 1998.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is search demobilization?
2. Describe two problems that may be encountered in search
3. What is the purpose of an incident review?
4. Outline the format that ensures that the review remains
5. The ___________________has the authority to suspend a
6. Why might a search be suspended?
7. Explain how a SAR member would claim for personal expenses
incurred on a task.
Answer True or False to the following statements:
8. Critical Incident Stress may affect a SAR volunteer not at the
SAR incident.
9. It is best for SAR volunteers to move a deceased body to a
more accessible spot for the coroner to view.
10. SAR volunteers are occasionally asked to assist in body
11. It is best to get a good night’s sleep before cleaning up gear.
12. Reviews are only held at the end of an incident.
Chapter 5 - Maps
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Differentiate between types of maps used in SAR.
• Identify a map by name and map sheet number.
• Use the map scale to convert back and forth between map
distances and actual distances.
• Use the following plotting methods or grid systems:
- Geographic Coordinate System – Latitude/Longitude.
Give the latitude and longitude of a point on the map
and locate a point if given the latitude and longitude.
- UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator System) 6 figure
grid coordinates.
Give the 6-figure grid coordinate of a point on the
map and locate a point given the 6-figure grid
• Read and interpret map legend.
• Identify the five main feature categories on a map, i.e.:
- Cultural Features
- Water
- Relief
- Vegetation
- Toponymy (Names)
• Use contour lines to recognize important features and to obtain
an approximate picture of the topography of an area.
• Handle a map in such a way as to maximize its lifetime.
Map Types The ability to use a map effectively is an essential skill for any
member of a SAR team. Such use of maps requires of course, that
suitable maps be available. Several types of maps may be used in
a search.
Topographic Maps Some of the most commonly used maps are the government
topographic map produced by Natural Resources Canada. They
are available in two scales 1:250 000 and 1:50 000. The 1:50 000 is
the more useful of these two maps for SAR.
Topographic maps are distinctive in that they include not only the
usual information about roads and waterways carried by most maps,
but also precise details about the shape (topography) of the land.
Maps of this type are available for all areas in Canada and may be
obtained in many different scales (to be discussed in the next
The advantages of topographic maps are the wealth of information
they provide and the precision with which one can describe a point
on the map. One disadvantage is that they are usually updated no
more frequently than every 10 years, and information about
man-made features, such as logging roads, can be quite inaccurate
or incomplete. The date of last updating is normally found in the
bottom left-hand margin. Figure 5.1a illustrates an area on a
government topographic map. A second disadvantage is that the
most detailed maps of most areas are on the scale of 1:50:000 (2
cm = 1 km). A ground search would normally correspond to a very
small section of such a map.
Problems with obtaining the most up to date information on logging
and other wilderness roads can often be solved by obtaining a map
from the logging company active in the area. Figure 5.1b illustrates
a logging company map of the same area as illustrated in Figure
5.1a. These maps, if available, are not usually topographic and may
make the problem of getting from point A to point B look much
easier than it really is. These maps seldom feature a location grid
and are likely to be to a scale making distance measurement
complicated. Nevertheless, used in conjunction with the appropriate
topographic map, they can be an invaluable search aid. The
Ministry of Forests may also be a good source of up to date maps
and the local office should be consulted in this regard.
Figure 5.1 (a & b) Topographic and Logging Company Maps
TRIM Maps The BC government TRIM format resource mapping project
produced a series of maps in 1:20 000 scale. A sample TRIM map
is shown in Figure 5.2. TRIM topographical maps are available for
most areas of BC. If possible, a "mylar" plot should be obtained.
This can be periodically updated as to roads, hazards, trails and
landmarks by the SAR team. Dry prints can then be run at any
municipal or Forest Service office. If a map is then used during a
search, it can simply be kept with the SAR task report records.
With the rapid advancement in GIS (Geographic Information
Systems) technology over the past few years, some municipal and
provincial government offices may be able to plot coloured TRIM
maps with UTM grid coordinates.
Figure 5.2 TRIM Map
Search Status Map Obtaining a map on a scale suitable for a modest ground search
may require the construction of a sketch map by the SAR Manager
or other skilled person. It is likely that a ground searcher will be
given such a map when heading into the field. These maps can
have as much detail as the person preparing it can provide, but
obviously, the preparation of such maps is very time-consuming and
may not be possible in the early stages of a search. Photocopiers
with enlargement capabilities are now in common use, and may be
a valuable resource for quick alteration of map scales.
Orthophotos Orthophotos are photographs in which objects on the ground are
shown in their true positions. Therefore, you can use an orthophoto
as a map from which you can make direct measurements.
Traditional air photos have image displacement which make it
difficult to make direct measurements.
Other data such as contour lines can be superimposed on the
orthophoto which makes them very useful for SAR operations.
Forestry orthophotos are available in the scale of 1:15 000 with
contour intervals of 20 m and they are upgraded every four years.
When storing, orthophotos should be rolled with the photo facing the
inside of the roll. This will ensure that the photo does not fade.
Orthophotos may be available to SAR Groups from the local
Ministry of Forestry office, local forest companies or municipal
Figure 5.3 Orthophoto for Whistler Spearhead Area. Published
by Beta Digital Mapping.
Air Photos Air photos can be extremely useful for search planners, however, it
can be quite expensive to get a set of these for a SAR team’s area
and as mentioned earlier they have image displacement. They can
be obtained at forestry offices, forest companies, and municipalities.
Other Map Sources Another good source for obtaining maps may be the local tourist
bureau. Often forest company maps are available through such
outlets. Also, a series of topographic maps of major BC recreational
areas is now available and is likely obtainable through the tourist
bureau and outdoor stores. If not, these 1 cm = 1 km maps may be
obtained through:
Outdoor Recreational Council of B.C.
Suite 334, 1367 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
V6H 4A9
Phone: (604) 737-3058
In the discussion of maps that follows, the government topographic
map will be the basis for discussion. Local knowledge of roads and
trails is absolutely invaluable. Logging roads wash out and become
impassable, trails become overgrown and new trails are made.
Time spent investigating the local area is excellent preparation for
future SAR tasks.
How Map Sheets are
Topographic maps, produced by Natural Resources Canada,
conform to the National Topographic System (NTS) of Canada.
They are available in two standard scales, 1:50 000 and 1:250 000.
The area covered by a given map sheet is determined by its latitude
and longitude. Maps can be identified with a map number and a
common map name. Because of the standard NTS numbering
system, knowing the map number allows you to quickly identify
adjacent maps. The adjacent map sheets are identified in a legend
on the edge of each map.
The 1:250 000 scale maps are identified by a combination of
numbers and letters, A through P (e.g. 92J). See Figure 5.23 at the
end of this chapter for the index map for the 1:250 000 maps.
The 1:250 000 blocks are divided into sixteen segments (1 to 16),
forming blocks used for 1:50 000 scale mapping (e.g. 92J/ 2
identifies Whistler, BC, 92J/2 is the map number and Whistler is the
common map name).
/13 /14 /15 /16
/11 /10 /9
/5 /6 /7 /8
/4 /3
1:50 000
92J 92J
1:250 000
Figure 5.4 How 1:50 000 Map Sheets are Defined
An index map for the 1:50 000 maps is shown in figure 5.24
Trim Maps The 1:250 000 blocks are also broken into smaller segments to
identify TRIM maps. However, instead of 16 segments as is done
for the 1:50 000 scale maps there are 100 segments to each block
for the 1:20 000.
Note: TRIM maps and other large scale maps (1:5 000 and 1:10
000) are not in NTS like the 1:50 000 and 1:250 000 federal topo
maps but conform to the BC Geographic System (BCGS). This will
becomes important when describing grid coordinates.
Figure 5.5 How Trim Maps are Defined (82 L is the 1:250 000
Each 1:20 000 map is further divided into 4 – 1:10 000 sheets, each
of which can be divided into 4 – 1:5 000 sheets.
In BC, government topographic maps including TRIM maps are
available from agents in most major centres, or from MAPS BC.
Municipal Maps 1:5 000 and 1:10 000 are the standard scales for most BC
government sponsored municipal mapping. Local governments
may have these maps in planimetric, topo/planimetric combinations
or, in some areas, as digital orthophotos. Either of these is an
excellent scale for either an urban search or detailed search status
A map’s “scale” refers to the relationship between distance on a
map and the corresponding distance on the ground. One commonly
used scale in SAR work is 1:50 000 (one to fifty thousand). At this
scale, one unit of measure on the map represents 50 000 equivalent
units of measure on the ground.
Therefore, 1 cm on the map represents 50 000 cm on the ground
(50 000 cm = 500 m = 0.5 km).
Two (2) cm on the map = 100 000 cm = 1000m = 1 km on the
ground. The 1:50 000 notation also means 1 inch = 50 000 inches
(about 0.8 miles) and 1 mm = 50 000 mm = 50 m.
The scale of TRIM maps is 1:20,000 which is very useful for SAR
operations. In this scale, 1 cm on the map = 20 000 cm = 200 m =
0.2 km on the ground. An alternative if these maps are not available
is to photographically enlarge the 1:50 000 map to produce
4 - 1:20 000 sheets.
Other scales on government maps are:
1:250 000 1 cm = 250 000 cm = 2.5 km (4 mm = 1 km)
1:125 000 1 cm = 125 000 cm = 1.25 km (8 mm = 1 km)
1:100 000 1 cm = 100 000 cm = 1.0 km (1 cm = 1 km)
Sketch maps of a search area would likely have a scale of either:
1:10 000 1 cm = 10 000 cm = 100 m (10 cm = 1 km) or
1:5 000 1 cm = 5 000 cm = 50 m (20 cm = 1 km)
Recent advancements in digital orthophoto technology has enabled
the production of “orthophoto maps” at almost any scale and
combination of information.
Significance of
Small scale maps (e.g. 1:250 000) cover large areas in less detail,
whereas medium scale maps (e.g. 1:50 000) cover smaller areas in
greater detail. Large scale maps (1:10 000) cover the smallest area
with the most detail.
Figure 5.6 and 5.7 will give an appreciation of the significance of
scale. Figure 5.6 illustrates the actual ground area that would be
covered by a map 80 cm x 60 cm in different scales. Figure 5.7
shows the same area of land as portrayed on maps of 2 different
1:50 000
km 200 km
1:250 000
Figure 5.6
One 80 cm X 60 cm 1:250 000 map covers an area of 200 Km X 150 Km
One 80 cm X 60 cm 1:50 000 map covers an area of 40 Km X 30 Km
1:250 000
1:50 000
Figure 5.7 Identical Sections of the Skeena Crossing Map
In 2 different scales.
Several techniques are available for measuring the distance
between points on a map. For people proficient in mental
arithmetic, converting from units on the map to units in the field can
be done in their head. However, many rescuers find it difficult to
perform such calculations, particularly in the field, and some simpler
approaches are available.
One approach that may be used is to compare the map distance
with the scale at the bottom of the map. By measuring the distance
with a ruler and then measuring the same distance along the scale,
a distance can be determined.
However, in the absence of a ruler, the 2 points may simply be
marked on the edge of a piece of paper which can then be laid
along the scale. An example of this approach is illustrated in Figure
5.8. Note how the section of the scale divided into 100 m steps is
Figure 5.8 Simplified Distance Measurement
The most efficient approach to distance measurement involves the
use of some form of romer. This device is simply a ruler that reads
actual distance (km) rather than map distance (cm). A different
romer is therefore needed for each map scale. However, the high
frequency of use of l:50 000 maps in SAR makes a romer for this
scale an invaluable tool for any rescuer. A sample of a very basic
romer for l:50 000 maps is illustrated in Figure 5.9.
Figure 5.9 Sample Romer For 1:50 000 Maps (not to scale)
To measure a curved route such as a trail use something flexible
such as string or wire. The string or wire can be placed with one
end on the starting point of the route and then curved along to follow
the route on the map. Use your thumb to mark the finishing point of
the route. The string is straightened and placed against the scale
without stretching and the distance determined.
A set of dividers may also be used to measure between two points.
The dividers are opened so that each arm is set on one of the
points. The opened dividers are moved to the scale to determine
the exact distance. For measurements other than straight-line
distances, the dividers may be set on the scale to a very short
distance (e.g. 1 km or even less), and then “walked” along the
course on the map.
Also available are wheeled map measuring devices which are rolled
across the route on the map and displays the actual ground
distance. This only works well if the map is totally flat with no folds
which seldom happens in the field.
The UTM grid lines can also be used to roughly estimate distance.
The UTM grid lines on a 1:50 000 map are 1 km apart and therefore
the number of grid squares that a route crosses can be counted and
a distance calculated.
NOTE: Remember that elevation change is not taken into
account when measuring a distance between two objects on a
map. Unless the terrain between the two objects is flat the
actual distance that has to be covered will be longer due to the
slope. Also, the time required to travel a distance will vary
depending on the elevation change.
Describing a Point
on a Map
The two most common methods of describing locations on a map
are UTM grid and latitude and longitude. Both use the crossing of a
north-south line with an east-west line to describe a location. UTM
grid co-ordinates utilize the crossing of a north-south grid line and
an east-west grid line to describe a position. Latitude and longitude
co-ordinates also use a grid, but with the exception of the widelyspaced lines of latitude and longitude on a map, there is no actual
lines to work from.
It should be noted that some maps (older maps) are based on North
American Datum 1927 (NAD27) while most maps since 1990 are
based on North American Datum 1983 (NAD83). What this means
to the map user is that for the same point on the ground, the grid
coordinates can move up to several hundred meters when
converting between the two types of maps.
It is therefore important to state which datum was used on your map
when giving grid coordinates especially if there is a mix of old and
new maps being used on a search. The datum that was used is
stated on the map usually near the metric conversions for elevation
or at the bottom of the map.
UTM Grid On most topographic maps, and some other maps as well, a grid is
superimposed to aid in describing the location of particular points.
This grid is called the UTM grid (Universal Transverse Mercator).
The lines on the rectangular grid run approximately North-South
(North being at the top of the map) and East-West. A point on the
map may be described by its position relative to the grid.
If you look at the edge of a 1:50 000 map you will see that each grid
line is given a 2 digit number. These numbers also appear at one or
two places across the face of the map.
On 1:50 000 maps, the grid lines have a 1 km ground spacing and
are separated by 2 cm on the actual map. The grid spacing is 2 km
on some 1:100 000 maps and larger still on large-scale maps.
For example, a church might be located as shown in Figure 5.10. In
the horizontal direction it is about 3/10 of the way from 15 to 16. In
the vertical direction it is about 8/10 of the way from 73 to 74. Its'
grid co-ordinates would thus be given as 153 738.
Figure 5.10a Grid coordinates of Church 153 738
Note that the "easting" co-ordinate is always given first and the
"northing" co-ordinate second. A useful phrase for remembering
this order is "in the door and up the stairs" or "read right up"
meaning horizontal first, then vertical.
On declination adjustable compasses used by SAR Groups there
are two romers on the transparent base plate that will enable you to
determine tenths more accurately. These are usually for map
scales of 1:25 000 and 1:50 000. Figure 5.10b demonstrates the
use of a romer on a compass base for determining UTM grid
Figure 5.10b Use of the Romer on a Compass Base for
Determining UTM Grid Coordinates 153 738
Figure 5.11 gives examples of the grid co-ordinates of 5 points on a
section of map.
Figure 5.11 Sample Grid Coordinates
In the case of a very large search area (more than 100 km across),
two points with 100 km separation could have the same grid coordinates. To avoid confusion, the name of the map sheet on which
the co-ordinates are given should be added.
On a 1:50 000 or 1:25 000 map, one tenth of a grid division is 100
m. thus the six figure grid co-ordinates describe a position within
100 m. If a ruler is available, fractions of a division may be specified
in hundredths rather than just tenths and eight figure grid coordinates may be used, describing positions within 10 m, however,
six figure co-ordinates are satisfactory for most purposes.
In quoting grid co-ordinates, a line marked as 07 should be given as
"zero-seven" rather than just "seven", and if a point were right on
this line it would be given as 070 "zero- seven-zero".
Trim maps (1:20 000) may or may not have UTM grid lines across
the map. If they do not have grid lines they will have the grid
numbers positioned along the edge of the map. Remember to
mention if you are using a TRIM map to describe a position if others
are using the federal topos.
In case you forget, there is an explanation of the UTM grid system in
blue on the right side of most maps that have the grid.
A GPS unit can also give your location in UTM Grid Coordinates,
however, it will give a 17 character number. See the GPS section in
Chapter 7 – Map and Compass for an explanation.
Latitude and
When a searcher in the field has to communicate directly with an
aircraft, latitude and longitude has to be used. Pilots deal with
latitude and longitude not UTM grid co-ordinates. Every point on the
earth's surface has a unique latitude and longitude while different
points 100 km apart may have the same UTM grid reference.
On a globe of the world, you will see a wide-spaced grid of lines of
latitude and longitude. Lines (or parallels) of latitude run around the
world in an east-west direction, and are parallel. They do not
converge anywhere. Lines of longitude run from pole to pole.
Unlike latitude, they converge at the poles, so that there is less
space between them as you get farther north or south.
Figure 5.12 Meridians of Longitude and Parallels of Latitude
Latitude The lines of latitude at the equator start at 0 o. For locations in BC,
the lines of latitude vary between 48o N (Southern Vancouver
Island) and 60 o N (Yukon border). The N for North is added to
distinguish between points at the same angle below the equator. A
degree of latitude always corresponds to about 110 km. Lines of
equal latitude are called parallels of latitude.
Publisher: ERI Publications Author: ERI and Don Cooper Title: Search and Rescue Fundamentals
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 5.13 Parallels of latitude
Longitude Longitude is measured as an angle. Figure 5.14 illustrates its
definition. The reference plane in this case is one containing the
earth's axis of rotation and passing through Greenwich, England.
The curved line passing through the North and South poles and
Greenwich is called the Greenwich Meridian and is 0º longitude.
Points in the Western Hemisphere have longitudes of between 0º
and 180º W. Points in the Eastern Hemisphere have longitudes of
between 0º and 180º E. For locations in BC, the longitude varies
between 114º W for south-eastern BC to 138º W in the far northwest. In BC, a degree of longitude is about 70 km, decreasing in
width as one moves further North. Lines of equal longitude are
called meridians of longitude.
Publisher: ERI Publications Author: ERI and Don Cooper Title: Search and Rescue Fundamentals
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 5.14 Meridians of Longitude
The edges of topographic maps lie along meridians and parallels.
Because a degree represents such a large distance for both
longitude and latitude, degrees are divided into 60 minutes (60') and
each minute is divided into 60 seconds (60"). Latitudes and
longitude are indicated along the edges at 1' intervals using
alternating black and white lines. Owing to the discrepancy
between Grid North and True North, grid lines are not usually
parallel to lines of latitude and longitude. A quick glance at a map
will confirm this fact.
Determining latitude and longitude is different than UTM Grid coordinates in that you read up and then you read left. Latitude is
given first and longitude second.
In order to find the latitude of a point its distance should first be
measured from the top or bottom edge of the map, whichever is
nearer. The same distance from the same edge should then be
marked on the latitude scale on the left or right edge of the map.
See figure 5.15. We know that the latitude increases as we
progress north so in our example the point we are interested in lies
between 50º 53' and 50º 54'. Note that each of the black or white
bars on the edge of the map represents 1 minute. To obtain the
latitude to the nearest 5", fractions of a minute should be estimated
in twelfths. As 1/12' = 5", 7/12' would correspond to 35".
A similar procedure is used for longitude. You will notice that the
black and white bars are shorter. This is due to the lines of
longitude converging at the north pole. Each bar still represents one
(1) minute and still has 60 seconds in it. Using this procedure to find
the latitude and longitude of a chimney is illustrated in Figure 5.15.
For the chimney we would write 50º 53' 35" N, 118º 38' 40" W.
Verbally we would say fifty degrees, fifty three minutes, thirty-five
seconds North; one hundred eighteen degrees, thirty eight minutes,
40 seconds West.
Figure 5.15 Determination of Latitude and Longitude
In giving lat – long co-ordinates, you always give the latitude first,
then the longitude.
If the latitude and longitude are given and it is the point on the map
that must be found, the latitude and longitude should first be marked
on the scales on the map edges. The above procedure may then
be reversed. Note that longitude increases from east to west, not
west to east as with grid co-ordinates. More precise calculations of
latitude and longitude may be made, but require much more careful
measurement of the point's location and calculations that will take
some time if a calculating aid is not available. The method just
described should be sufficient for any situation encountered by a
searcher in the field.
Lat/Long and GPS Some GPS units give lat/long in degrees, minutes and decimals of a
minute. For example, the chimney discussed earlier would be at
50° 53.58' N, 118° 38.67' W.
Map Symbols Topographic maps identify numerous cultural and natural ground
features, which can be divided into the following categories:
Culture: roads, buildings, urban development, boundaries,
railways, power transmission lines;
Water: lakes, rivers, streams, swamps, rapids;
Relief: mountains, valleys, slopes, depressions;
Vegetation: wooded and cleared areas, vineyards and
Toponymy: place names, water feature names, highway
Most topographic maps have a list of symbols explained somewhere
on the map. On some maps, road symbols are defined just left of
the scale, and there is a huge list of symbols (Conventional Signs)
in both English and French on the back of the map. On others, the
symbols are on the border. Most symbols are self-explanatory,
looking like what they represent. If in doubt, refer to the explanatory
lists. Knowledge of these symbols can only come from frequent use
of these maps. In studying maps of their own area, Search and
Rescue personnel should familiarize themselves with the more
limited number of signs on these particular sheets.
Contour Lines The most distinctive feature of topographic maps is contour lines.
These lines, marked in brown, join together points of the same
Recently published maps in the 1:50,000 series have a contour
interval of either 20 m or 40 m. Going from one contour line to the
next means a change of elevation of 20 m or 40m respectively.
Older maps in this series use a contour interval of 100 feet or about
30 m. In all cases, every fifth contour line is made darker as an
aid in determining contour elevations.
The arrangement of contour lines can tell the skilled map reader
much about the shape of the land. An immediate observation is that
where contour lines are very close together, the ground is very
steep, whereas where contours are well separated, the ground will
be almost level.
The hill defined by the contour lines in the upper half of Figure 5.16
would have the slope given in the lower half of the figure.
Figure 5.16 The Shape of a Hill Using Topographic Contours
Hill Gradient Contour lines may be used to determine the average gradient of a
hill. The change in elevation is first found by counting the number of
contours on the hill on the map and multiplying by the contour
In the diagram of the hill in figure 5.17, the contour interval is 20 m,
the change in elevation between A and B is 7 x 20 = 140 m. The
distance from A to B is 700 m according to the scale of the map,
then the gradient of the hill is:
Vertical rise 140 m
----------------------- = -------------- = 0.20 gradient
Horizontal distance 700 m
Figure 5.17 Gradient of a Hill
As 140 m is 1/5 of 700 m, it is more common to express the gradient
of this hill as 1:5 (one to five). The gradient of 1:5 means 1 m
vertically for every 5 m horizontally.
Some caution must be exercised in interpreting such figures. While
steady slopes with gradients of 1:2 or less can usually be climbed or
descended easily, hazardous terrain may exist which the contours
do not show. Steep cliffs with a height less than the contour interval
(20 m) will not necessarily be indicated on the map.
On the other hand, slopes with gradients significantly greater than
1:2 can sometimes be easily negotiated if the surface is suitable.
Nevertheless, knowledge of the gradient can be very helpful in
assessing the difficulty of a particular route.
Generally speaking, if contours are smooth and regular it is unlikely
they conceal any surprises, but if they are jagged and variable in
spacing, the terrain is likely rough and short steep pitches may be
lost between the lines.
• The steeper the slope the closer the line spacing
• Valleys, ravines and gullies show up as V or U shaped lines
pointing to higher elevation.
• Ridges appear as V shaped lines pointing to lower elevation.
• A saddle, pass or col will have higher ground on either side and
have an hourglass shape.
Gentle Slope
Moderate Slope
Steep Slope
Gully w/intermittent stream
Peak or Summit
Bowl or Cirque, w/Lake
Saddle, Pass or Col
Tree Line, Clearing
Figure 5.18 Examples of Basic Topographic Features
Definitions Col
See saddle.
The highest part of a hill or mountain range - that line on a range of
hills or mountains from which the ground slopes down in opposite
The line along a range of hills or mountains from which the water
flows in opposite directions, e.g. the Continental Divide
An area in which all the water flows into one main creek or river.
A narrow stream passage between steep rocky hills - a ravine with
precipitous sides.
A water worn ravine.
A small knob-like hill
A table land - an elevated region of considerable area, generally
fairly level.
A long deep valley worn by a stream – deep narrow gorge or
mountain cleft.
The line along a hill or range of mountains from which the water
flows in opposite directions, a divide – sometimes the crest of a line
of hills along the horizon.
A depression between adjacent hills or mountain tops, also called a
A minor feature, generally in the form of a ridge running out from a
hill or mountain.
The line separating the water flowing into two different river systems
-the edge of a river basin.
Route Profile In a similar way, contour lines may be used to predict the shape of
the land along the route a searcher may follow. The map in Figure
5.19 shows the route a searcher would have to follow to travel in a
straight line from point A to point B. The searcher would have to
drop from an elevation of 590 m to a stream at 500 m, then climb
over a spur at an elevation of 610 m, then drop to another stream at
450 m before finally climbing to the hilltop of elevation 610 m. The
sketch below the map in figure 5.19 shows a rough outline of this
route and suggests a more circuitous route involving less change of
elevation would be better. Such plots need not be done with great
precision. Route selection will be discussed in more detail in the
Map and Compass Chapter.
Figure 5.19 Sketching a Profile From a Contour Map
North On the right side of a topographic map will be found a symbol
similar to that shown in the figure 5.21.
Figure 5.21 Declination Information from a Topographic Map
T.N. stands for True North. True North is the direction of the North
geographic pole, the point at which the earth's axis of rotation
intersects the surface. Ideally, the vertical grid lines on a map will
be in this direction. However, the problems of mapping a spherical
surface on a flat map make some discrepancy necessary. The
difference is small though, and the direction of grid north seldom
differs from true north by more than 2°.
For SAR applications in BC, Grid north will be assumed to be the
same as true north.
A magnetic compass, which will be discussed in detail in the next
chapter, points in a northerly direction, but towards the North
magnetic pole (Magnetic North) rather than the North geographic
pole. In BC, magnetic compasses point in a direction between 20°
and 30° to the East of True North.
An additional complication is that the angle between True or Grid
North and Magnetic North is changing, typically decreasing by about
1/8° per year, precise information is given on the map. In general
terms, if the map is placed so the magnetic North line is pointing in
the same direction as the compass needle, the map will be correctly
oriented. Using a map and compass together will be discussed in
the Map and Compass Chapter.
Care of Maps The following points should be noted in looking after maps.
a) A map is a fairly fragile thing. Unless it is treated with care,
particularly in the field, it will soon come to pieces. Maps are
often precious and the supply of them is never unlimited.
Handle them with care. Wet, wind, grime, folds and tears are
the greatest enemies of maps.
b) A quick way to destroy a map is to open it full out in the open
air. There is always a slight breeze to catch it and start small
tears that quickly spread. Tears start just as easily when a map
is opened and refolded in a restricted space, particularly where
there is some wind. The first thing to prevent tears is to be able
to fold it so that any part can be referred to without refolding.
c) Figure 5.21 shows how to fold a map. First, fold it in half down
its longest length with the map showing outwards. Then, fold
across the other way, accordion fashion, as illustrated. The
number of folds will depend on the size of the map. The aim is
to reduce it to a convenient size for carrying and, at the same
time, ensure that there is a reasonably large area for studying
when two folds are opened like a book. Folded thus, any part of
the map can be studied by opening the appropriate folds. Do
not fold a map in what might be called the obvious way - with
map inwards, to do so ensures that no part of the map can be
looked at without opening it full out.
d) A map is easily damaged when it is folded. If opened and
refolded several times, it will begin to lose detail and may even
tear at the folds. For protection it should be kept in a map case
or some other type of protective cover. A map case made of
clear plastic allows use of the map while still in the case.
e) Try to keep the map from getting wet; when it is wet it tears and
picks up dirt easily. If it gets wet, open it out as soon as
possible and allow it to dry.
f) Some of the government topo maps are now available on Tyvek
(a plastic like paper) which is much more durable than paper.
Plasticizing of maps is also an effective method of increasing
their durability. The use of alcohol soluble markers (not watersoluble for obvious reasons) for writing on plasticized maps is
strongly recommended as markings can be easily erased after
the search.
Figure 5.21 Correct Way to Fold a Map
Remember to fold the map so the area of interest can be seen.
Graydon, Don, and Hanson, Kurt. 6th Edition, Mountaineering, The
Freedom of the Hills. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997.
Kjellstrom, Bjorn. Be Expert with Map & Compass. New York, NY:
MacMillan General Reference, 1994.
Seidman, David. The Essential Wilderness Navigator. Camden,
MD: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 1995.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. Use figure 5.23 to
answer the following questions. The answers to these questions
are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is the UTM grid coordinates and the latitude and longitude
of the following points? Describe the latitude and longitude to
the nearest 5 seconds.
a. The sawmill
b. Hagwilger Peak
c. The end of the road on Mudflat Creek
d. The outlet of the large lake on Mudflat Creek.
2. You are requested to report to 905 232. What do you find
3. You are going to be transported to 55° 11' 5"N, 127° 35' 30"W.
What will you find there?
Answer True or False for the following statements:
4. A ridge on a map will have the contour lines pointing to higher
5. The closer the contour lines the steeper the hill.
6. 1:20 000 is more detailed than 1:50 000
7. Two points in Canada can have the same UTM grid references.
8. UTM grid lines are 2 km apart on a 1:50 000.
Figure 5.22 Map Exercise
Figure 5.23 Index Map for the 1:250 000 Scale Maps
Figure 5.24 Index Map for 1:50 000 Scale Maps
Chapter 6 - The Compass
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Explain the use of the 360 degree system in defining direction.
• Identify the parts of a compass, i.e.:
- base plate
- magnetic needle
- orientation arrow
- sight and sighting line
- graduated dial
- meridian lines
• Distinguish between magnetic north, true north and grid north.
• Adjust a declination adjustable compass for magnetic
• Use a compass to take a bearing and to locate a given direction.
• Use a compass to take a back bearing.
• Explain factors affecting a compass, i.e.:
- electrical currents
- magnetic fields
- ferrous metals
• Navigate around obstacles.
• Use aiming off to navigate to a point on a baseline.
• Make approximate measurements of distance through pacing
and other techniques and know the limitations of these methods.
To better understand the information presented, have a compass
and topographic map available to examine and use as each function
and technique is described.
The Degree System Before discussing the use of a compass, it is necessary to make
clear the degree system of defining direction. A circle can be
divided into 360 degrees. If one thinks of a person standing at the
centre of a circle, the possible directions that a person can face can
be defined in terms of 360 degrees. By convention, the direction of
True North is 0° or 000 (also 360°), East is 90° or 090 (pronounced
ZERO-NINE-ZERO), South is 180° or 180 (ONE-EIGHT-ZERO) and
West is 270° or 270. A direction of Northeast, being halfway
between North and East would be 045.
Figure 6.1
Directions defined in this way are called bearings. In theory each
degree can be subdivided into minutes and seconds as well, but no
situation in basic search and rescue will require such precision. In
the discussion that follows, all bearings will be rounded off to the
nearest degree.
Be aware that the Canadian Military use mils instead of degrees.
Instead of dividing a circle into 360 degrees it is divided into
6,400 mils.
The Compass PEP recommends the use of a declination adjustable compass for
use in SAR work. Once the declination has been adjusted on the
compass no calculations are required (declination is described on
page 6-5). Several manufacturers make this type of compass.
These compasses also have a hinged lid with a mirror as well as a
transparent base plate.
Take your compass in hand and find each feature shown in Figure
6.2. The compass needle has a red and white end. The red end
points in the direction of Magnetic North since the magnetic needle
aligns itself with the magnetic field of the Earth and the magnetic
field of the Earth focuses at the magnetic north pole. The compass
housing is black (aluminum in older models) and can be rotated.
The compass needle is used to take bearings in the field and, as we
will see in the map and compass chapter the meridian lines are
used to take bearings from a map.
The use of the different parts of this compass will be explained in
the sections that follow.
Figure 6.2 Features of the typical Search and Rescue Compass
Use of a Compass to
Fix Direction
In the chapter “Maps”, we talked about true north, magnetic north
and grid north. To review, True north is the earth’s geographic
north pole. It is the point where the lines of longitude meet. The
needle on a magnetic compass points to, and therefore establishes,
the direction of Magnetic North. Grid north is the north direction in
which the grid lines on your map point towards. True north,
magnetic north and grid north are not in the same position.
In order to fix other directions, the bearing of Magnetic North must
be known. This bearing can be found on most maps and is the
angle between True North and Magnetic North, known as the
magnetic declination.
Figure 6.3a Magnetic Declination
Although this angle gives the theoretically correct value, the angle
between Magnetic North and Grid North turns out to be much more
important when using a compass in conjunction with a gridded map.
The data necessary to determine either angle is given in the
information on the right margin of 1:50 000 maps. The grid bearing
of Magnetic North is given directly, but the true bearing requires a
subtraction or addition to be made. As all work done by ground
searchers is likely to be in conjunction with a gridded map, Grid
North and the associated bearings will be used almost
However, the difference between True and Grid North must be
remembered if talking to a pilot who understands North as True
Figure 6.3b Map Declination Information
The amount of declination changes from year to year so a correction
for annual variation of the declination must be made. A particular
map might have the declination diagram shown above. The
magnetic declination of Magnetic North relative to Grid North was
20° 53' in 1991. As this angle is decreasing by 7.5' annually, it has
decreased by 52.5' (7.5' X7) by 1998. Converting 52.5' to minutes
and seconds gives 52' 30". Thus, the 1998 declination would be 20°
00' 30" or a bearing for Magnetic North of 020 (accuracy down to
30" is extremely difficult with a compass). Various web sites are
available that correct for magnetic declination.
Knowing that 020 is the direction in which the compass needle
points, all other directions are fixed as shown in Figure 6.4.
360 020
Figure 6.4 Magnetic Declination Fixes all Other Points
Although information is given to allow declination calculations to the
nearest minute, rounding off to the nearest degree gives more than
sufficient accuracy for most applications in SAR.
Websites are also available which will calculate the magnetic
declination for a given point. One of them is maintained by National
Resources Canada and is located at:
Setting the
A declination adjustable compass is designed to greatly simplify the
problem of the difference between True/Grid North and Magnetic
North. Once you set the declination for your area on the compass
you do not have to pay any attention to it unless you move to a new
map area.
In the inner circle of the compass, a scale that runs from 90° W decl.
to 90° E decl. can be seen. If the setscrew in the compass housing
at the NE position is turned with the attached screwdriver, the
orienting arrow will move against this scale.
To correctly set the declination, the screw should be turned until the
tiny mark in the base of the orienting arrow points to the known
declination. In making this adjustment, it must be noted that the
divisions on both the declination scale and the compass housing are
2°, not 1°, so a setting of 23° would be halfway between two
divisions. When correctly set for a declination of 20° E, the orienting
arrow and declination scale should appear as in Figure 6.5. The
compass housing will be correctly oriented for Grid North.
Figure 6.5 Declination Set for 20° on Newer Compasses
On some compasses (especially older models) the arrow end of the
orienting arrow is adjusted until it points to the declination scale.
The setup would appear as in Figure 6.6.
Figure 6.6 Declination Set for 20° on Older Compass
Bearing Relative to
Grid North
Once the declination is set any bearings that are taken are relative
to Grid North.
Taking a Bearing
On a search you may want to determine what the bearing is to a
familiar landmark such as a mountain peak, from where you are
located To take a bearing:
1. The compass has to be aimed towards the object that you want
to take the bearing on. This can be done two ways.
a) The quicker but less precise way is to hold the compass
opened out flat and level at waist height with the mirror
end away from you, and point the sighting line at the
b) Increased accuracy can be obtained by using the
sighting method.
i) Hold the compass at eye level and adjust the
cover to approximately 45° so that the mirror reflects
a top view of the compass dial. See Figure 6.7.
Figure 6.7 Sighting Method of Taking a Bearing
ii) While looking in the mirror, move your sighting
eye sideways until you see the sighting line intersect
the two luminous points as in Figure 6.8.
Figure 6.8 Sighting Line Oriented Correctly
2. While keeping the compass aimed toward the object turn the
compass housing until the red end of the needle lies within and
parallel to, the red end of the orienting arrow. Make sure the
compass is level as the compass needle can “bind” and not
move to the correct position if the compass is tilted.
3. The reading at the index pointer is the bearing of the object.
Now that you know how to do it, step outside and take bearings
on objects in all directions. Take the bearing both with the
compass at waist height and with the sighting method.
Remember that with the declination set these bearings are
taken relative to Grid North.
How might you use this in SAR? If you were in the bush, and
needed to know where you were, you could take bearings on
recognized landmarks and triangulate your position. Triangulation
will be covered in the chapter “Map and Compass”.
Taking a Back
A back bearing is the bearing from a landmark to where you stand.
It is 180° opposite of the bearing from where you stand to the
landmark. It is used in several procedures such as triangulation,
returning back the way you came and in looking for magnetic
anomalies. There are two ways to take a back bearing.
One way is to take a bearing on the object but instead of reading the
bearing at the index pointer read the back bearing at the luminous
line that is 180° opposite to the index pointer.
The other way to take a back bearing is to sight the compass at the
landmark but line the white end of the compass needle over the red
end of the orienting arrow (this is opposite of what you would do to
take a bearing). Then read the back bearing at the index pointer.
Following a Bearing
Suppose your Ground Search Team Leader assigns you to be the
compass bearer for a grid search, and says that you must follow a
bearing of 135° (SE) for 300 m. To use your compass to follow a
bearing of 135° you would:
1. Set the given bearing at your index pointer. In this case the
compass housing is rotated until the index pointer between the
mirror and the housing points to 135°.
2. Hold the compass level and turn your whole body around until
the red end of the magnetic needle falls within the red end of the
orienting arrow. The sighting line on the mirror now points in
the135° direction. Figure 6.9 shows how the compass would
appear when aligned in the direction of 135°.
Figure 6.9 Appearance of Compass when Aligned for a
Direction of Travel of 135° (SE)
3. Holding the needle exactly this way, find an identifiable object
on the bearing that you can walk toward. This is often a tree,
but it may be a rock, a bush, a peak, even a bend in the river or
the end of a lake. The important thing is that you must not lose
sight of it as you walk. If that could be a problem, choose
something closer.
4. Once you have picked out an object at that bearing, walk to it.
You don’t need to look at your compass again until you have
reached it. It is not necessary to climb over difficult obstacles:
as long as you reach the object, you will be following the course.
5. When you reach it, sight again, and find a new object on that
bearing to walk to. Keep repeating this process to continue
along the bearing.
Lateral Drift If you lose sight of your intermediate landmark and want to make
sure you are still headed towards it, turn around and take a back
bearing to your starting position. You will have to move one way or
the other to line up the back bearing to your original starting
position. Then turn around and take another bearing in your original
direction. If you do not check your alignment when an intermediate
landmark is lost, lateral drift can occur putting you off on a parallel
Considerable practice is essential if accurate bearings are to be
consistently achieved. Setting and taking bearings using a compass
without declination adjustment is described in map and compass
How Far off Course For each degree of error you will be about 17.5 m off for each
kilometre you travel. Therefore, if you are off 5 degrees on a 5 km
hike, you will be 5° X 5 km X 17.5m = 437.5m. If you are thinking in
miles and feet, then figure that you will be off about 92 feet each
mile for every degree of error.
Problems in
Following Bearings
Dense Bush In open country following a bearing will be easy. In
dense bush, you may have to take repeated bearings at trees, or
even individual branches, only a few meters ahead. And if you take
your eyes off the bearing point for a moment, you may lose it.
Remember, if you lose your intermediate landmark you are subject
to lateral drift (see above).
Local Magnetic Attraction Your compass needle is magnetic, and
may waver toward any large iron or steel object, or respond to local
magnetic fields. If you are near a car, snowmobile, or outboard
motor – especially if they are running – the needle may be way off.
Inside a building, the wiring creates magnetic fields which attract the
needle. If a rifle, knife, radio, battery powered watch, batteries, belt
buckles or pacemaker is too close, it will affect the compass. Being
near railroad tracks or power lines can also deflect the compass
On land there are many places where magnetic anomalies occur
due to magnetic ore deposits. The best test for influence by
magnetic rocks or localized fields is the “back bearing” technique.
When the compass bearer reaches the object that was sighted on
the desired bearing, he may turn around and sight at the starting
point. If the sighting has been done correctly and local magnetic
attraction is not present, the white end of the compass needle
should be aligned over the orienting arrow. If not, a more careful
analysis will be necessary.
Fog and Snow In dense fog or heavy snow there may be no
natural objects to take a bearing on. Mountaineers on snowfields
have a method of following a bearing without reference points. On
glaciers one person sights along a bearing, the other walks along
the bearing until he is just at the limit of visibility. That person then
acts as a target and the compass bearer can tell him to move right
or left until he is exactly in line. The accuracy of the bearing can be
improved by having the target person take a back bearing on the
compass bearer and adjust for any error. The compass bearer
moves to the target person then the target person moves out on the
bearing again.
Navigating Around
Often as you travel on a bearing you will reach an obstacle such as
a lake, river or canyon that you need to go around. There are two
ways to go around the obstacle.
If you can see across the obstacle, take a bearing on an obvious
landmark on the other side. Before going around the obstacle make
sure you can identify where your starting point is or mark the point
with flagging tape (preferably biodegradable) or by breaking a
branch. Walk around the obstacle to the landmark. Take a back
bearing on your starting point to confirm that you are still on course.
If you cannot see across the obstacle then you will have to use
another technique. Turn 90° from your bearing and follow this new
bearing counting your steps until the obstacle is passed. Return to
the original bearing and walk past the obstacle. Now turn 90° in the
opposite direction from your original bearing and walk the same
number of steps so that you return to your original course. Once the
correct number of steps have been counted turn back onto the
original bearing. This is outlined in Figure 6.10.
Figure 6.10 Navigating Around an Obstacle
Aiming Off
(Deliberate Error
On occasion, a searcher may have to follow a bearing away from a
baseline (also called a handrail) such as a road, trail, or shore, then
return to the point of origin following a back bearing.
Following the back bearing is easy; don’t change the original
bearing, just put the white end of the magnetic needle in the
orienting arrow instead of the red. The difficulty comes in finding the
exact point of origin.
For example, if you left a car on a road and followed a compass
bearing to a peak, then tried to return exactly to the car, you might
well be off a few degrees. Arriving at the road, the car might be out
of sight, and you would not know which way to look for it, because
you would not know which way you were in error. If, for example,
you were about 5° off at the end of 5 km (not hard to do), you would
be about 437m from your target, and if you couldn’t see it, you might
walk in the wrong direction to locate it.
Count number of
paces on this leg.
Repeat number of
paces on this leg.
To prevent this, take a bearing 5° off one way or the other from the
direct back bearing. In other words, make an intentional error.
Then, when you hit your baseline, you will know which way to turn
even with the inevitable error in compass work. This is called
aiming off or deliberate error reckoning.
Aiming off can also be used when travelling along a route.
Identifying “handrails” which are well defined features that can be
easily recognized and followed such as creeks, cut lines, and cliff
bands. Aim off to the handrail and follow it to your desired
It must be noted that aiming off only works if the point to be located
is on a handrail (baseline). It does not work for locating a small
point surrounded by non-descript terrain.
Figure 6.11 Aiming off to Return to a Baseline
Dead Reckoning: During early stages of a search, accurate
measurement of distance is rarely needed. “dead reckoning”, or
knowing your speed and elapsed time, is usually adequate to tell
you how far you have traveled.
For example, if you estimate that you are moving one km every 20
minutes and you then walk for 40 minutes, you may reasonably
expect to have gone about 2 km. This method is imprecise, but
frees your mind for the search. When only a few searchers are in
the field, as there is at the start of most searches, you may need
every bit of attention for the search, rather than careful distance
Clearly, time will vary with the nature of the terrain and the
vegetative cover. While you might travel 1 km in only 8 minutes on
open ground, it might take 3 or 4 times as long in heavy bush or
steep country. Elapsed time estimates improve with experience.
Frequent Position Fixing: By determining your exact position on
the map whenever an opportunity presents itself, you can keep
yourself oriented with respect to distance. A combination of Dead
Reckoning and Position Fixing is often used, and makes it easier to
spot landmarks. (Position Fixing with compass is described later).
Increasing use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) makes this
much quicker and easier than position fixing with a compass.
Pacing When accurate distance measurement is necessary, as in flagging
grid search boundaries or plotting uncharted trails and maps on a
Search Status Map, and no GPS is available, pacing is the most
practical method.
How to Pace: Measuring distance accurately by pacing it requires
considerable experience. Not only does every person have a
different sized pace, but the size of a person’s pace (or step) will
depend on his speed and type of ground he is traversing. To obtain
information about one’s pace it is desirable to travel previously
measured distances and count one’s pace to travel these distances.
The effect of varying speeds, of rough ground, and of slope should
all be investigated. The figure that should be obtained in each case
is the number of paces or steps that are required to travel 100 m.
The use of the pace (2 steps) or the single step as the counting
unit is optional. A person might find that on smooth, level ground,
122 steps (or 61 paces) are required to travel 100 m. Thus to walk
400 m at this rate would require counting 122 steps (or 61 paces) 4
It is not necessary for all members of a search team to be proficient
in pacing, and indeed, many of us do not have the mental math
skills to calculate on the move. Some searchers carry tiny hand
calculators to make the process easier.
In order to measure distance with reasonable accuracy by pacing,
you must first find the number of paces, (or steps, whichever you
prefer) is required to travel 100 m. over the type of county you will
be measuring.
First, measure a course of 100 m over ground typical of what
you will be walking. You can also measure a course of 50 m and
multiply by two. Don’t choose the smoothest or least vegetated
ground – take something that fairly represents the real terrain.
Walk the course counting your paces or steps. It is critical that
you take normal steps! Don’t try to stretch them to an even meter.
If you have walked out 100 m, walk and count it back again, and
average the two if there is a difference.
You now have the number of steps it takes you, and you alone, to
walk 100 m. If, now, your SAR Manager tells you to follow a
compass course for 400 m, you simply multiply your 100 m step
count by 4.
Odd distances are only slightly more complicated, but will probably
require a pencil and paper. If you need to measure, for example,
170 m, then you simply multiply your 100 m step count by 1.7. If
you need to measure 520 m, by 5.2, etc.
Using the Hip Chain An excellent tool that is coming into increasing use in SAR is the hip
chain. It is a device used by resource agencies and prospectors to
measure distance and lay out lines on the ground. It is a plastic belt
case containing a spool of thin string and a measuring device that
registers as the string is paid out. The user simply ties the string at
this starting point, and can then read his counter at any time to
determine how far he has gone. This method is more exact than
pacing if a reasonably straight line can be maintained.
In the US, some teams have developed a technique of encircling a
high-probability search area with hip chain string. A helper follows
the hip chain carrier and attaches paper arrows to the string that
indicates the way out. If the search subject then runs into one of
these, he is guided out.
The hip chain is also excellent for laying out lines for a closed-grid
search, in place of flags. Biodegradable string is available and
should always be used, as it is quite difficult to pick up all the string
once laid.
Hip chains are not commonly carried by search teams at this point
because their cost – around $100 – but are extremely useful.
Obtaining hip chains would be a good target for SAR societies’ fund
raising events.
Graydon, Don, and Hanson, Kurt. 6th Edition, Mountaineering, The
Freedom of the Hills. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997.
Kjellstrom, Bjorn. Be Expert with Map & Compass. New York, NY:
MacMillan General Reference, 1994.
Seidman, David. The Essential Wilderness Navigator. Camden,
MD: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 1995.
Declination calculation:
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is the difference between grid north, true north and
magnetic north? Which ones are used in SAR?
2. Why are declination adjustable compasses used in SAR?
3. Is the declination adjustment scale on your compass at the point
of the arrow or at the base of the arrow?
4. What are the two ways to aim the compass when taking a
bearing? Which is more accurate?
5. What can cause local magnetic attraction?
Answer True or False to the following statements.
6. Back bearings are 90° from the bearing.
7. True north and its associated bearings will be used exclusively
in SAR.
8. It is important to keep the compass level while taking a bearing.
9. Back bearings can be used to prevent lateral drift.
10. Declination is a constant, over time, in any given area.
Chapter 7 - Map and Compass
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Orient a map to terrain using a compass.
• Use a compass to determine the bearing to be followed between
two points on a map.
• Given the bearing, use a compass to plot the direction on a
• Use triangulation to fix one’s position on a map.
• Use a single bearing and another reference to fix one’s position
on a map.
• Use a map to select a suitable route for travelling between two
• Follow a simple course of less than 2 km in the field that has
been plotted on a map.
• Use an altimeter in conjunction with map and compass for fixing
• Review GPS navigation systems.
• Identify the benefits and drawbacks in using GPS for navigation.
• Demonstrate travelling skills used for his/her environment such as:
- Trails
- Bush
- Talus/scree
- Snow
• Define technical versus non-technical terrain and identify the
limitations of Ground Search Team members.
Orienting a Map with
a Compass
While navigating on a search it is recommended that the map be
oriented to the terrain so you can identify visible landmarks, find
your position and plan your route. Orienting a map is turning the
map so that the north on the map is located north in the landscape.
There is two ways to do this:
1. One way is look at your surroundings and identify known
features such as mountains, roads, rivers and valleys. Then
turn the map until the known feature on the map is lined up with
actual surroundings. You have now oriented the map by
2. A simpler way is to orient the map with a compass. First make
sure that your compass is adjusted for magnetic declination then
set the compass at 360°. Place it on the map with the meridian
lines on the compass lined up with the North-South grid lines on
the map. Now turn the map and compass together until the red
end of magnetic needle is in the red end of the orienting arrow.
The map is now oriented with the terrain by using a compass.
Finding a Bearing
on a Map
In the next procedure – finding a bearing on a map – the
magnetic needle will not be used.
If the searcher wishes to know what bearing he must follow on the
ground to get from point A to point B on a map, the following
procedure is followed:
The long edge of the compass (either one) is placed along the line
joining A and B with the sighting line (mirror end) towards B.
Exactly where on this line the compass is placed does not matter.
Holding the compass in this position the compass housing is turned
until the meridian lines on the base of the inside of the housing are
aligned with the North-South grid lines on the map with the orienting
arrow towards the North.
The position of the magnetic needle does not matter – it has
nothing to do with this procedure. The reading on the compass
housing at the index pointer will be the bearing to follow in going
from A to B. Figure 7.1 illustrates the arrangement of the compass
when set to read a bearing from a map. In this case, to go from A to
B would require following a bearing of 135°.
One edge of the compass base has a centimetre scale impressed
on it and provided that the points are not too far apart, this scale can
be used to determine distance from A to B using the procedures
discussed in the chapter on maps.
Figure 7.1: Arrangement of a compass to determine the
bearing required for travelling from Point A to Point B
The things you must remember are:
• The sight line (mirror end) must be towards the
• The meridian lines must be aligned with the grid
• North on the compass housing must be oriented
to Grid North on the map. If it is pointing to the
bottom of the map your bearing will be off by
• The position of the magnetic needle does not
• Before going to use this bearing in the field the
declination has to be set for the map being used.
Plotting a Bearing
on a Map
If the position of a point on the map is known and the bearing from
that point to an unplotted point is also known, the searcher may
mark this direction on the map using a procedure similar to the one
just described.
The compass housing is first adjusted to the desired bearing. It is
then placed on the map with one long edge just touching the known
point near the end of the compass opposite to the mirror. Keeping
this known point on the edge of the compass, the base is rotated
around the point until the meridian lines are parallel to the NorthSouth grid lines with north on the compass housing pointing to Grid
North. Again, the magnetic compass needle position does not
A line drawn along the edge of the compass in the direction of the
direction-of-travel arrow will give the desired direction. If the
distance to the unknown point is also known, the unknown point
may now be plotted on the map. This procedure is illustrated in
Figure 7.2. In this case, the bearing from point A to a second point
is known to be 230o. The compass is adjusted to 230°, then placed
on the map and rotated around point A until the meridian lines are
parallel to the grid lines.
Figure 7.2a: Using a Compass to Plot a Bearing of 230 o from a
Fixed Point (original compass position). Position of compass
needle does not matter.
Figure 7.2b Finished compass position for plotting a bearing
of 230 o. Meridian lines are parallel to gridlines. Position of
compass needle does not matter.
Triangulation: How
to Find Your
While out on a search you may want to know where you are on the
map. A technique called triangulation (also called resection) is used
to determine this position. To use this technique you have to be
able to spot two distant landmarks that can be positively identified
on your map. As this is not always possible to do (e.g. in cloudy
weather, or treed flat terrain with no identifiable landmarks) the
technique has some limitations.
The most frequently used landmarks are mountain peaks, but such
man-made features as bridges, tall chimneys or prominent buildings
are commonly used. Also used are small islands, the end of
peninsulas, sharp ends of lakes, or any precise point that is
identifiable, clearly seen and which appears on the map. To
Triangulation • Sight on the landmark and determine its back bearing by
aligning the white end of the compass needle over the orienting
arrow instead of the normal red end. This will be the bearing
from the landmark to your position as if you were standing on
the landmark.
• Plot (draw) the bearing from the sighted landmark onto the map,
just as if you were standing on the landmark and plotting a line
of travel on that bearing.
• Do the same for the second landmark, plotting this line also.
Since you must be located on both lines, the point where they cross
will be your location. For maximum accuracy, the two known points
should be well separated, and preferably at something like right
angles to each other. The closer they are, the less accurate the
technique will be. Conversely, if they are at almost 180 degrees,
they will be less accurate.
Figure 7.3 illustrates this technique. From the searcher's position,
the back bearing to the hilltop at point A, grid co-ordinates 236 566,
is found to be 1460. The back bearing to a bridge at point B, grid
co-ordinates 278 564, is found to be 1920. These bearings from
points A and B are plotted on the map. Their intersection at point C
with grid co-ordinates 269 517 indicates the searcher's location.
Figure 7.3 Triangulation to Fix a Searcher’s Position (See text
for detail)
Line of Position Only one back bearing needs to be taken if an additional fact is
known. If, for example, the searcher is walking along a road, the
intersection of the back bearing with the road will define the
searcher's position. This is called a line of position since you must
be somewhere on the back bearing from the landmark and you are
defining your position using the additional fact (e.g. on the road).
This technique would apply equally to any other linear feature
marked on the map such as a stream, power line, railway line, or
lake shore along which the searcher is known to be located.
A special case of this situation arises when the searcher knows his
or her elevation as a result of using an altimeter. Altimeter use will
be discussed at the end of this chapter. As long as the searcher's
approximate location is known, his or her position can then be
established along a particular contour line. Figures 7.4 and 7.5
illustrate these forms of position fixing.
In Figure 7.4, the searcher is somewhere along the creek marked
on the map. The back bearing to the mountaintop is found to be
1230. By plotting this bearing from the mountaintop on the map, the
searcher's location is fixed at S.
Figure 7.4 Fixing Location using a Known Travel Aid (Creek)
and Back Bearing to a Known Point (Mountaintop)
In Figure 7.5, the searcher's altimeter indicates an altitude of 960 m.
The back bearing to the tall chimney near the railway line is found to
be 2780. By plotting this bearing from the chimney on the map and
finding its intersection with the 960 m contour, the searcher's
location is fixed at S.
Figure 7.5 Fixing Location using a Known Elevation and Back
Bearing to a Prominent Object (Chimney)
In theory, these techniques require finding the point of intersection
of only two lines. Greater confidence in position location can be
achieved by using a third line if at all possible. If the three lines
intersect, or come very close to intersecting at one point, this
position is almost certainly the correct one. It is quite unusual for
your compass work to be so precise that all three lines intersect
perfectly. Significant differences between the points of intersection
will require that you repeat your plotting with more care.
Triangulation to
Locate a Signal
Triangulation can also be used to fix the location of a signal (e.g.
smoke, reflector, or sound). From your known position on the map
take a bearing on the signal. Plot this bearing on the map and move
to another known location and take another bearing on the signal or
have a second team take a bearing on the signal from another
known location. Plot this second bearing on the map and where the
bearing lines cross gives a rough location of the signal. This will
only work if the signal can be seen or heard from the two locations.
Route Finding
A situation may arise in a search where a search team is asked to
get to a particular point as fast as possible. Discovery of a new clue
may have necessitated a change of tactics, or the victim may have
been found injured and assistance may be required with
transportation. Assuming the search team knows their present
location, their fastest route to the point requested will not
necessarily be a straight line. If the terrain is uncomplicated and the
distance relatively short; straight line navigation is probably best, but
this situation will not always be the case.
The topographic map should alert the searcher to any obvious
barriers or hazards on the straight line route. If these are
significant, an indirect approach involving other navigational
techniques must be employed.
Certainly, choosing a route on which the slope is acceptable, and on
which excessive alternating descending and ascending does not
occur, is a very important consideration. As such a route may be
quite circuitous, distance measurement is likely to be quite difficult.
As a result, the searcher should first aim to get to a point that is
fairly close to the required point and which can be reached and
identified relatively easily. Once at this intermediate point, straight
line navigation may be used to get to the desired destination. The
more changes of direction, the greater the chance of error.
Figure 7.6 illustrates such a procedure. A search team at point A,
grid co-ordinates 171 808, receives word that an aircraft has spotted
what could be the wreckage of a missing plane in fairly dense forest
at point B, grid co-ordinates 202 766. The SAR Manager wishes
them to get to point B as quickly as possible. The straight line path,
marked -----, is impractical for two reasons. A very steep hill
immediately in front of the search team could prove quite
dangerous, and the river running down the middle of the map is
impossible to cross without a bridge. A good route might be the line
marked ACDB. The team would descend from the hill to the road
somewhere near C, using the gradually sloping spur on the hill's
eastern flank. It would then follow the road to where it crosses the
river on a bridge at D. At this point, it could be established that the
desired point would be found on a bearing of 0960 at a distance to
be determined from the map scale. Straight line navigation could
then be used.
Figure 7.6 Choosing the Fastest Route from A to B. (See text
for details)
The increasingly popular sport of “Orienteering” uses these same
skills although usually on a smaller scale. Orienteering races
involve finding a series of markers which have been placed at
specified locations on a relatively large scale (typically 1:10 000)
map, and getting to each of the markers as quickly as possible. The
navigational skills required in orienteering are very similar to those
in SAR. SAR group team members are encouraged to participate in
orienteering activities going on in their area. There are few better
ways to polish map and compass skills.
Altimeters As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the effective use of map and
compass in some areas can be enhanced through the use of an
altimeter. An altimeter is a modified barometer that measures
altitude. Atmospheric pressure decreases with higher altitude and
an altimeter measures the atmospheric pressure but displays the
reading in units of altitude. By using an altimeter to determine your
altitude and thus which map contour you are on, you may take a
bearing on a known point and plot a single line of position on your
map. Your position is where the line crosses the contour.
In times of poor visibility, an altimeter can be used to determine
when a searcher has reached a particular point on a road, trail, or
other travel aid. The position will be found where the contour line
for that elevation crosses the trail on the map.
As atmospheric pressure varies with weather conditions as well as
altitude, an altimeter must be set frequently for it to operate
properly. It should be set at a known elevation before beginning a
search, and then be checked and reset if necessary at any known
elevations along the search route. If the altimeter reading increases
significantly when the searcher knows no significant increase in
elevation has occurred, falling atmospheric pressure is indicated
which is usually a sign of deteriorating weather conditions.
Altimeters are available from most suppliers of outdoor recreational
equipment. The cost can vary from $50 or less for the least
expensive models to several hundred dollars for the most reliable
ones. Moderately priced wristwatches are now available with builtin altimeter/barometer modes, which will read in either feet or
meters. It is a great help for mountain search teams to have several
altimeters in the party.
Global Positioning
System (GPS)
GPS receivers allow for quick and accurate identification of one’s
position based on information the unit receives from GPS satellites.
These satellites transmit their position and timing information to the
receivers. The receivers use this information to triangulate the
receiver’s location in latitude and longitude. Some GPS receivers
can readily toggle between lat/long and UTM grid co-ordinates. The
receiver needs to obtain a signal from three satellites to pinpoint a
position. Obtaining a signal from a fourth satellite provides more
accuracy as well as the elevation of the position. The GPS
receivers have a potential accuracy of locating a position within 15
meters however the U.S. Department of Defence introduce
selective availability which lowers the accuracy to within 100 m.
This is often accurate enough for most SAR requirements.
One of the benefits of using GPS receivers in SAR tasks is to
pinpoint positions when traditional navigational techniques (such as
triangulation with a magnetic compass) cannot be performed.
Examples of situations in which this would be useful are: finding a
injured subject at night and transmitting the location to base,
describing the position of a potential clue in a whiteout and noting its
position for future reference, or informing the SAR Manager exactly
where the search teams are located in terrain in which traditional
triangulation will not work (eg. pine forest with no identifiable
In addition to pinpointing your position, GPS receivers can also be
used to guide you to your destination. An example of how this could
be of benefit to a SAR Group would be in guiding evacuation teams
to the location of a found subject. Once the subjects’ position is
known the co-ordinates could be given to the evacuation team and
entered into the GPS receiver. The receiver can then tell you the
compass bearing, distance and once you start moving the speed at
which you are travelling. A topographic map is still necessary to
indicate hazards along the route.
There are some disadvantages in depending solely on the use of
GPS receivers for navigation. The receivers do not work well under
heavy forest cover especially if it is wet or covered in snow, or if
used in deep valleys or gullies. In these conditions, the receivers
have difficulty picking up satellite signals and without the data from
three satellites, a location cannot be given. In addition, GPS
receivers can be damaged if dropped, do not work well at low
temperatures and the batteries can go dead. The elevation
information from a GPS is so inaccurate as to make the readings
useless. An altimeter has to be used if accurate elevation readings
are required. Also, unlike altimeters, GPS receivers cannot give the
barometric pressure which can be used to determine weather
GPS receivers definitely have some advantages that can be of
benefit to SAR teams but in no way should they replace
traditional map and compass work for wilderness navigation.
GPS and UTM Grid GPS receivers can display your location as UTM Grid Coordinates.
However, the number they display will not be the 6 figure grid
coordinate that are commonly used by SAR Groups.
For example, the grid coordinates from a GPS receiver for the end
of the logging road on Taite Creek (Figure 7.7) would be:
11U 0431125
The key is to know which figures to use to make the 6 digit grid
Figure 7.7 A UTM Grid Coordinate for the end of the road up
Taite Creek from a GPS Receiver would be:
11U 0431125
To begin, the 11U refers to the map’s grid zone. The grid zone for a
map appears on the margin of the map (Figure 7.8).
Figure 7.8 Grid Zone Designation as it appears on the margin
of a 1:50 000 map
The number on the top line after the grid zone designation is the
easting coordinate while the lower number is the northing
The easting coordinate (0431125) gives the east position down to
the meter (remember GPS receivers are only accurate to within
100m due to selective availability). If you look in the corner of the
map the full starting easting coordinate is given. In our example it is
429000 (Figure 7.6). Note that the 0 at the beginning of the easting
coordinate is not put on the map. The larger 29 numbers indicate
the grid line number for the grid line situated directly above the full
number (429000). Therefore, as the end of the road is over from the
31 grid line, the 3 digit easting coordinate for the end of the road is
The northing coordinate (5515400) is figured out in the same
manner as for the easting coordinate. In this case the starting grid
number for the map is 5512000 with the larger 12 indicating the grid
line next to this number. As the end of the road is above the 15 line
the 3 digit northing coordinate is 154.
To summarize, a reading from the GPS receiver of:
11U 0431125
becomes 311 154 in a six digit grid coordinate.
The conversion to a 6 digit coordinate can be easily done in the field
by dropping the first two and the last two numbers off both the
easting and the northing numbers.
Travel Skills While conducting a search you may experience terrain that normally
you would not think of travelling through. Terrain such as heavy
brush, steep gullies, and swamps pose challenges to the searcher.
Even on a relatively flat trail there are things that should be
considered while travelling.
One thing to think about is your pace. On a SAR task with the
adrenaline flowing through your body you tend to walk faster than
you should. Remember, you may be walking for hours and you
don’t want to burn yourself out too soon. A moderate pace (not too
slow) with short rest stops is the most efficient way to travel. Adjust
your pace for the terrain. When travelling as a group, the pace
should be adjusted for the slowest person, making sure no one falls
behind. Putting the slowest person at the front of the group can set
the pace and encourage the slow person to hike at a slightly faster
pace. Ten minutes into the hike is a good time for an initial rest to
adjust equipment and clothing. After that, a 5 minute rest every 1
hour to 1.5 hours should be sufficient.
Trails Often a hasty search of trails is one of the first things to be done on
a search. The search teams are sent along the trails to look for
clues. Knowledge of the trails to be followed is a definite asset as
more time can be spent looking for clues and less time spent
looking for the trail. This trail knowledge is even more helpful at
night when the trails are harder to follow. Time spent hiking and
learning the local trails is an invaluable exercise.
If you are sent to search an unfamiliar trail and the objective is to
follow the trail for a specific distance, make sure that you do not lose
the trail. If you happen to find that you have lost the trail, stop, keep
one person at the last position and have another person walk back
and look for where the trail turned off. Keep within voice contact
and if you have to work your way back to where the trail turned off,
work as a group. Do not become separated.
Brush can be encountered in two different circumstances in SAR
tasks. One is that searchers have to travel through the brush to the
search area and the other is that a brushy area has to be searched.
If you are just travelling through the brush it is best to try and avoid
it. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when avoiding brush.
Travel on trails or roads even if the distance is longer. Travel in tall
timber as there is less brush under the trees. Travel on ridges,
straight up creekbeds, travel on snow, scree or talus or travel on
game trails.
If you are required to search brush then you will have to go straight
through it. Often by the time the dense bush is being searched all
other high probability areas have been searched. Searching
through dense bush is a slow difficult process. When searching
through dense brush these suggestions might be helpful.
• Wear gloves especially for searching in areas of brambles or
Devil’s Club.
• Wear clear goggles to protect your eyes from being whipped by
branches (this is especially important if searching brush at night
when the branches cannot be seen).
• Make sure you see where you are placing your feet as there can
be holes, water or even cliffs under the brush which cannot be
• Make sure any loose equipment is securely attached to your
body. There have been instances of pagers, radios and other
types of equipment being knocked off in the bush that then
required finding.
• Follow a compass bearing as it is very easy to lose your
direction in the bush.
Talus and Scree Often when searching in mountainous areas the searchers will
come across talus or scree slopes. As mentioned earlier these
slopes can provide brush free paths up mountains but they can also
be quite dangerous if not stable. Talus or scree slopes often are in
gullies or are at the bottom of cliffs. Talus is composed of rocks that
are large enough to step on individually. While travelling up a talus
slope it is important not to dislodge large rocks or rock avalanches
onto yourself or onto other members of your search team. Keep
close together when travelling as a group so no rocks gain
momentum if they become dislodged.
Scree slopes are made up of small pebbles and rocks and are a
couple centimetres in width. The size of rocks is usually quite
uniform in scree with the rocks moving around your feet if stepped
on. Movement of the rocks can make uphill progress on scree
slopes very tiresome. Avoid hiking up scree slopes if at all possible.
During downward descent use the movement of the rocks to help
you descend. Again, if travelling as a group stay close together and
try to avoid damaging vegetation on the slope, slope sides or
When crossing scree or talus slopes on trails it is important to locate
where the trail leaves the slope and heads back into the woods.
This is especially important at night. Many hours have been spent
looking for trails on the edges of talus and scree slopes.
Snow and Glaciers
Snow is often encountered on searches in BC. Snow can make
travel easier or it can make it difficult and dangerous. In soft snow
other equipment such as skis or snowshoes are required to travel
effectively. Their use will not be covered in this manual. Some of
the hazards include cold, winds, avalanches, breaking through snow
bridges across creeks, tree wells and crevasses on glaciers.
Glacier travel requires special techniques which are beyond the
scope of this manual.
Technical versus
You are on technical terrain when special equipment or special
techniques are required to move across an area. Examples of
technical terrain include glaciers; mountains that require lead
climbing; class 4 scrambling or repelling; swiftwater; caving; diving;
and flat ice crossings.
It is important for SAR volunteers to know their limitations and that
going into technical terrain requires more instruction and practice
than is provided in the GSAR course.
Graydon, Don, and Hanson, Kurt. 6th Edition, Mountaineering, The
Freedom of the Hills. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997.
Kjellstrom, Bjorn. Be Expert with Map & Compass. New York, NY:
MacMillan General Reference, 1994.
Seidman, David. The Essential Wilderness Navigator. Camden,
MD: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 1995.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. Use Figure 7.7 to
answer the questions. The answers to these questions are located
at the end of the manual.
1. What is the bearing looking from Pyramid Mountain to the Opal
Cone? What is the back bearing?
2. You are in the Valley of Skookum Creek. Base wants to know
what your location is. You take two bearings. The bearing on
the east Gargoyle is 291° and the bearing on Pyramid Mountain
is 32°. What is the UTM grid reference of your location?
3. You are on the trail by Elfin Lakes. You take a bearing on
Pyramid Mountain and find that it is 67°. What is the latitude
and longitude and the grid reference of your position?
4. What is one area of technical terrain on the map provided.
Figure 7.9 Map and Compass Exercise
Chapter 8 - Survival Skills
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe how a survival situation may be encountered on a SAR
• Summarize some of the psychological problems associated with
being in a survival situation.
• Explain ways how fear can be controlled.
• Define the “ Will to Live”.
• Explain how the survival situation plan “STOP” - Stop, Think,
Observe, Plan can be used in a survival situation.
• Manage your energy budget when in a survival situation.
• Describe how the human body loses heat: by
a) Radiation
b) Conduction
c) Convection
d) Evaporation
• Discuss the prevention of hypothermia.
• Discuss the prevention of hyperthermia.
• Describe the function of each of the following layers of clothing:
a) Underwear Layer
b) Insulation Layer
c) Shell Layer
• Describe different types of outdoor footwear.
• Describe the importance of an adequate pack for SAR.
• Construct a 24-hour ready pack.
• Build, light and maintain a fire.
• Build a simple shelter.
• Perform different signal techniques for maximum visibility.
• Explain the physical needs for food and water.
• Identify possible sources of food and water when in survival
• Explain the reasons for and describe methods of water
• Describe correct procedures for personal waste disposal (how to
shit in the woods).
• Defend the rule of staying put when lost and justify when
travelling would be acceptable.
• Describe procedures for dealing with bears, cougars, and
• Discuss techniques for dealing with insects, ticks, rabies and
• Demonstrate acceptable survival techniques in a supervised
overnight exercise.
Introduction An individual will not be prepared to participate in a wilderness
search unless they are able to cope with at least some of the
situations facing a missing person. In particular, the searcher
should be able to stay in the wilderness for several nights should he
or she become lost, injured or otherwise stranded. Knowledge of
survival skills is essential for a person trained in GSAR.
Preparation and experience are vital keys to your survival. By
having the right equipment and practicing under varied conditions
on a regular basis you will be able to gain some of the essential
experience that you or your team will need in a real life situation.
Preparation and practice will give you confidence and a
psychological boost when you need it most.
You can read every survival book but it is not until you get “out
there” that you will realize the full impact of a survival situation.
Practice is the key. Someone once said “He who dies with the most
toys wins” however it should be noted that person still died. Having
all the gadgets and survival toys in the world will not help if you do
not know how to use them or have only used them in a sterile
environment. You may be in serious trouble when you are put to
the test.
Statistics point out that a majority of lost people are found going
downhill in a streambed. Have you ever thought of going into a
stream drainage area when there is a foot of snow on the ground,
during a rainstorm, in the dark, with a wind blowing and practiced
starting a fire or building an emergency shelter? This is not an
unrealistic situation. Could you survive?
Remember PEP=Survival.
Practice + Experience + Preparation = Survival. Practice to gain
experience and being properly prepared will make all the difference
in your survivability.
The intention in this chapter is not to provide a complete treatment
of all aspects of wilderness survival but rather to provide a brief
summary of basic information relevant to a searcher when in a
survival situation.
Survival Psychology One important way of preparing for a survival situation is to simply
anticipate it and know the types of personal reactions that may
occur. Knowing what to expect can help to reduce the deleterious
effects of some of these reactions.
Fear leading to panic, anxiety, shame and despair need no further
description here. More importantly are the weapons that can be
used to combat these emotions. These weapons include:
• Fear
• Knowledge and Experience
• Concentration
• Confidence in SAR
• The Will to Live (Positive Mental Attitude)
Fear Fear itself can become a survival weapon if this powerful stimulus is
controlled and channelled. It is not always the physically strong or
happy-go-lucky person who most effectively handles fear. Timid or
anxious persons may be the ones who respond well under stress
resulting in a better chance of survival.
“No fear” often means “No brains” in a survival situation. It is OK to
have a healthy respect and awareness of the seriousness and
challenges of a situation. Controlled fear is controlled energy. Do
not exaggerate the urgency of your situation but do not
underestimate it either.
Knowledge and
Knowledge and experience are extremely effective weapons.
Knowing what to do to survive, how to facilitate a rescue and how to
make life more liveable in the meantime cannot help but reduce fear
and anxiety. Having confidence in one's own ability and equipment
is vital.
Other weapons include concentration and confidence in the SAR
Team. Concentrate on the job to be done without allowing one's
mind to wander and visualize the worst. Have confidence in the
SAR team, knowing that they are skilled and will do their utmost to
remedy the situation as soon as possible.
Will to Live The most important weapon of all in a severe survival situation is
the will to live. This quality is impossible to explain, difficult to
develop and varies from one person to another. It is why some
people have survived for long periods of time in seemingly
impossible situations, while others have perished in a relatively
short time in survivable circumstances.
Enemies of Survival The psychological problems discussed earlier can be exacerbated
as time passes by other enemies of survival. Survival enemies
• Pain
• Cold
• Heat
• Thirst
• Hunger
• Fatigue
• Boredom and Loneliness
• Insects
• Predatory Animals
Pain can weaken the will to survive and can easily get the best of a
person if it is allowed to do so. Knowledge and application of
appropriate first aid is a good defence against pain as well as a
positively occupied mind. Making special efforts to keep working
and keep up hope are important ways of reducing the effects of
Cold numbs the body, the mind and the will to survive. Cold can
cause the desire for warmth and sleep and displaces the main goal
of survival. Cold may be overcome by keeping physically busy and
by lighting a fire and building a shelter.
Heat can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat can be
overcome by resting during the hottest part of the day, staying out of
the sun and getting enough fluids into your body.
Thirst, even when not extreme, can dull the mind and under no
circumstances should a person be deprived of water unnecessarily.
A strong will to survive can diminish the negative effects of thirst.
Hunger lowers the physical, and sometimes the mental, efficiency
of the body. Thirst and hunger increase a person's susceptibility to
the weakening effects of cold, pain and fear. Carrying survival
rations is one way to reduce the effects of hunger in the short term.
Fatigue, in even a small amount, can reduce mental ability causing
one to easily adopt the feeling of just not caring, leading to
dangerous behaviour such as the reckless use of tools. Avoiding
unnecessary exertion and maintaining a good mental attitude can
delay the onset of fatigue.
Boredom and loneliness are two other tough enemies of survival.
Once again maintaining a good mental attitude and keeping active
are the best antidotes.
Insects may be extremely annoying and cause morale to drop.
Protection with nets, smoke, or insect repellent can help in this
respect. On many summer survival courses insects are the biggest
Predatory Animals
Problems with predatory animals are very unusual but fire can help
keep them away.
With all these enemies the most important thing is being able to
recognize when they are occurring.
“STOP” One way to deal with the mental problems in a survival situation is
to STOP (Stop/Think/ Observe/Plan).
If you find yourself in an emergency or survival situation the first
thing to do is to STOP moving. Rushing around can increase
anxiety and will make you more confused. In this state, decisions
are made with no forethought and actions do not follow a logical
plan. Once you have stopped moving you can THINK about the
actions that can be done to improve your chances of survival. While
you are thinking you can look around and OBSERVE your situation.
Look for immediate hazards or resources you can work with. Finally
after thinking and observing you can PLAN your actions in a
deliberate practical manner.
Energy Budget It is also important to remember that in a true survival situation there
is an energy budget. Every action, such as travelling, shelter
building or gathering food, uses up energy reserves and these
reserves are limited. Therefore, before an action is carried out it
should be decided that the benefits of that action outweigh the
disadvantage of the energy loss.
Survival Qualities Weather, terrain and the nature of an emergency have important
effects on survivability, but even more important can be the qualities
of the person trying to survive. A list of the desirable qualities
1. Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst
2. Decisive
3. Can improvise
4. Can live with himself/herself and with others
5. Is patient
6. Can adapt to situation
7. Can control his/her fears
8. Can remain cool, calm and collected
9. Can endure setbacks without being discouraged
10. Is mentally and physically prepared
11. Knows the survival pattern and uses it.
When a GSAR member responds to a call there is always the
chance that it will turn into an overnight or a longer stay in the
wilderness. The GSAR member should be hoping for the best but
prepared for the worst. This means on every call the GSAR
member should be carrying the appropriate equipment. This
equipment includes the clothing you wear and the 24 hour ready
pack which you carry.
Equipment and
Each of us is a heat producing organism that depends upon clothing
and shelter for protection from temperature extremes. Our bodies
have to be protected from losing too much heat (hypothermia) and
from gaining too much heat (hyperthermia).
Hypothermia Hypothermia is a drop in the core body temperature to a level at
which normal muscular and mental functions are impaired. The first
symptoms of hypothermia are:
• Shivering
• Deterioration in mental functions (responses are slow or
• Stiff and clumsy fingers
More severe hypothermia includes
• More “umbles” Stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, grumbles
• Apathy
• Slurred speech, Confusion
• Shivering stops
• Incoherence, disorientation and irrationality
Prevention of hypothermia is simple while treatment is not. The
following discussion focuses on prevention and does not include
Hypothermia is one of the most frequent causes of death in the
mountains. It is just as prevalent in damp, moderately cool
environments as it is in cold environments. Knowledge of how heat
is lost from the body will be helpful in preventing hypothermia.
Heat is lost from our bodies in 4 ways: conduction, radiation,
convection, and evaporation. Conduction is the loss of body heat
through body contact with colder objects. This type of heat loss is
especially important when sitting or lying on the cold ground, ice or
snow. It is therefore important to insulate your body from the cold
ground with an insulating material such as a closed foam pad or
more commonly in SAR operations your pack and extra gear. In
addition, when clothing gets wet it conducts heat away from your
body 25 times more quickly than dry clothing. Avoidance of getting
wet and putting on dry clothing is critical in prevention of
Radiation is the loss of body heat as the body emits infrared
radiation from exposed area of skin. An exposed head can radiate
up to 50% of the bodies heat loss. Wearing a hat can prevent most
of this loss.
Convection is the loss of body heat as air currents replace the warm
air next to our body with colder air. The body then heats the colder
air losing that heat. Getting out of the wind and wearing clothing
that prevents air movement around the body are ways to prevent
convection heat loss.
Heat is lost from the evaporation of water either through perspiration
or through respiration. Most of the heat loss is through perspiration
with a minor amount of heat loss occurring because of respiration.
Perspiration into clothing should be avoided as once the clothing is
wet it loses its’ ability to prevent heat loss. If heading up the trail
remove extra clothes early to prevent them from getting wet. Once
you have stopped remove any wet clothes and put on your
extra clothing before you feel chilled.
Hyperthermia On hot days hyperthermia (heat exhaustion leading to heat stroke)
has to be prevented by wearing loose fitting light coloured clothing
and remembering to shade the head and the back of the neck. In
extremely hot environments exercise should be limited and resting
during the hottest part of the day may be appropriate. This is
especially important in people who have not acclimatized to the hot
Proper fluid intake is extremely important in the prevention of
hyperthermia with most people not drinking enough fluids. Forcing
yourself to drink more liquids than you think you need is necessary
for proper hydration.
Clothing Every individual’s metabolism is different as is everyone's tolerance
and comfort levels. For this reason, the best way to regulate body
temperature is with the layer system. With this, a number of easy
on/off layers of clothing are used rather than one large and heavy
garment. The layers are treated as:
The Underwear
While the underwear layer provides some insulation, its primary
function is to control moisture next to the skin. Keeping the clothes
next to your skin dry is the key to staying warm.
Rather than absorbing moisture like the natural fibres, polyesters
and polypropylene work by repelling water away from the skin
surface. To function properly it must be thin and in close contact
with the skin surface. In some products, a small percentage of
Lycra has been added to maintain a close fit.
Insulation (clothing)
This layer should offer insulation while absorbing and transferring
outwards the moisture passed from the underwear layer beneath.
The trapped air in the clothing layer provides the insulation. It
should fit comfortably, not too tight, and dry quickly. A variety of
zippers offer alternative methods of ventilation to prevent moisture
build-up without actually removing the entire garment.
With very little exception, thickness means warmth. However,
wearing many thin layers offers more warmth than one thick layer.
By varying the selection of materials in this layer and using a
number of garments in the layer, a variety of temperatures can be
accommodated. Materials in this layer include wool, fleece, pile and
occasionally down.
Wool Wool is warm when wet and does not wick moisture. Wool will
absorb 30% of its’ weight in water and still retain heat. Wool should
not be washed too often as this removes the water repellent oils.
Polyester Polyester (fleece, pile) is a good insulator, remains warm when wet
but has relatively poor wind resistance. Some type of wind proof
outer layer is required for fleece or pile to be a useful insulator. In
addition, care has to be taken around fires as sparks will melt
polyester clothing. Wool is a better choice around fires as it is more
flame resistant.
Down Down has extremely good insulating properties and is a good choice
in very cold, dry conditions. However when it gets wet it is a very
poor insulator and it takes a long time to dry. Therefore it is not the
best choice when physically active or when there is a chance it will
get wet.
Cotton Cotton has no place in poor weather as it provides no insulation
when it gets wet. Cotton is suitable for warm or hot days as it is
very comfortable and provides protection from the sun. Alternate
clothing must be available in case the weather changes.
The Shell (outer)
The shell layer is what actually protects the wearer from wind, sun,
rain, snow etc. Waterproof materials can cause condensation under
the shell while protecting against outside moisture entry. Non
waterproof materials allow the wearer to get wet while allowing
inside moisture to escape.
A material providing as much waterproofness as possible while
allowing interior moisture to escape is the best compromise for an
exterior shell layer. Although the ratios between waterproofness
and breathability vary, some of these materials include; Goretex,
Sympatex, Quarpel, Stormshed etc. No material will keep the
wearer totally dry if vigorous activity is performed in wet conditions.
Ventilation has to be carefully managed to prevent the build up of
moisture from perspiration.
While a balance between waterproofness and breathability is critical
for high exertion work such as ascending mountain trails, a case
can be made for staying absolutely dry. Oftentimes searchers or
rescue personnel spend a long time out in the rain or snow not
moving very fast. Such assignments might include confinement
teams, lookouts or open grid searches through moderately dense
wet bush.
Instead of looking to high tech recreational equipment look to an
industrial supplier. What do forestry workers, public works and
fisheries workers wear under similar circumstances with similar
activity levels. They use neoprene, PVC or coated nylon raingear
not Gortex or Quarpel. Whatever type of waterproof clothing is
purchased it should fit loose to allow some venting.
Footwear The selection of appropriate footwear can vary depending on the
conditions. Leather hiking boots are good for searching through the
woods and alpine areas while plastic boots are more appropriate for
more technical conditions in snow and ice. Felt packs with rubber
bottom sections and leather uppers are the best for less technical
terrain in snowy, cold conditions. Rubber boots are a viable option
for searching through swampy areas where your feet will constantly
be in water.
Good quality hiking boots with leather uppers and vibram soles are
the best footwear for many situations in SAR, but must be looked
after properly, including regular waterproofing. If the boots do get
wet and need drying by a fire, great caution should be exercised.
The boots should be placed upright and should never be closer to
the fire than a position that is warm to the hand. They should be
turned periodically so they dry slowly. Under no circumstances
should they be left unattended.
If boots cannot be dried completely, wearing a dry pair of socks will
help. Felt packs have to be maintained properly as dirty leather or
synthetic uppers will allow snow to stick and the melt water to run
down into the boot. Cleaning and waterproofing will prevent this.
The combination of socks most commonly worn is a wool outer sock
with a synthetic liner sock against the skin. An extra pair of wool
socks should be carried in your pack and if the conditions are very
wet two pairs of dry socks should be carried.
Blisters Blistered feet can become a serious problem, even with boots that
fit well. "Moleskin" (or an equivalent product such as Kurotex), or
duct tape used at the first sign of a problem is an effective way of
controlling blisters.
Once a blister has started, moleskin should not be applied directly
onto the blister. The moleskin will pull the blister apart. An effective
way to deal with a blister is to cut a donut out of moleskin and place
it around the blister. Make sure the moleskin is thick enough to
prevent any pressure on the blister. If it is not thick enough add
another donut of moleskin to the first layer applied. Tape the
moleskin in place to prevent it from shifting.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc. Author: P. Simer, J. Sullivan Title: The National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Guide
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.1 Care of Blisters
Gaiters Gaiters are a useful accessory to keep excess water and debris out
of boots and are invaluable in snow and insect country. These are
especially useful in preventing ticks from getting onto your legs.
Head and Hands Since a large percentage of body heat loss can occur through the
head a hat, toque, hood, or balaclava is an important addition to
your pack. Hats also provide protection against heat in hot climates
and against sun exposure to the top of the head and face. A
bandanna can also be useful in protecting the head and neck from
the sun either by itself or in combination with a hat.
Mittens or gloves should be carried to protect the hands from the
effects of cold weather. Mittens keep the hands warmer than gloves
but gloves allow for more dexterity. A combination of gloves with
overmittens for very cold weather might provide the best attributes
of both.
Ready Pack Whenever a person participates in a wilderness search, he or she
should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 24 hours,
regardless of conditions. GSAR team members should keep a pack
loaded and ready to ensure the ability to respond to a call quickly.
Remember, that being prepared for a task in the summer will be
different than being prepared for a task in the winter.
Never travel without your pack. There is a tendency to get the
people into position using helicopters, snowmobiles or vehicles and
bring in the gear on a later trip. If the weather closes in and the
helicopter can’t fly, you may be in for an interesting night if you left
your pack behind.
It is imperative that all GSAR members have personal
equipment ready to go at all times. Keeping a ready pack “ready”
is often a struggle for SAR volunteers as their gear is used for other
activities besides SAR. However, once the pager goes off or the
call comes in, time should not be wasted hunting for gear.
Keeping in mind the procedures described in this chapter, the
following list of personal equipment is recommended for all people
involved in SAR and should be carried with them on any wilderness
• Plastic tarp or shelter (3 m x 4 m)
• Water proof clothing bag (2 large orange plastic garbage
Spare clothes:
• Wool or pile toque
• Wool or pile mitts
• Wool socks
• Wind and waterproof coat and pants
• Wool or pile coat
• Some additional clothing for the subject
• Fire starter (matches, lighter and candle)
• Food
• At least 1 L of water (2 L if there is no dependable water
source), water container and some way to purify the
• Pot with a lid
• Rope (15 m light nylon)
• Knife
• Declination adjustable compass
• Headlamp plus extra bulb and battery
• Pad and pencil
• Map
• Toilet paper
• Personal first aid
• Insect repellent
• Sunscreen
• Whistle
• Watch
• Sunglasses
Other useful items which could be included are:
• Folding saw
• Altimeter
• Emergency blankets
• Flagging tape
• Scissors
• 3-5 m light wire
• Clear eye protection for searching bush at night
• Sleeping bag
• Lightweight stove and fuel
• Pencil flares
• 2-12 hour light sticks
• Duct tape
• Food
• Semisweet chocolate
• Soup cubes
• Protein bars
• Hard sugar candy
• Booklet on wilderness survival
First Aid Equipment Recommended minimum basic supplies; to be contained in each
members kit in a small waterproof package:
• 10 cm x 5 cm pressure bandage
• (6) 10 cm x 10 cm gauze pads
• 7.5 cm x 5 m. "Kling" gauze roller bandage
• 2.5 cm adhesive tape
• (6) Elastoplast (recommended) bandaids
• latex gloves
• triangular bandage
• moleskin or equivalent product
• A piece of drinking straw and thread for tick removal,
small container for taking the tick to the local health unit.
• Pocket mask for artificial respiration or CPR
Any other items of personal need or desire may be added, e.g. sting
stop, ASA, allergy medication, etc.) Other items may also be
desirable depending on the circumstances of the search.
Survival Pattern Being prepared with the correct clothing and equipment on a SAR
task is the first step in surviving an emergency situation. Knowing
the survival pattern is also important in increasing the odds of
survival. The survival pattern is the order in which the necessities
of life are acquired. The pattern is:
1. First Aid
2. Fire
3. Shelter
4. Signals
5. Water
6. Food
The following sections will discuss the methods of instituting the
survival pattern. First Aid will not be discussed, but in no way should
this omission minimize the importance of First Aid as the first step in
the survival pattern.
It must be added that the order of Fire and Shelter in the above
pattern does not meet with unanimous agreement among
experienced outdoors people. There is no question that
circumstances do exist where this order should be reversed. For
example, if it is raining heavily, finding shelter quickly is likely to be
much more beneficial than what may be futile efforts to start a fire.
In the discussion that follows, Fire will precede Shelter, but the need
to use common sense in determining the order is vital.
Improvisation In a survival situation the equipment may not be available to provide
for the necessities of life. This is where the ability to improvise and
adapt to conditions is extremely important. A lack of imagination
can directly impact your survivability. Being able to use whatever
equipment you have available along with what is available in the
local environment to provide for the necessities of life can make the
difference in a survival situation. Having a desire to live, focussing
on what has to be done, keeping an open mind about how things
can be done and using whatever is available are the keys to
survival. If you are with your search team (which you should be on
a SAR task) then discussing your survival options with your
teammates can open up new opportunities that no one had thought
of by themselves.
If you have only one hour of daylight left and you are forced to use
what mother nature has provided you are going to be very hard
pressed to gather enough fuel, build a fire and construct a suitable
shelter before dark sets in.
Fire Fire is a basic element of survival procedure no matter what time of
year. It is the difference between life and death in the winter. It can
be used for:
• Providing essential warmth,
• Drying clothing,
• Cooking food,
• Signalling,
• Melting snow or boiling unsafe water,
• Keeping animals away.
As important as any of these practical uses, is the boost given to
the morale of the person in distress when a good fire is obtained.
Before building a fire, it is important to find a suitable location. If the
fire is to be used in conjunction with a shelter, then the position
relative to the appropriate shelter site is vital. The location should
be sheltered from wind and what wind there is should not blow
smoke straight into the shelter.
If possible, the fire should be built on a mineral soil (sand-gravel)
base to prevent the fire spreading underground. If there is snow on
the ground, then it is best to dig down to solid ground, making sure
to clear a wide enough area to provide adequate ventilation for the
fire. If digging is not practical, then providing a base of green logs
will stop the melted snow from extinguishing the fire. Setting a fire
under trees is not recommended. There is a danger of setting the
tree on fire in all but the wettest times of year. If there is snow on
the branches, the heat from the fire may cause it to drop, burying
the fire, shelter and possibly the victim.
A supply of water or sand should be kept close to the site if there is
the remotest possibility of the fire starting to spread. The fire should
not be built in a depression. Heavy rainfall could result in water
accumulating and extinguishing the fire, as well as it being difficult to
push logs into the hot coals. The fire should be close enough to the
shelter to provide some warmth, but not so close as to risk setting
fire to it. A bank of big logs on the side of the fire opposite to the
shelter will help reflect heat into the shelter. However, the amount
of heat reflected back is minimal with the main advantage being that
the logs making up the reflector can be drying. If ringing the fire
with rocks, do not use porous rocks or rocks that have been in water
as there is a danger of a rock exploding when heated.
It is also useful to position you and your shelter between the fire and
a rock face. The rock face will radiate heat back keeping you
Figure 8.2 Fire Location
Provided that a suitable site for the fire has been chosen, successful
fire lighting has four requirements. The basic elements of lighting a
fire are:
1. Spark
2. Tinder
3. Fuel
4. Oxygen
The spark is needed to initiate the fire. Matches (preferably an
abundant supply of waterproof/windproof strike anywhere matches
stored in a sealed container) are the most likely spark source, but a
lighter, magnesium starter blocks, striker starter, or flint and steel
are also common and reliable sources. Other more exotic
techniques are described in books on survival training but these
other techniques take a lot of time, practice and energy to master.
When choosing matches there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Good matches are strike anywhere matches (may be difficult to
locate), the bad are waterproof, hurricane matches (they require a
striking surface that becomes unusable if wet) and the ugly are
paper matches (should not be used in SAR).
The spark is useless without tinder to ignite. Tinder must be dry,
fine and highly inflammable. Suitable material include:
1. Cotton fuzz (scraped from clothing)
2. Paper fuzz
3. Absorbent cotton (first aid kit)
4. Dead, dry grasses
5. Fine amounts of dry bark such as birch or cedar
6. Granulated pitch from stumps
7. Commercial fire starters or candles
8. Sections of used bicycle inner tubes
Most types of tinder readily absorb moisture so it is very important
to keep tinder in a dry place. Fuel for the fire is needed in large
amounts, and a good supply should be gathered before starting the
fire. Enough fuel should be collected to last the night as searching
for firewood at night is to be avoided. Collect 2 to 3 times more
wood than you think you need.
Kindling is the first fuel to be ignited by the tinder and it must be
small and dry. Dead wood that is still standing is the best source.
In very wet weather, the best place to look is the lower dead
branches of living evergreens. Tiny, brittle branches no thicker
than a pencil lead will nearly always burn well. Test for dryness on
pine trees by bending the branch, if it snaps it is dry, if it bends then
snaps it is partially dry and if it bends without snapping it is still wet.
Some wood should be split into kindling and feather sticks may be
made to improve the ease of ignition. Feather sticks are dry sticks
shaved on the sides in a fan shape. Kindling is replaced by more
substantial fuel once the fire is going. Softwoods are usually easier
to ignite but hard woods burn hotter. The final requirement for a fire
is oxygen. The fire must be well-ventilated to ensure an adequate
supply of oxygen.
To light the fire, the tinder should be arranged so the heat from it
rises through the maximum amount of kindling. Arranging the
kindling in a tepee shape over the tinder is best. As the kindling
begins to burn, the next larger sized pieces of fuel should be added
and so forth. Start with the driest wood available and use the
greener wood (or wet wood) after the fire is going. A common
mistake is to smother a new-lit fire by adding too much fuel too
soon. Other common problems are:
• Poor selection of tinder and fuel.
• Failure to shield match from wind.
• Lighting fire from downwind side.
Publisher: Survival Education Association Author: G. Fear Title: Surviving the unexpected Wilderness Emergency
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.3 Tepee Fire
While a strong wind can be a serious problem, a gentle wind will
improve ventilation and enhance combustion. Blowing gently into
the fire when starting it is another way of achieving a similar effect.
The need for a large supply of good firewood cannot be over
emphasized. Dry firewood may be easy to find in the middle of
summer however when it is raining or there is snow, it becomes
more difficult. Places to find dry wood include:
• Standing dead trees.
• The bottom side of trees that have fallen over but do not
touch the ground.
• Higher up a slope away from creeks that often have very
moist environments.
• Inside hollow tree stumps.
• Under rock overhangs.
• Within the exposed root systems of blown over conifer
trees (roots contain high amounts of pitch).
• Within slash piles.
• Within clumps of willow or maple brush where stems
have died or broken off and have become lodged
• By splitting firewood, the inside should still be dry.
• In deep snow, digging down to the base of a tree will
uncover dry wood.
Chopping logs into short pieces is a waste of energy so either feed
the end of a log into the fire until the whole log is consumed or put
the middle of the log onto the fire and burn it into two logs. Setting
aside adequate tinder and kindling for the next day and ensuring it
remains dry is absolutely vital. The most vital thing of all is making
sure the fire is out when leaving.
Shelter Building After necessary first aid has been applied and a fire has been
established, the third step in the survival pattern is providing a
shelter. A shelter is essential protection against the elements at all
times of the year. It also provides a place for drying and storing
equipment and firewood and together with the fire can make an
excellent signal for airborne searchers. Not to be underestimated, is
the psychological lift of having a "home". In extreme environments it
is also wise to carry some sort of extra equipment such as a bivi
shelter or tent. However, knowledge of building other types of
shelters is important.
A good shelter site will have a good supply of firewood and
building materials nearby. Also nearby should be a water
supply. For ease of spotting, an open area is most desirable, but if
protection from the elements makes this arrangement unsuitable,
there should be a clear area nearby for making signals. A campsite
in the trees is very hard to detect from the air. The proximity of food
resources should be considered but is not a high priority. There are
a number of situations to be avoided in selecting a shelter site. It
should not be:
• In the possible path of falling rocks, landslides or
• Under dead trees or large dead branches of living trees.
• In an area that could be flooded with a heavy rainfall.
• In swampy or tidal terrain.
Other factors include, having as level an area as possible, an area
where the base for a fire is suitable and considerations about the
strength and direction of the prevailing wind. In winter, protection
from the wind is desirable, but in summer the wind can assist in
keeping away flying insects. All other things being equal, a
pleasant view can be of psychological benefit.
A shelter should be kept small and dry with a minimum amount of
energy expended to build it.
Naturally Occurring
Do not overlook the use of naturally occurring shelters such as
caves, downed trees, large rock overhangs, debris piles or boles of
trees. If these are not available then there are many types of shelter
that can be constructed. Bush lean-to's, tepees, domed shelters,
snow caves, quincies, and igloos are but a few examples. A
complete treatment of the various arrangements is impossible in this
brief overview. The types of shelters discussed in this chapter
include a lean-to with a polyethylene roof, double lean-to, parachute
tepee, snow trench, tree wells and snow caves. Details of other
types will be found in books on wilderness survival.
Lean-to Shelter Construction of a plastic lean-to requires a sheet of polyethylene
about 3 m x 3.5 m (10 x 12 ft), a ball of strong string, a sharp knife
and preferably, a small saw. It is easiest if two trees, no more than
20 cm in diameter, can be found with a space of approximately
2.5 m between them. The location of these trees should be aligned
at 45° to the prevailing wind so the wind will not blow into the lean-to
but will provide ventilation for the fire and keep the smoke away.
Figure 8.3 illustrates the possible arrangements.
A lean-to without a fire is a cold shelter.
Figure 8.4 Lean-to Orientation
A ridgepole for lashing between the trees is the next requirement.
This pole should be 5-10 cm in diameter and long enough to project
slightly beyond each of the two trees selected earlier. It should be
lashed to the trees on the side opposite to the fire and should be
chest-high or less for a one-person lean-to and shoulder-high or
less for a two-person lean-to. Three or four roof poles are required.
These poles should be long enough to reach from the ground at the
back of the lean-to to as much as 1 m beyond the ridgepole. They
should slope at about a 45° angle. Figure 8.4 illustrates the general
arrangements of the frame of the lean-to.
Once the lean-to frame is complete, the plastic should be laid over
the roofpoles and securely fastened down. As the plastic can be
easily punctured it is important that the roofpoles be as smooth as
possible. Holes should not be made in the plastic for attachment
purposes. The ends of the plastic should be wrapped around logs
to hold the back and sides in place. Where strings must be
attached it is best to insert a small stone in the plastic and tie the
string securely around it.
The plastic should be kept taut to avoid pockets where water can
collect and to minimize flapping in the wind. It is desirable that the
plastic forms sides on the lean-to as well as a back in order to keep
in the heat from the fire and keep out the wind. Practising building a
shelter of this type is the best way to understand the problems
involved and how to overcome them.
Figure 8.5 Lean-to Frame
The floor of the lean-to should be covered with a thick bed of green
boughs from evergreens. A thick layer of larger branches should be
placed on the bottom and a second layer of smaller branches on
top. This bed of boughs serves three purposes:
• It insulates the occupant from the cold ground.
(Remember that heat loss from conduction to the ground
can be very significant).
• It makes it more comfortable for sleeping.
• In the event of hearing an aircraft it provides a quick
means of generating a lot of smoke through putting the
green boughs on the fire.
For environmental reasons, making the bed of green boughs should
only be done in a genuine emergency.
Two other modifications can increase the warmth in the shelter.
One is placing a space blanket between the roofpoles and the
plastic on the back of the lean-to so that the aluminum side faces
the fire. This arrangement will reflect more heat into the lean-to.
The other modification is to have the plastic overhang part way
down the front of the lean-to after it crosses the ridge pole. This will
trap more heat in the lean-to.
Double Lean-to A double lean-to is made by facing two simple lean-to together with
a space in-between for the fire. Special consideration should be
made for wind direction. The wind should be blowing down between
the shelters and not across them.
Parachute Tepee A parachute tepee can provide a quick, easy shelter to get out of the
rain. A parachute tepee is constructed by:
• Place a fist sized rock in the middle of your piece of plastic
• Wrap the rock with the plastic and tie with rope.
• Suspend the rock and plastic from a tree branch forming a
• Peg down the edges of the plastic.
• In windy or rainy conditions a doorway should not be cut
(Figure 8.5).
Figure 8.6 Parachute Tepee
Winter Conditions In winter conditions more protection from the elements may be
needed than the simple lean-to provides. To construct many of the
winter shelters a shovel is required and an ice saw may come in
handy. Remember to insulate the living area from the snow with
bark, boughs, limbs or equipment.
In an emergency situation the quickest shelter that provides the best
protection from the elements with the least energy expended in its’
construction should be used. For winter conditions this would be a
snow trench or tree-pit shelter.
Snow trench A narrow trench is dug that is 1-2 m deep and is as long and wide
as is needed to fit one or two people. It is either roofed with plastic
tarp or snow blocks. If a plastic tarp is used it should be sloped and
its’ edges weighted with snow (Figure 8.6). Be aware that heavy
snowfall can collapse the roof.
Publisher: The Mountaineers Author: D. Graydon, K. Hanson Title: 6th Edition – Mountaineering The Feedom of the Hills
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.7 Snow Trench using Plastic Tarp
If snow blocks are used for the roof they can be cut when removing
the snow for the trench or they can be quarried nearby. Once the
trench is dug make a ledge around the top edge of the trench. The
snow blocks are placed on top of the ledge and angled over the
trench forming an A-frame style roof. Fill the cracks with snow and
cover the windward end of the trench with another block (Figure
Publisher: The Mountaineers Author: D. Graydon, K. Hanson Title: 6th Edition – Mountaineering The Feedom of the Hills
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.8 Snow Trench Using Snow Blocks for a Roof.
Tree Well Shelter
(Tree-Pit Shelter)
If you are in a wooded area where there is deep snow, the area
around tree trunks already have spaces that can be enlarged into
shelters. Before starting, knock down any large accumulation of
snow sitting on branches that may fall onto your shelter. Dig around
the base of a tree and especially under spreading boughs that are
buried in the snow. If necessary roof the pit with snow blocks,
boughs or plastic. Insulate yourself from the snow.
Publisher: Survival Education Association Author: G. Fear Title: Surviving the unexpected Wilderness Emergency
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.9 Tree-Pit Shelter
Snow caves Snow caves take considerable more time to build than a snow
trench (up to 3 hours) and care must be taken not to get too wet
while building one.
To build a snow cave you dig into a snow bank or drift and hollow
out a cave. The entrance should be lower than the cave and a
ledge should be built inside the cave to sleep on. Push a hole
through the roof to allow for ventilation. Smooth the surface of the
roof so that water will run down the sides of the cave.
In an emergency situation it is better to dig a snow trench or build a
tree well shelter than expend the considerable energy building a
snow cave.
Publisher: The Mountaineers Author: D. Graydon, K. Hanson Title: 6th Edition – Mountaineering The Feedom of the Hills
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.10 Snow Cave The T-opening is an enlarged opening
for removing snow as you build the cave. The opening is
closed with blocks at the completion of snow cave
Signals With a fire established and a shelter built, the immediate prospects
for survival are greatly improved. The next step in the survival
pattern is to make sure searchers will know you are there.
Arrangements must be made so signals can be given and given
quickly when the opportunity arises.
As most search teams carry a radio, this method is most hopeful in
the short term. However, batteries will eventually run down so great
care must be exercised in conserving this limited resource.
Transmission uses much more energy than receiving. The
instructions for effective radio operation in the communications
chapter must be followed closely. Keeping batteries warm will
help maximize energy output.
Another common type of signal available to well-equipped searchers
is a pencil flare gun. Simple varieties do not propel the flare very
high so care should be taken to ensure it will clear the highest
trees in the area. Flare visibility will depend on atmospheric
conditions and the time of day. Flares are bound to be limited and
should only be used when there seems to be a high probability of
being sighted. SAR personnel having flares in their equipment
packs should make sure they are familiar with how to use them.
When buying refills for your pencil flares buy the correct flares for
the type of pencil flare gun that you have. Erma flares will not fit in
True Temper pencil flare guns.
Other types of signal must be improvised. The common
international distress signal is three of a kind, be it three fires,
three smokes, three shots, three whistle blasts or three of any
other type of signal.
Fires or smokes are most effective if placed in a triangular pattern
at least 30 m apart. Dark or black smoke is most effective in
winter and can be produced by burning pitch or rubber. White
smoke is more effective in summer and can be obtained by burning
green vegetation. In any case, some smoke is better than no
smoke. It should be remembered that the campfire itself is a signal
and is more effective if it can be kept burning all night. A light in the
shelter can make the shelter particularly visible at night.
Mirror Signaling The device responsible for more aircraft spottings than any other
type of signal is a mirror. The sighting mirror on a declination
adjustable type compass can be used for this purpose. The aim is
to reflect the sun onto the aircraft. Figure 8-10 illustrates one
technique for using a signal mirror.
The thumb of your right hand is held in line with the plane and your
right eye.
The mirror is held with your left hand in front of your left eye so that
your right eye can see the plane and the thumb of your right hand.
The mirror is adjusted so light reflected off mirror hits the thumbnail
of your right hand.
Inevitable shaking of mirror will cause some reflected light to hit
Figure 8.11 Signalling Aircraft with a Mirror
Ground to Air signals can be constructed in an open area using
whatever materials are available. These signals, given in Table
8-11 should be as large as possible (7-10 m high) and offer the
maximum contrast with the background. The lines should run in a
NE-SW or NW-SE direction to catch the maximum sun shadow.
Carrying code cards is strongly recommended but the main
symbols to remember are the V and the X.
Table 8.1 Ground to Air Emergency Code
In summary, the length of time spent in a survival situation is often
governed by the effectiveness of the survivalist's signals. Signals
should be prepared as soon as possible and the effectiveness of
smoke as a signal cannot be over emphasized.
Food and Water With injuries treated, a fire burning, a shelter constructed and
signals set, the next concern for the survivalist is food and water, Of
the two, the need for water is more immediate. It is worth
remembering that under normal circumstances, a person can
survive only:
• 3 minutes without air
• 3 days without water
• 3 weeks without food
Water Requirements
and Sources
Hydration is extremely important in SAR both during a survival
situation and during a SAR task. Fortunately, water is readily
available in most parts of BC, although some travel may be required
to reach it and treatment of the water is required in most cases. The
minimum daily requirement of water is about half a litre but physical
characteristics, diet and the degree of physical activity may increase
this figure. So too will environmental circumstances such as
Therefore, if the SAR task has a moderate level of physical activity
one litre may be the minimum required while on a strenuous task 2
litres may be the minimum required.
Under hot conditions, cold conditions or at higher altitudes the
amount of water required increases greatly and 4 litres per day
could be required.
Water sources in the wilderness include lakes, flowing water and
snow. Water used to be quite safe to drink from streams and lakes
in BC but that is no longer the case. Microscopic organisms such
as Giardia (beaver fever), Cryptosporidia, Campylobacter,
amoebic dysentery and Hepatitis A have spread to many
watersheds through contamination with human and animal wastes.
In general, surface water and shallow wells should be considered
contaminated and water should be disinfected before use. The
main methods of disinfection are heat, halogens (iodine and
chlorine) and filtration.
Snow is still a good source of pure water as long as it is taken from
within the snow pack, away from trails or areas of animal activity.
When using snow as a source of water it is important to add it to
water a little at a time. Keep the water bottle inside your jacket.
When melting snow for water it is more efficient to retain some
water in the pot so that when the snow is added it forms a wet slush.
Methods of
Boiling is the best way to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites. A full
boil for at least two minutes is recommended. At elevations over
2,000 meters (6,500 feet) you should boil water for at least three
minutes to disinfect it.
Iodine is effective against viruses and bacteria, can kill Giardia with
a soak period but is not effective against Cryptosporidium. The
soak time to kill Giardia depends on concentration and water
temperature. Whenever possible use warm water (20°C) and let
stand a minimum of 30 minutes after mixing. To be absolutely sure
that Giardia has been killed in colder water an 8 hour soak should
be allowed. If you are using 2% tincture of iodine, use 10 drops
(0.5 ml) for every one litre of water. For iodine tablets, follow the
manufacturer’s directions.
Iodine has a few other problems such as it dissolves slowly in cold
water, leaves a disagreeable taste and should not be used over a
long period of time as it can cause thyroid problems. Even though
Cryptosporidium has not been found in high numbers in pristine
surface water iodine should not be relied on as your sole method of
purification as it is not effective against Cryptosporidium. It should
also be remembered that halogens such as iodine have a brief shelf
Household bleach (5% chlorine) does not work well in killing off
Giardia or Cryptosporidium parasites. The amount of bleach
needed to kill these parasites makes the water impossible to drink.
Water Filters
The effectiveness of water filters is dependent on the pore size. A
filter should remove particles down to 0.4 microns to be effective.
Most backcountry filters are effective against larger organisms such
as Giardia or Cryptosporidium, some are effective against
bacteria (such as Campylobacter) and none are effective against
viruses. The use of iodine treatment to control viruses before or
after filtration can make the purification more complete. Some filters
come with a charcoal filter to remove the iodine while others have a
built in iodine matrix.
Water Purification
Boiling water is the best way to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Therefore it is very important to carry a pot and lid and have some
means to heat the water to a boil (light a fire, carry a stove).
It is important not to transport untreated water in your water bottle
as the microscopic organisms can remain in the few drops left
behind when you pour the water into your pot. Transport untreated
water in your pot to assure that the pot and water will be sterilized
when boiled
A combination of iodine and filtration is also effective against
bacteria, viruses and parasites. Iodine is effective if
Cryptosporidium is not a problem and if the water temperature is
not too cold. Chlorine does not work well in killing Giardia or
Sources of Water in
Arid Regions
Heavy dew occurs in areas where there is warm days and cool
nights. Dew on plants can be sponged off with a clean cloth and the
cloth wrung out to obtain the moisture. Walking through bushes
with cloths tied to your ankles can speed up the collection time.
Solar Still
This is effective in desert areas with cool nights and warm days.
Dig a hole that is 90 cm across and 45 cm deep. Line the hole with
green vegetation and put a collection can in the middle. Suspend a
piece of plastic across the hole forming a cone. Put a stone on top
of the plastic to orient the bottom of the cone over the collection can.
As the day warms up water will condense on the under surface of
the plastic and run down to drop off into the collecting can. The
heaviest condensation will be at night when the plastic cools down.
You can expect to get ½ a litre from this setup depending on the
moisture content of the soil.
Publisher: Mosby Author: P.S. Auerback Title: Wilderness Medicine – 3rd Edition
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.12 Solar Still
Other factors to consider about water:
The bluish-white water characteristic of a glacier-fed stream should
be allowed to settle before consumption. The colour results from
fine particles of grit in the water which, if swallowed, can cause
intestinal problems. In the winter, snow and ice form suitable
sources, but these materials should be melted over a fire rather
than consumed directly, thereby wasting valuable body heat.
Some vegetation such as fruits and berries also serve as water
sources. Ponds, puddles and other small bodies of still water may
be used but considerable care must be exercised. It is important to
remember that water is vital for the digestion of most foods and one
should not eat if one has no water.
Do not eat snow to obtain water as this increases your risk of
Food Assuming water is available, food concerns may be addressed. For
adults the normal daily intake is about 2500-3000 calories, but life
may be sustained indefinitely on just 500 calories a day. Again,
minimum requirements depend on the physical characteristics of the
individual, the level of physical activity and the environment. If the
nutritional input is low, so too will be the physical output.
For the person who has some rations, a few basic principles should
be followed:
• Do not eat on the first day.
• Physical activities requiring greatest exertion should be
done on the first day.
• An inventory of all food sources should be taken.
• Perishable items should be eaten first.
• Small amounts should be eaten often rather than taking
one large meal.
• If water is in short supply, carbohydrates are most
suitable, requiring little water for digestion.
Generally, when food supplies are limited, so too must physical
activity. Survival demands passive behaviour.
Finding food in natural surroundings presents some challenges.
There are many edible items but recognition and procurement
usually requires many years of experience. Foraging can expend
more energy than the food value gained from the food that is
gathered and stomach-upsets caused by inappropriate food can
also cause a loss of energy. In fact, no food may be better than a
little food in the short term. Using known quantities that are close
by is the best principle.
Animals When more substantial quantities of food are required, small game
such as squirrels and rabbits give the best return for the energy
expended in capture. A squirrel snare is the most efficient capture
technique as it works 24 hours a day with minimal physical output.
Boiling is generally the best method of preparation as it conserves
food value and renders parasites harmless. When skinning rabbits
or squirrels wear your first aid gloves to prevent transmission of
Publisher: Crown Publications Inc. Author: Province of BC, D. L. Hawley Title: Outdoor Survival & Safety
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.13 Squirrel Snare
Plants Most green plants, leaves, blossoms, inner bark, roots, lichens,
mosses and berries are edible at some time during their growing
season. Some can be eaten raw but some must be cooked.
Among the precautions to be exercised are:
• Caution – Water hemlock is fatal if ingested. Be
extremely careful collecting around shallow streams.
Water hemlock is 0.6-1.3m (2-4ft) tall has purplestreaked stems, hollow-chambered rootstocks, 2-3 lobed
leaves and small white flowers. Ingesting extremely
small amounts will kill you.
• Avoid mushrooms unless edibility is known with
• Avoid plants with milky sap unless positively identified
as edible.
• Avoid white berries and berries growing in terminal
clusters (clusters at end of branch).
• Avoid plants which when tasted in small amounts leave
a burning or bitter taste in the mouth.
• In doubtful cases use an edibility test. Boil the plant and
taste test a small amount. Then wait eight hours
watching for possible ill effects.
It is impossible in this brief overview to deal adequately with the
topic of edible plants and other matters related to the procurement
of food. Books on survival deal with this subject in detail.
Sanitation (How to
Shit in the Woods)
While out on an extended SAR mission the time will undoubtedly
come when nature calls. It is extremely important for SAR
volunteers in the wilderness to deal correctly with human waste
disposal. Incorrect disposal of human waste has led to water
source contamination, vegetation destruction, and the unsightliness
of toilet paper and deposits in wilderness areas.
The general rules for waste disposal in the wilderness is to be at
least 60 m away from any water source, trail or campground. When
urinating, it is best to pick an area of rocks or bare soil and try to
avoid hitting foliage as animals will damage the foliage to get the
salt in the urine.
At lower elevations where there is an organic layer a “cat hole” can
be dug into the organic layer (not into the subsoil) and the solid
waste deposited in this hole. Toilet paper deposited in the hole
takes a long time to breakdown so many people are now carrying it
out. The cat hole should be covered and the forest floor returned to
its original condition.
In alpine areas it is not recommended to bury solid waste as it will
not break down. In heavily used areas and alpine areas the
preferred minimal impact method of dealing with solid waste is to
pack it out. The “blue-bag” system has been developed to deal with
packing waste out. In this system there is an inner blue bag which
is used to collect the waste and then the inner bag is put inside the
outer bag. The waste is then carried out and the contents are
dumped in an outhouse or toilet and the bag is disposed of in the
garbage as for disposable diapers.
Travel The general rule when lost is to stay put. This rule does not
preclude travelling short distances for the purpose of finding
firewood, constructing a shelter, making signals or finding water and
food, but normally travelling longer distances should only be
attempted in exceptional circumstances.
Even when travelling short distances for any of the reasons just
mentioned, the trail should be marked to ensure an easy return to
camp. Blazing trees with an axe, or marking the trail with snow
blocks or piles of rocks are commonly used for this purpose.
Flagging tape is ideal. Whatever type of marking is used, the marks
must be readily visible in either travel direction.
In addition, a message should be left at camp describing where you
have gone, when you left and when you expect to return. Searchers
finding your camp during your absence will then know what to do.
In rare circumstances where survival prospects would definitely
improve by lengthier travel, five basic requirements must be met:
• You must know where you are and where you wish to
• You must have a means of setting and maintaining
• You must have the physical stamina for the task.
• You must have suitable clothing.
• You must have food, water, fuel and shelter available as
well as the means to make signals.
If you lack any of the 5 requirements, travel should not be
attempted. Once travel has been initiated, these requirements
continue to apply. It is particularly important to conserve energy,
stopping and resting if tired. Fatigue is the worst enemy of sound
judgement. Looking after one's feet is also very important.
Crossing large streams on logs and climbing or descending cliffs
represent unacceptable risks and should be avoided if possible. So
too is fighting one's way through dense vegetation. While travelling
one must always be prepared to signal if an opportunity arises. The
trail should be marked and messages left at regular intervals.
Creek Crossings See Chapter 18 - Shoreline Searches and Safety
Ice Crossings While travelling through the wilderness in winter it may be
necessary to cross a frozen body of water. Crossing frozen water is
always risky and should only be done as a last resort. Factors to
consider in deciding whether to cross a section of ice are the type of
ice (how did it form), ice quality, ice thickness, and what is under the
There are many different types of ice such as clear ice, snow ice,
layer ice, candle-ice or old rotten ice. Guidelines for the strongest
ice (clear, solid new ice) are as follows:
10 cm walking/ice fishing
13 cm snowmobiles
20 – 30 cm vehicles
For ice other than clear solid new ice the thickness has to be
increased and some types of ice should never be ventured out onto.
Ice is weakened if the water underneath it is moving and the faster
the current the weaker is the ice. Crossing ice that has moving
water under it should not be done.
Any object that protrudes through the ice absorbs heat and weakens
the ice around it. Slush is a danger sign as this indicates that the
ice is weakening. Ice covered by snow can either be stronger or
weaker depending on whether the snow insulates the ice from
melting or insulates it from freezing.
If it is decided that crossing is safe then using a stick to probe the
ice ahead and walking in a shuffling motion is the best way to move
across. Your pack waist strap should be undone for quick removal if
you fall through. Ice picks (sharp items such as knifes, ice axes, or
pens) should be available and ready to be used to drag yourself out
of the water. The use of a safety line may be beneficial. If you
break through the safety line can be used to pull yourself out.
Breaking through
the Ice
If you break through the ice you will not have much time before you
become incapacitated. There are several things you should do:
• Breathe deeply and avoid the natural tendency to hold
your breath. Tests have shown that this greatly improves
your chances of surviving immersion hypothermia.
• How deep is it, maybe you can stand up.
• Remove pack, snowshoes, and skis.
• Break thin ice towards thicker ice but do not try to break
ice all the way to the shore.
• Use skis or snowshoes on the edge of the ice to spread
your weight and try to lift your self out.
• If you do not have something to spread your weight then
extend your arms forward over ice, use any type of ice
pick you can (walking stick, knife, keys, or pens) to get a
better hold on the ice and draw yourself out on to your
• If you do not have a sharp item then extend your arms
forward over the ice, kick with your legs and draw your
hands back towards your waist pulling your body up on
the ice on to your stomach.
• Stay on your stomach until stronger ice is reached.
• Roll well away from the weak ice before standing up.
Once out of the water it is extremely important to protect yourself
from hypothermia. Get out of wet clothes and into dry clothes as
quickly as possible. Build a fire and warm your neck, face and front
of trunk first and construct a shelter if the weather is bad.
If a companion breaks through the ice use a pole or rope to pull him
out. A loop in the rope can go around his body as he will probably
be too weak to hold on to the rope. Do not go to assist the
companion unless you have been trained in flat-ice rescue and have
the equipment available.
Bear and Cougar
BC is fortunate to still have a large population of wildlife such as
bears and cougar. While travelling through the wilderness of BC it
is important to know how to avoid encounters with these animals
and know what to do in a confrontation with them.
Bears The two most common species of bears in BC are black bears and
grizzly bears. Grizzly bears generally can be identified by the hump
on their shoulders, massive heads, upturned snout and long claws.
Both types of bears are extremely strong, can run as fast as a horse
for short periods and are able to swim. Most bears can climb trees
but adult grizzly bears tend not to.
Both types of bears are omnivores and tend to eat mostly vegetation
but also eat fish, small mammals and occasionally larger mammals.
Some tips to remember when travelling or working in bear country:
• Make noise while you work or travel.
• Keep the wind at your back as you move.
• Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings,
• Avoid areas that show signs of bear use.
• Leave potential feeding areas.
• Never camp near where bears feed.
• Do not keep food in your shelter, at night hang food from
a tree branch at least 6 metres off the ground.
• Do not cook or eat near your shelter.
If you do encounter a bear:
• Try not to overreact, think about your circumstances.
• Leave the area if the bear has not become aware of you.
• If you can’t leave, make the bear aware of your
presence by talking and waving your arms.
• Move slowly away and don’t run unless you are
absolutely sure you can reach safety.
If you are carrying bear spray:
• It should be oil based not water based.
• Have it out of the package so you are ready to use it.
• Do not use it as a repellent. Spraying your campsite will
not keep bears away and as the smell wears off bears
are attracted to it.
• Use it as a last resort when the bear is very close.
• Make sure you are not spraying into the wind or you will
receive the spray in your face.
• Bear spray may not be effective against an enraged or
aggressive bear and its effectiveness on black bears is
being questioned.
If a bear acts aggressively:
• Try to determine its intent …defensive or predatory
• If you notice cubs or food nearby, or you startled the
bear, it is probably acting defensively. Back away slowly
and wave your arms. If a grizzly bear attacks, roll into a
ball on the ground protecting your face and stomach. If
it is a black bear, you should try to fight it. Attack its
nose and eyes. Carry a straight knife in bear country
rather than a locking knife as the straight knife can be
grabbed with one hand.
Here are some things to do if a bear (black bear or small grizzly)
seems to be stalking you:
• Try to intimidate it by acting aggressively – jump up and
down and shout; and, try to climb a tree, if you have
• Remember – don’t threaten, don’t panic and don’t run.
Your best course of action is to avoid bear encounters altogether.
By following the key points above, you significantly reduce your risk
of an accidental encounter.
Cougar Cougar attacks are extremely rare but when they occur they receive
a great deal of attention in the press. Most cougar attacks are
against children but occasionally adults have been attacked. If you
meet a cougar:
• Do not run (slowly back away)
• Stay calm
• Face the cougar
• Enlarge your image by picking up branches
• Give the cougar an avenue of escape
If a cougar acts aggressively to you:
• Arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks and speak loudly
and firmly
• If a cougar attacks fight back!
Insects Insects such as mosquitoes, horse flies, “no-see-ums” can be a
major problem for SAR personnel in spring, summer, and fall
The methods to protect yourself from insects are:
• Clothing – heavy clothing that is tight at the wrists and ankles
and includes gloves and a head net can be effective in cool
• Netting – head nets, and in hot weather shirts and pants made
of netting which will be more comfortable than heavy clothing.
• Insect Repellents
- DEET is effective against mosquitoes but not as
effective against biting flies.
- Eythyl-hexanediol and dimethyl phthalate are more
effective against biting flies but not mosquitoes.
- Citronella and Avon Skin-So-Soft are less toxic
repellents but check to see if they work for you.
• Try to avoid the use of perfumes and deodorant soaps as
insects are attracted to some of them.
If you are allergic to bee or wasp stings let your GSTL and/or your
SAR Manager know and carry the appropriate first aid supplies.
Ticks are tiny bugs, about the size of a sesame seed, which feed on
blood. Adult ticks can be distinguished from insects by having eight
legs rather than six. They cannot jump or fly and do not drop from
trees. They wait for hosts on the top of grasses and shrubs and
attach themselves to the host as it brushes by. While most tick bites
do not result in disease some do. Ticks have been found in BC
carrying the organisms that cause numerous diseases such as
Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and
Relapsing Fever. While the chances of getting these diseases are
small, it is worth taking steps to avoid being bitten.
Avoiding ticks To protect yourself against tick bites:
• Walk on cleared trails wherever possible when walking
in tall grass or woods.
• Wear light coloured clothing. Tuck your top into your
pants and tuck your pants into your boots or socks and
consider wearing gaiters.
• Put insect repellent (containing DEET) onto clothing and
all uncovered skin.
• Check clothing and scalp (covered or not) when leaving
an area where ticks may live. Make sure lighting is good
so that you will not miss seeing the ticks.
• Regularly check household pets which go into tall grass
and wooded areas.
Tick Removal Prompt removal of the tick is important as the longer the tick
remains on a person’s body, the greater the chance of disease
Traditional removal methods such as tweezers (with or without
twisting), fingers, petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, applying
kerosene or use of a hot match head are not recommended as any
one of these procedures can cause the tick to vomit, defecate or
urinate. This can increase the likelihood of infection as the
infectious agents are within the tick’s bodily fluids.
Dr. E.K. Murakami (Clinical Associate Professor, Department of
Family Practice, UBC) and Dr. S. Christie have developed a new
field technique for removal of ticks. This new technique avoids any
vomiting of the intestinal contents of the tick.
The equipment required for this technique is a piece of drinking
straw and a piece of thread.
Figure 18.14 Step 1 The straw is placed over the wood-tick and is
held at a 45°. A piece of thread is placed around the straw and slid
down to the skin.
Figure 18.15 Step 2 The thread is brought down against the skin
around the tick’s jaw. A single knot is made and slowly tightened to
close around the jaw of the tick.
Figure 18.16 Step 3 Remove the straw and pull gently upwards on
the string. It may take up to a couple minutes for the tick to release.
This method avoids regurgitation of infectious agents and the tick
remains alive and in one piece.
After the tick has been removed, place it in a container with a piece
of damp gauze. Label container with date shipped, name of person
bitten, what part of body bitten, what part of the province the tick
came from.
This container should be taken to your local health unit as soon as
possible for testing at the provincial laboratory.
Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite area with soap and
water or rubbing alcohol. Wash hands with soap and water.
If you have the following symptoms within days or weeks after being
bitten by a tick please report them to your physician immediately:
• General symptoms of headache, muscle and joint pains,
fatigue or weakness of the muscles of the face.
• Skin rash, especially one that looks like a “Bull’s Eye”. It
may or may not be where the bite was.
Rabies Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through saliva, typically
by an animal bite. This disease affects the nervous system and can
kill its’ victim if not treated in time. It can be carried by wild animals,
domestic pets and farm animals so special care should be taken to
avoid any animal which appears to be dead or ill. In BC, by far the
most common rabies carrier is the bat. If you are bitten or scratched
by a bat, or any animal that is acting strangely there are two things
you should do:
• The first thing to do with any animal bite is to wash the
wound well with soap and water. This lessens the
chance of any infection.
• Seek medical attention right away.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe (fatal)
respiratory illness that is spread to humans when airborne particles
of deer mice excreta or saliva are inhaled or when there is direct
contact with the excreta. Other types of rodents (pack rats) may
also be carriers of this disease. There have been a number of fatal
cases of HPS in BC and SAR volunteers should take measures to
avoid coming in contact with rodents or their habitat. Ways to avoid
coming in contact with rodents:
• Do not touch dead rodents without disinfecting and
using gloves.
• Do not use cabins that are rodent infested.
• Do not camp near rodent faeces, burrows or dens.
• Do not sleep on the bare ground use a tent with a floor.
• Eliminate rodents and use rodent proof containers to
store food.
Rattlesnakes are not found throughout BC but are found in the
Okanogan Valley. Rattlesnakes have triangular heads, pits
between their eyes and nostrils and rattles at the end of their tails.
Most are 1.2 m long and brown, red or gray in colour. Venom is
injected into the victim in 70-80% of the bites with rapid swelling,
bruising and pain at the bite site being a good indication that venom
has been injected. Although rattlesnake bites are rare in BC while
travelling through the bush in the Okanogan one has to take some
• Wear stout boots and watch where you put your feet.
• Use a stick to check out holes, logs or to turn over
stones before placing feet or hands nearby.
• Step on top of obstacles such as logs or rocks not over
• Before sitting down for a rest, check logs, stumps, rocks
and the surrounding area.
• If you encounter a snake stay calm and back off giving it
lots of room.
• Check clothes and packs before putting them on. Check
bedding before getting in.
• A healthy adult that is bitten by a rattlesnake may get
seriously ill but has a good chance of survival.
If bitten:
• Try to identify the snake.
• Clean wound.
• Apply sterile dressing
• Do not use pressure bandages, tourniquets, electric
shock, ice or incisions on the bite.
• Do not use oral suction but mechanical suction devices
can remove some of the venom if used within minutes of
the bite.
• Keep limb below level of the heart.
• Remove any constrictive items such as rings
• Keep patient from moving any more than necessary.
• Keep patient hydrated.
• Transport patient to nearest hospital facility.
Lightning While travelling through the wilderness and especially at higher
elevations there is a chance of being caught in a thunderstorm with
the accompanying lightning. Every year lightning kills approximately
300 people (30% of those hit) either from direct hits or from the
lightning current jumping from hit objects onto the victim. If you are
caught out in the open during a thunderstorm seek cover.
• Avoid standing in the middle of meadows or under
solitary trees, go to low ground in an open valley and
crouch with hands off the ground amid shorter trees.
• If there is only solitary trees in a meadow couch down
twice as far away from the trees as they are tall.
• Get off hilltops, mountain peaks or pinnacles.
• Do not go into shallow caves or stay at the mouth of
deep caves as the electrical charge can jump across the
cave mouth.
• Get rid of metal and graphite equipment and insulate
yourself from the ground with a pack or foam pad.
• Crouch or sit down on your insulating material facing
downhill with your hands not touching the ground.
• Do not lie flat on the ground.
• If in a group during a thunderstorm do not huddle
together but spread out. This prevents everyone getting
injured if there is a lightning strike.
Publisher: NOLS Publications Author: T. Schimelpfenig, L. Lindsey Title: Wilderness First Aid
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.17 Preferred Body Position During Lightning
Auerbach, Paul S. Wilderness Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Mosby –
Year Book Inc., 1995.
Bowman, W.D., Outdoor Emergency Care. Second Edition. National
Ski Patrol System, Inc, 1993.
Cooper, Donald C., LaValla, Patrick “Rick” and Stoffel, Robert
“Skip”. Search and Rescue Fundamentals, 3rd Edition. Olympia,
WA: Emergency Response Institute, 1996.
Fear, Gene. Surviving the Unexpected Wilderness Emergency.
Tacoma, WA: Survival Education Association, 1979.
Graydon, Don, and Hanson, Kurt. 6th Edition, Mountaineering, The
Freedom of the Hills. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997.
Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Forests. Bear Aware
Student Manual.
Simer, Peter, and Sullivan, John. The National Outdoor
Leadership’s Wilderness Guide. New York, NY: Simon &
Schuster,Inc, 1983.
Wiseman, John “Lofty”. The SAS Survival Handbook.
Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is meant by “STOP”?
2. What is the most important factor in a survival situation?
3. You are an air spotter and you spot a large V on the ground.
What does it mean?
4. If a black bear attacks you, what should you do?
5. What is the survival pattern?
6. What is one problem with a lean-to shelter?
7. Why is it important to consider your Energy Budget?
Answer True or False to the following statements.
8. A person is hypothermic once shivering stops.
9. A snow trench takes less effort to build than a snow cave.
10. Iodine is the most effective water disinfection method.
11. Oral suction is the best way to treat rattlesnake bites.
12. Gathering food in a survival situation is always a useful task.
Chapter 9 - Communications
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe common radio equipment used in SAR.
• Operate a portable radio and maximize the effectiveness in
terms of sensitivity, range and battery life.
• Describe how repeaters are used in SAR communications.
• Demonstrate the use of equipment inventory sheets for
communication equipment.
• Explain why all communications during a search should be
directed through the command post serving the SAR Manager.
• Demonstrate the maintenance of a communication log.
• Express time using the 24 hour clock system.
• Use the phonetic alphabet.
• Recite the vocabulary in common use in radio communications
associated with SAR.
• Use appropriate calling procedures when operating a radio.
• Discuss the appropriate use of codes in SAR operations.
• Perform a radio check.
• Understand how scanners may effect radio communication.
• Describe the main procedures used in emergency
• Describe how amateur ham radio operators can be used in
Introduction Time and time again communication is identified in SAR task
reviews as one of the weak links in an operation. Teams out in the
field cannot be contacted, batteries go dead, information is not
clearly worded, or there is too much unnecessary chatter. It is
therefore very important for volunteers to be familiar with
communication operations to prevent some of these problems.
Under the former communication regulations it was a requirement
for persons operating a land station involving public safety to obtain
a Radiotelephone Operator’s Restricted Certificate (Land) (RORC).
Therefore, PEP required SAR members to get their RORC (Land)
as part of being Basic SAR certified.
The new radio communications regulations make this unnecessary
and the communication information that Ground SAR personnel are
expected to know is now found in this chapter.
Like many skills in SAR, practice is essential to become proficient in
radio operation.
Radio Equipment The aim of this section is to provide non-technical information on
radio communications equipment that may be used by people
associated with PEP. The terms listed are in common use and
should be understood by all GSAR members.
Equipment Types
Three types of equipment are likely to be encountered by PEP
Base stations that are at fixed locations.
Mobile transceivers that are usually fitted into vehicles.
Portable transceivers that are usually the hand-held type.
A two-way radio consists of two parts, one of that emits a signal and
another that receives it. In most sets, parts of the circuitry are used
for both transmission and reception and the two together are known
as a "transceiver."
Frequencies A transmitter emits electromagnetic energy on one specific
frequency at any one time. The lowest such frequency is 14,000
cycles per second, also expressed as 14 kilocycles per second or
more commonly as 14 kilohertz (kHz). The highest frequency used
is about 3,000,000,000 cycles per second, or 3,000 megahertz
(MHz) or more commonly called 3 gigahertz (3Ghz). The band from
136 MHz to 174 MHz is known as very high frequency (VHF) and is
the band most commonly used by PEP.
Frequency Bands Very Low Frequency (VLF) 0 to 30 KHz
Low Frequency (LF) 30 to 300 KHz
Medium Frequency (MF) 300 to 3,000 KHz
High Frequency (HF) 3 to 30 MHz
Very High Frequency (VHF) 30 to 300 MHz
Ultra High Frequency (UHF) 300 to 3 GHz
(3,000 MHz)
The management of radio frequency allocation of PEP radios rests
with the PEP Head Quarters (HQ) Communications Officer. All
licence inquiries, and authorization for use, must be directed to the
Communications Officer through the appropriate Regional Manager.
Listed are the frequencies licenced and utilized by PEP.
Licenced and
Utilized by PEP
149.495 MHz VHF-FM
*Restricted, only to be used in areas that are approved by the PEP
HQ Communication Officer
Noise Interference Radio waves from of all frequencies are constantly being emitted
from both natural and man-made sources and are detected by any
receivers. These unwanted signals are referred to as noise. F.M. is
more immune to noise than A.M. because noise is mostly an A.M.
signal. Higher quality equipment of either type, with improved
receiver specifications, is more immune to noise.
Power Power output is rated in terms of watts and is the power output of
the transmitter that is fed to the antenna system. Typical output
from portable radios is 2 to 5 watts while Base or mobile radio
output can be considerably higher. The antenna cable and the type
of antenna will have a bearing on the effective radiated transmitter
power and receiver performance.
Controls of Low
Power Radios
The controls of radios used in PEP operations are very similar.
Personnel should be familiar with the purpose and operation of the
following controls and equipment.
On / Off Volume The on/off switch and the volume control are usually connected to
one knob. To turn the radio on, turn this knob clockwise. To
increase the receive volume, turn this knob further clockwise.
Squelch All radio receivers produce noise when there are no incoming
transmissions. The squelch circuit mutes the radio speaker when
there are no incoming transmissions on the channel. In some
radios the squelch control is automatic and there is not a squelch
control that needs to be adjusted. The squelch setting affects the
receive sensitivity of the radio. To obtain the best sensitivity from
the receiver the squelch control must be adjusted correctly. To set
the control, turn the knob in one direction or the other until noise is
heard. Then, turn the knob in the other direction until the noise just
disappears. Note that in portable radios the squelch may open
(noise is heard) due to the radio battery becoming depleted. The
noise will generally be heard in intermittent bursts and a
readjustment of the squelch control will cure the problem until the
battery is replaced.
Frequency Switch If the radio is equipped to operate on more than one frequency
(channel) set the knob or switch to the frequency desired. This is
usually indicated by Fl, F2, F3, etc. Many SAR groups are now
using programmable radios in which the radio frequencies can be
imputed through a keypad and then stored in memory.
When involved in mutual aid it is important to clarify before heading
out on your assignment that “our channel 1” is the same as “their
channel 1”.
Push to talk This switch is used to activate the transmitter. When released, the
transmitter is deactivated and the radio is back to receive mode.
Antenna A portable radio will generally come with one of two types of
antenna. The first type is the helical antenna. It is a short, flexible
antenna covered with PVC plastic. The second type is the
telescopic or collapsing antenna. It must be fully extended before
transmitting. Although the helical antenna is shorter and less
efficient than the telescopic antenna, it is superior in the bush where
the telescopic antenna could be easily broken.
Equipment Control
Maintaining control of radio equipment is a difficult but essential part
of any operation. An equipment inventory sheet (ICS 303) is used
to sign out radios and spare batteries to search teams. A copy of
the equipment inventory sheet is shown at the end of this chapter.
Every SAR group requires a few members to take specific
responsibility for all matters associated with communications. These
people will look after maintenance of radios, standardizing of the
frequencies available on the team radios, battery charging and
Power Supply for
Low Power Radios
Power for low power radios usually consists of a self-contained
battery. The operating life of a battery can be determined by the
type of battery used and the duty cycle that is applied to the battery.
All battery types operate best at around room temperature. Keeping
the radio tucked inside one's clothing when operating it in cold
weather will help to keep the battery warm and achieve its maximum
operational life. Heating a battery or placing it near a source of heat
should be avoided as the battery will deteriorate and become
damaged. All batteries discharge slowly when they are not in use.
Fully charged nicad batteries when used for a short period of time
without completely discharging and then put back in the charger will
develop “memory”. A dead battery indication will start to appear on
a portable radio with a battery that has developed “memory” and
the radio will go dead after a short use. To prevent memory from
developing the battery must occasionally be allowed to completely
discharge. This will prolong battery life. This discharge can take
place on operations if a spare battery is kept on hand to replace the
dead one, or the radio can be left with the squelch open until the
battery is dead. However, this will only work on older models with
external squelch control, and will not work on newer radios with
internal squelch settings.
Another alternative is to take the batteries to a radio service shop
and have them placed in a battery analyser to have the battery
cycled. They will also be able to tell the condition of the battery.
Non-rechargeable batteries should be used within 1 year of
purchase. Nicad batteries that are sitting on the shelf should be
recharged every 6 months.
Propagation of
Radio Waves
The communication distance achieved with a radio will depend on
the power of the transmitter, the sensitivity of the receiver, the
frequency used and the path between the transmitter and the
receiver. A transmission in the VHF band will generally travel in
much the same way as light. It will almost follow the line of sight
between transmitter and receiver and can be reflected off walls,
mountainsides, buildings, etc. Thus, communications can be
blocked by objects in the path. Communications can be restored by
moving the transmitter to the left or to the right and up or down to
restore the line of sight or the reflected path.
Generally, the higher the transmitter, the better its range; from a
mountaintop it could be 50 km. As it is not always possible for
someone to take their transmitter to the top of a mountain to
improve their range, other techniques must be found. One method
is to place a person with a transceiver at a high intermediate point to
act as a "relay." Another method used by SAR groups is a
"repeater." A repeater is a permanent unmanned installation usually
placed on a mountaintop that receives messages on one frequency
and simultaneously re-transmits the messages on a second
Specific Procedures
for Ground SAR
Following proper voice procedures ensures that all participants in
SAR operations will be able to communicate in a manner that is
readily understood. In addition to these procedures, it is important
to remember the following principles if smooth running
communications are to be achieved.
• Communications should be conducted using the "Directed Net."
This policy means that the station that is serving the SAR
Manager is Net Control (base radio or Incident Command Post
[ICP]) and all communications are directed through that station.
Any GSAR member may be called upon to be the Net Control
radio operator.
• There must not be any "chit-chat" between search teams except
with the permission of Net Control.
• Messages must be short and concise. Thinking before speaking
is essential.
• The Net Control station serving the SAR Manager must keep a
brief log of all communications. It is important that the radio log
be kept as exact as possible as the log can be used in reviews
or court proceedings. The log can also include information such
as when other agencies arrived and when impromptu meetings
were held. The ICS radio log form (ICS 309) is shown at the
end of this chapter.
Radio Operating
Preparation: Turn on the radio and adjust the volume and squelch
as described earlier. Set the radio on the appropriate channel and it
is ready to receive incoming messages.
Transmitting: Monitor the channel to ensure that calls in progress
will not be interrupted. Hold the microphone about 10 cm (4 inches)
from the mouth. Plan what you are going to say before speaking
using correct calling procedures that are covered later in this
chapter. Remember there may be people with scanners picking up
your transmission so discretion has to be used. Press the "push to
talk" switch and in a normal voice, send the message. Release the
"push to talk" switch to hear the reply.
If transmission and/or reception are poor, it may help to point the
antenna in a new direction or move to a new higher spot or a spot
more in the line of sight with the target receiver. It may also be that
your battery is losing power and a freshly charged battery should be
tried. At least one spare battery should be taken out in the field with
every radio.
The efficient use of the radio depends on the method of speaking
and on the articulation of the operator. Speak without whispering,
mumbling or shouting. Words of similar length containing the same
vowel sounds are apt to sound alike. Therefore the following
procedures are to be followed.
Date and Time
The twenty-four hour clock system is to be used when expressing
time. Time is to be expressed and transmitted by means of four
figures, the first two numerals denoting the hour past midnight and
the last two numerals denoting the minutes past the hour.
12:00 midnight is expressed as 2400 (up to
midnight) or 0000 (first moment after
12:45 am is expressed as 0045
1:30 am is expressed as 0130
12:00 noon is expressed as 1200
1:45 pm is expressed as 1345
4:30 pm is expressed as 1630
11:45 pm is expressed as 2345
Some parts of BC straddle two time zones so in these areas the
time zone being used should be clarified on any task.
Phonetic Alphabet
Another way to eliminate confusion in radio communications is to
use the phonetic alphabet. The words and their pronunciation,
(primary emphasis on the capitalized syllables) in the following
spelling alphabet have been agreed on internationally. These
should be used if communication is difficult or there is a chance of
the receiving operator misspelling a word. It should not be used
indiscriminately or time will be lost.
The phonetic
AL fah
CHAR lee
DELL tah
ECK oh
FOKS trot
IN dee ah
KEY loh
LEE mah
Nov VEM ber
OSS cah
ROW me oh
See AIR rah
YOU nee form
VIK tah
ECKS ray
YANG key
ZOO loo
Transmission of
All numbers should be transmitted by pronouncing each digit
75 becomes seven five
100 becomes one zero zero
5800 becomes five eight zero zero
Numbers containing a decimal point are transmitted as above with
the decimal indicated by the word “decimal”.
248.3 becomes two four eight decimal three
Procedural Words
and Phrases
Slang expressions such as “OK”, “Over and Out”, “Breaker
Breaker”, “Ten-Four” should not be used. The following is a list of a
few words and phrases that should be used instead:
• Affirmative Yes, or permission granted.
• Confirm My version is… is that correct?
• Correction An error has been made in this
transmission (or message indicated). The
version is…
• Go ahead Proceed with your message.
• How do you read? Self explanatory.
• Negative No, or that is not correct, I do not agree.
• Over My transmission is ended, expect a
• Out Conversation is ended, no response
• Roger I have received all of your last
• Say again Repeat message, Do not say Repeat..
• Stand by Please wait.
• That is correct Self explanatory.
• Verify Check with the originator that the message
is correct.
Call Signs Distinctive call signs, consisting of a group of letters and or
numbers, can be assigned to the base, mobile and portable radios.
Call signs should be used for initial contact and again when
communications have concluded. It is recommended that SAR
groups use their team name in combination with numbers to identify
members and equipment. This makes identification of volunteers
and equipment much easier during mutual aid calls.
In the following examples the commonly used word “base” has
been used however with the implementation of ICS the correct
term is Incident Command Post or ICP.
Before transmitting, the operator should listen to ensure that no one
else is transmitting, and thus interfere with the other transmitting
station. The call sign of the station being called is ALWAYS spoken
first, followed by the words “THIS IS” and your own station call sign.
Example: Base is calling Team One…
“Team One THIS IS Base OVER”
“Base THIS IS Team One go ahead OVER”
If the base wishes to communicate to more than one station, they
are called out in any order and respond back to base in the order in
which they were called.
Example: Base is calling Team Two, Five and Six…
“Team Two Five and Six this is Base Over”
“Base this is Team Two Over”
“Base this is Team Five Over”
“Base this is Team Six Over”
Base would then give the message without calling each station
again. The teams would each acknowledge, in the order that they
were called, the message that they received from base by saying:
“Base this is Team Roger Over”
If an operator hears a call but is uncertain that the call is intended
for his/her station, he/she should not reply until the call has been
repeated and understood. If an operator hears a call that is
understood to be for him/her however does not catch the call sign of
the station calling they should request them to repeat it by saying:
“Station Calling this is (Call sign being called) Say Again Over”
Anyone transmitting a message should think about what they are
going to say before getting on the air and stumbling for the right
words, thus tying up the air waves. Excessive transmission also
drains the batteries faster as most of the battery drain comes from
Codes should be kept to a minimum and kept as simple as possible.
This will make it less confusing and you will make fewer mistakes. It
is recommended, however, that codes be used to describe the
discovery of a deceased subject. The intent is to manage the
situation as much as possible, out of respect for the family, without
news of the discovery being picked up on a scanner. To keep it
simple it is suggested that each SAR Group decide what phrase
they will use to indicate that the subject was found deceased. Base
can now ensure that there are no family members around and will
proceed to get more information from you. Other teams hearing the
transmission will standby until contacted by Base.
Other types of codes such as 10 codes should not be used by SAR
If you are requested to give a radio check give a brief description of
how well you are receiving the transmission.
Use phrases such as:
Strong and clear,
Weak but clear,
Broken up,
Example: Team Two is requesting a radio check from Base.
“Base, This Is Team Two For A Radio Check Over”
Example: The Base can understand but with some difficulty.
“Team Two This Is Base You are clear but weak Over”
Ham radio operators use a more complex system called “RST” for
reporting readability, strength and tone. Numerical values are given
for each of the categories. As most SAR volunteers do not spend
enough time using the radio to remember the system, the radio
check protocol listed above will be used.
Distress, urgency and safety procedures are laid down by
international regulations and are designated primarily for
aeronautical and maritime services. Use of these types of
communications in the land service is very rare but GSAR members
should have an understanding of the main procedures.
Distress Signal The spoken word for distress is “MAYDAY”
The distress signal indicates that the station sending the signal is:
1) Threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires
immediate assistance, or
2) aware that an aircraft, ship or other vehicle is threatened by
grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.
The distress call should comprise:
1) the distress signal “MAYDAY” spoken three times;
2) the words “THIS IS”;
3) the call sign of the station in distress spoken three times.
The distress call has absolute priority over all transmissions.
The acknowledgement of receipt of a distress message shall be
given in the following form:
1) the call sign of the station in distress spoken three times;
2) the words “THIS IS”
3) the call sign of the station acknowledging the receipt spoken
three times;
4) the words “RECEIVED MAYDAY”
Actions by stations acknowledging receipt of a distress message:
1) Forward information immediately to the appropriate search and
rescue agency or organization (Air SAR is the responsibility of
the Canadian Armed Forces, Marine SAR is the responsibility of
the Canadian Coast Guard).
2) Continue to guard the frequency on which the distress message
was received.
3) Notify any station with direction-finding or radar facilities that
may be of assistance, etc.
4) Cease all transmissions that may interfere with the distress
Urgency Signal The urgency signal indicates that the station calling has a very
urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of an aircraft, ship
or other vehicle, or the safety of a person.
The urgency signal is “PAN PAN” spoken three times at the
beginning of the first communication.
Safety Signal
The safety signal is used mainly in the maritime mobile service. It
indicates that the station calling is about to transmit a message
concerning the safety of navigation or giving important
meteorological warnings.
The safety signal is the word “SECURITY” spoken three times at the
beginning of the first communication.
Secrecy of
Radio Operators and all persons who become acquainted with radio
traffic are bound to preserve the secrecy of correspondence. This
includes communications transmitted and received.
Radio Station
All radio stations must be licenced. The licence, or a copy of, must
be posted in a conspicuous place near the radio equipment.
The licence generally specifies the call sign of the station, the
frequencies to be used for transmitting and any special conditions
under which the station should be operated.
Fines Fines or imprisonment can be given to anyone who sends:
• Profane, obscene or indecent language.
• False distress signals.
Or establishes a radio station without a radio licence.
To obtain a radio licence an application along with the prescribed
fee should be submitted to Industry Canada (DOC). The radio
equipment must be type-approved or found to be technically
acceptable for licensing by Industry Canada.
Amateur Ham Radio
Amateur ham radio operators can be a useful resource for SAR
groups. These people are knowledgeable about radios and can
help operate and maintain base radios, portable radios and
repeaters. This frees up SAR members for other tasks.
Industry Canada. Study Guide for the Radiotelephone Operator’s
Restricted Certificate (Land) No longer produced.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. How do you respond to a request for a signal check?
2. What is the difference between a mobile and a portable radio?
3. Why is a “Directed Net” used in SAR?
4. What is Squelch?
5. Use the phonetic alphabet to spell “Gerry Johnsen”.
6. Use the twenty-four hour clock to express the following times
9:45 pm, 3:47 am, 6:20 pm.
Answer True or False to the following statements:
7. “Roger” means that you have received all of the last
8. “Ten-four” is used to agree with the transmission.
9. Keeping communication logs is optional.
10. “3278” is pronounced three two seven eight.
Chapter 10 –
Orientation to Rope Management
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe the circumstances where the use of ropes and knots is
appropriate for GSAR.
• Compare and contrast the types of rope that are encountered in
SAR and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.
• Describe and demonstrate proper rope care, handling, and
• Define the following: dynamic rope, static rope, tubular webbing,
flat webbing, accessory cord.
• Recognize and demonstrate tying the following knots: Figure
Eight on a Bight, Figure Eight Follow Through, Figure Eight
Follow Through Bend, Ring Bend (Water Knot, Tape Knot,
Overhand Bend), and Italian Hitch (Munter Hitch).
• Define carabiners and describe their use.
• Describe proper handling of carabiners.
• Demonstrate a single point anchor.
• Demonstrate the use of a rope for a hand line.
• Demonstrate a belay for an assisted raise or lower using an
Italian Hitch.
• Use the appropriate belay signals during an assisted raise or
Introduction The responsibilities of a GSAR member include the ability to
perform basic rope management functions. This includes tying of
rescue knots involved in a ground-based evacuation and,
maintaining and managing a rope(s). This course qualifies the
GSAR member to aid or assist in stretcher carries through uneven
terrain under the supervision of a certified Ground Search Team
Leader. It does not qualify the GSAR member to participate in
technical rescues
The occasions for which ropes and knots are required in GSAR are
limited. The most likely circumstances necessitating their use
• As a safety line for a stretcher carry on low angle
• As a hand line on a slope
• As a tool in shelter construction
It is recognized that some groups utilize more advanced rope
management techniques such as rappelling or embankment rescue
techniques in ground search applications. Rappelling should not be
done unless the GSAR member has received specialized
instruction. Embankment or cliff rescue techniques should only be
performed by individuals trained at the Rope Rescue Team Member
or Team Leader levels, certified by the Justice Institute of BC
In GSAR, depending on the terrain, a rope may be used to assist in
stretcher travel. If the angle of the slope and its surface is such that
if the stretcher were to drop to the ground it would stop, then the use
of a single rope with an Italian Hitch is acceptable. If conditions are
such that if the stretcher was dropped it would slide or skitter down
the slope then a rope rescue team utilizing a technical two rope
rescue system would be required.
A rope may also be secured to anchors at the top of a hill, at the
bottom of a hill and in several places on the hill to be used as a
hand line. The hand line is used to assist travel up and down the
hill. As you will not tie into this line it should only be used on slopes
where if you slipped you would not slide down the slope.
Types of Ropes Fibre ropes are made from either natural or synthetic fibres. The
natural fibres come from various plants including hemp, manila and
sisal. The synthetic ropes include nylon, polypropylene and the
Natural Fibre Ropes
Natural fibre ropes should not be used in SAR work.
Synthetic Fibre Ropes
Of the three synthetic fibres mentioned, polypropylene is the
lightest. Ropes from this synthetic material will float, and are not
weakened by, nor do they absorb water. These properties make
polypropylene ropes an obvious choice for water activities like
marine rescues.
Polyester (e.g. Dacron) dominated the rescue scene for a time.
However, as the demand for low stretch rope increased, nylon ropes
became commonly used. These ropes may have an elongation of
as little as 1.6% at 90 kg and have a breaking strength of 3175 kg.
(under ideal laboratory conditions). They are often called
“kernmantle” rope (or Perlon, the German counterpart) as it is has a
core (kern) of nylon strands running the full length of the rope and a
protective sheath (mantle) of braided nylon. The most common
diameter of rope used by SAR Groups is 11 mm.
Generally, nylon rope is 17% lighter than polyester rope. It is similar
in abrasion resistance and flexibility, but is superior in other
mechanical properties to polyesters. One disadvantage is that it
loses l0-20% of its strength when wet or frozen. Nylon rope of the
same diameter (ll mm) used by recreational climbers stretches
much more under load and has a static breaking strength of less
than 2300 kg.
Rope Care As rescue rope is our lifeline and our lives literally depend upon it, it
is critically important that proper rope management practises are
used. While ground searchers are not responsible for performing
technical high angle rope rescue, there are occasions when it will be
necessary to work under the direction of a Ground Search Team
Leader in a rope-assisted stretcher carry.
Avoid stepping on ropes. Grit can become embedded in the rope
sheath and work its way to the core. Embedded dirt and grit will cut
the nylon fibres and compromise the strength of the rope.
UV Radiation
Avoid prolonged exposure of ropes to sunlight. It has been
demonstrated that ultraviolet radiation adversely affects the strength
of ropes and webbing.
A wet rope should never be left in a rope bag. Ropes should be
dried in a ventilated area and not over a campfire or in a clothes
drier. Excessive heat damages the nylon making the rope weaker.
Nylon on nylon connections should be avoided. Sections of rope
moving across stationary rope or webbing is extremely dangerous
and can result in the cutting away or melting of the non-moving
length of nylon. Do not connect a moving length of rope to a nonmoving length of rope or webbing.
Rope kinking can potentially result after several rappels, belays or
coilings. Unchecked, kinking can turn a length of rope into a search
and rescuer's nightmare. Excessive kinking can be avoided by
flaking out the rope in a "bird's nest" and taking care to untwist the
rope prior to coiling. Avoid introducing any twists while coiling the
rope by not coiling the rope around the elbow and over the hand.
Instead, allow the rope to fall in its normal pattern, likely a figure
eight, to minimize kinking while coiling. It is even better to store the
rope bagged not coiled.
There is no fool-proof method to determine precisely how much
damage has been done to a rope. However, there are indicators of
rope damage. Inspection consists of checking the sheath for visible
damage. If a section of sheath appears to have been impacted by
an object and the core feels unusually soft, immediate retirement
should be considered. If the sheath appears abraded due to
movement over a rough surface, but no damage to the core has
been found on inspection, continued use is possible. Always
monitor the quality and condition of the ropes.
If there is ever any doubt regarding the safety of a rope during an
inspection, bring it to the attention of the equipment officer. Once
the weakness has been confirmed, immediately cut out the
damaged section and remove it from circulation.
If the damage is detected during an operation, stop the operation
and bring it to the attention of the Ground Search Team Leader or
the equipment officer. If removal or cutting is impractical isolate the
weakness by tying a Figure 8 on a Bight with the damaged section
in the loop of the knot. Mark the knot with a piece of flagging tape.
Washing & Storage
Rescue ropes get dirty with usage and can be washed by hand, in a
washing machine or with a rope washer which attaches to a garden
hose. To wash by hand, use warm water with a mild soap, rinse
and air dry. To wash with a machine, use successive daisy chains
around the rope and use a gentle cycle. Check often to ensure the
rope does not get tangled in the agitator. Ropes ought to be hung in
a cool well-ventilated room in loose coils on large diameter pegs or
drying racks.
The best way to store rescue ropes is in a rope bag. The bag
protects the rope while keeping it ready for immediate use. The
rope length, diameter, and number should be marked on the bag for
easy identification. Do not bag wet ropes due to the possibility of
Rope Log Every rope should have its’ own rope log to keep track of that ropes
history. It is important to record any rope use or damage in the rope
log to prevent unsafe or outdated ropes from being used.
The 10 Rules of
Rescue Rope Care:
1. No stepping on ropes.
2. No dropping rocks on ropes.
3. No ropes moving across rope or webbing.
4. Protect rope from unnecessary abrasion.
5. Wear gloves when working with moving ropes.
6. Inspect the rope after each use.
7. Maintain a rope log.
8. Wash and dry dirty ropes.
9. Coil or bag rope after use.
10. Store ropes where they will not be exposed to UV, high
temperatures, corrosives or humidity.
Dynamic versus
Static Rope
Dynamic Rope
A dynamic rope is a lifeline or safety line which has elastic
properties. Like a rubber band, they stretch under tension. It is
designed primarily for lead climbing on snow, rock or ice. It is
intended to function as an effective shock absorber to dissipate
energy in the event of a fall. This protects both the fallen climber
and the anchor.
Dynamic rope is typically between 8.5 mm and 11 mm in diameter
and has a 5-8% stretch with a 90kg load. Dynamic ropes are
seldomly used in SAR operations as the stretch causes difficulties in
the rope systems used by Rope Rescue Teams.
Static (Low Stretch) Rope
Static ropes are used in rescues. Static ropes are stronger than
their dynamic counterparts but not as elastic. They will generally
stretch 2-4% with a 90kg load.
Ropes used in assisted stretcher carries, embankment or cliff
rescues are no less than 11 mm in diameter. Static ropes do not act
as a shock absorber and should not be used for lead climbing.
Webbing Tubular Webbing
Tubular webbing is typically used to fashion an anchor. By
wrapping the tubular webbing around the anchor point, it becomes
possible to connect a rope to it via a carabiner. Tubular webbing is
made of nylon and is considerably stronger than flat webbing. It is
the preferred anchor material as its wide surface distributes the load
more evenly so as to reduce abrasion and is less expensive than
using a rope.
Flat Webbing
The uses of flat webbing are identical to those of tubular webbing
but due to its weaker breaking strength is not recommended for
Accessory Cord Accessory cord refers to any narrow diameter rope made from
nylon, Spectra or Kevlar. Accessory cord used in SAR must be no
less than 8 mm in diameter. It may be used to make anchors,
handlines, prusik hitches or a multitude of other things.
Knots and Bends If rope forms the backbone for SAR, then knots are the ligaments
and tendons that tie it together. The knots used in SAR all adhere
to the "KISS Principle": Keep It Simple & Safe. SAR relies on a few
versatile knots. Knot standardization ensures consistency in
systems and reduces the number of knots GSAR members are
required to know. This lessens the likelihood of incorrectly tying a
knot amidst the chaos and confusion of an operation.
The term “Knot” is a general term referring to one of many ways of
tying rope either to an object or to itself. More accurately:
• a “bend” is a knot that joins two ends
• a “bight” is an open loop formed when a rope is doubled
back upon itself
• a “hitch” is a knot tied to an object such that if the
object were removed the knot would fall apart and
• a “backup knot” is a knot used to secure the tail of
another knot.
Many factors have been considered in deciding which knots will be
used in SAR. Strength, ability of the knot to work itself loose in field
conditions, ease of tying and inspection, ease of untying after
loading, ease of teaching and multi-tasking are all items which have
been accounted for.
SAR has adopted the Figure 8 family of knots for its ease of use,
adaptability and strength.
All knots should be backed-up with a Double Overhand knot (except
the Ring Bend, the Figure 8 Follow Through Bend, and the Italian
Hitch) and have a tail at least 10 cm (4") in length. Memorizing what
each correctly tied knot looks like will aid in determining whether you
have tied the knot correctly.
Dressing and
Setting Knots
Dressing a knot is the process of making the knot, bend or hitch
“clean” or neat so that the rope flows through the turns. Setting the
knot refers to tightening the knot by pulling on the legs of the knot.
Cleanly tied and appropriately set knots are easier for the team
leader to identify and ensure that they have been tied properly.
Figure 8 on a Bight This knot is ordinarily used to form a loop to either clip into a
carabiner or slip over an object. It can be tied in either the middle or
the end of a rope. If tied at the end, it should be used in conjunction
with a Double Overhand Back-up Knot.
Publisher: ERI Publications Author: ERI and Don Cooper Title: Search and Rescue Fundamentals
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 10.1 Figure Eight on a Bight
Figure 8 Follow
This knot is used to tie around an object or into a harness. It must
be used in conjunction with a Double Overhand Back-Up Knot.
Publisher: ERI Publications Author: ERI and Don Cooper Title: Search and Rescue Fundamentals
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 10.2 Figure Eight Follow Through Knot
Figure 8 Follow
Through Bend
This bend is used to tie two rope ends together. No Double
Overhand Knots are tied to back it up. Extra care and attention
must be taken to ensure that the tails are at least 15 cm (6") in
Publisher: ERI Publications Author: ERI and Don Cooper Title: Search and Rescue Fundamentals
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 10.3 Figure Eight Follow Through Bend
Double Overhand
This knot is used to ensure that a loaded knot does not untie
because of rope movement. It is used with a Figure 8 on a Bight (if
the Figure Eight on a Bight is tied at the end of the rope) and a
Figure 8 Follow Through.
Figure 10.4 Double Overhand Back-up
Ring Bend (Water
Knot, Tape Knot,
Overhand Bend)
This bend is used to tie two ends of webbing together. No back-up
knots are required but make sure that the tails are at least 10 cm
(4 inches) long. It is important that the webbing lie flat with no twists
and that the knot is set. Do not use the ring bend for tying rope
Publisher: CMC Rescue, Inc Author: Frank, James and Patterson, Donald Title: CMC Rappel Manual
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 10.5 Ring Bend
Italian Hitch The Italian Hitch (Munter Hitch) is usually used to belay singleperson loads. It may also be used for belaying stretcher teams on
low angle slopes. An Italian Hitch is unsuitable for belaying multiperson loads in any technical terrain where the rescuers would slide
or fall if the belay gave way.
An Italian Hitch must be used with a locking carabiner, preferably a
pear-shaped or “Offset D” one. An Italian Hitch will impart a twist to
the rope making the rope more susceptible to tangling.
Figure 10.6 Italian Hitch
Carabiners A carabiner is a snaplink that connects different elements of a
rescue chain such as a rope to an anchor. Carabiners may be
constructed of aluminum or steel and come in a variety of sizes and
shapes. The larger the gate opening to the carabiner, the easier it
is to connect things to it.
Carabiners may be oval-shaped, pear-shaped or shaped like a “D”.
They are strongest when the load is applied along their spine.
Designs which hold the rope or webbing along the spine are
preferred, ie. “D” or offset “D” carabiners. Their gates may be nonlocking or locking. There are many different carabiner locking
mechanisms: screw gate, reverse screw gate, spring-loaded or
twist gate, or double autolock.
Carabiners used in rescue may be either aluminum or steel and
must have a locking gate.
As with any hardware, carabiners must be treated with respect.
They must be placed on the ground (not dropped) and passed to
one another (not tossed or thrown). Should a locking carabiner
become jammed so that it cannot be unlocked, apply a constant
force to the carabiner and attempt to unscrew the gate while loaded.
If this does not work, use pliers.
Anchors An anchor is an immovable object to which the rope is attached. If
an anchor is required, a Ground Search Team Leader will select
what object will be used. Some examples of anchors are trees,
rocks and vehicles. The following discussion will introduce you to
some of the factors that the Team Leader considers when selecting
an anchor.
When anchors are chosen they should be “bombproof”. That is,
they will never move. A tree has to be alive, well rooted, and
immovable. It must not flex or bend when pushed near the base.
Tie off at the base and not high up on the tree.
Rocks have to be immovable and the abrasion points well padded.
Vehicles should be parked perpendicular to the direction of the load,
webbing tied to the frame and padded, doors locked, transmission
engaged, emergency brakes on and wheels chocked.
Sling Anchor
For assisting a rescuer or stretcher team up or down low angle
slopes, a single “bombproof” anchor is acceptable.
This type of anchor can be constructed in two ways. One method is
to wrap a length of sewn webbing or loop of webbing whose ends
are tied with a ring bend around an anchor and clip the loops with a
locking carabiner (Figure 10.7a). Another method is to wrap an
untied section of webbing around the anchor, tying the ends with a
ring bend and clipping the flat section with a locking carabiner
(Figure 10.7b).
Figure 10.7 Looped Sling Anchor
It is important to keep the angle at which the two legs of the sling
meet the carabiner at less than 90°. This is achieved by having a
long enough sling that the carabiner is positioned out from the
Also, try to keep the webbing close to the base of the anchor to
avoid any leverage on the anchor.
Hand lines A rope may be used to create a hand line that can be used to assist
a person moving up or down low angle slope. This would be most
useful during demobilization when searchers are tired and may be
carrying large packs.
A hand line is created by tying a rope around an anchor using a
Figure 8 Follow through or clipping one end of the rope to a simple
slung anchor using a Figure 8 on a Bight.
Hand loops can be added to the rope by tying overhand or Figure 8
on a Bight knots with loops that are 15-25 cm long.
Belaying with an
Italian Hitch
An Italian Hitch can be used to belay a rescuer or stretcher team
while it is raised or as it is lowered on low angle slopes.
1) To belay a load as it is raised:
• The lead hand holds or guides the rope going to the load.
• The rope then passes through the Italian Hitch on the locking
carabiner at the anchor.
• The brake hand does not leave the brake end of the rope.
• The lead hand does all the manipulating and movement to take
in rope.
• If the belayer is facing the load:
• Step 1 – Pull back with the lead hand and forward with the
brake hand.
• Slide the lead hand ahead of the brake hand and hold both
• Slide the brake hand towards the Italian Hitch without taking
it off the rope.
• Bring the lead hand back in position so it can pull in more
• Go back to step 1 and pull back with lead hand and forward
with brake hand.
• If the belayer is facing the anchor:
• Step 1 – The lead hand is pushed forward towards the
Italian Hitch as the brake hand is pulled back.
• The lead hand is slid away from the Italian Hitch to a
position below the brake hand and holds both ropes.
• Slide the brake hand towards the Italian Hitch without taking
it off the rope.
• Move the lead hand away from the Italian Hitch on the load
end of the rope and into position to take in more slack.
Repeat from step 1.
2) To belay a load as it is lowered:
• The end of the rope not going to the load (brake end of rope) is
fed into the Italian Hitch by the lead hand. The brake hand also
holds the brake end of the rope. For greater control it is
possible to hand-over-hand the brake end of the rope so that
one hand is always on the rope at any one time.
• Should the rescuer slip or fall, throw the brake hand in alignment
with the load line.
Belay Signals Efficient communications are an important part of any evacuation.
The following commands are use to assist the belaying of a
stretcher team down a low angle slope.
Communicator Command Translation
Ground Search Team
Leader (GSTL)
Are the stretcher
attendants ready to
Stretcher Attendants READY Ready to move.
Or Stretcher Attendants STANDBY Not ready to move.
GSTL BELAY ON? Is the stretcher on
Belayer ON BELAY. I am in belay position
and ready to belay.
GSTL LOWER AWAY When the stretcher
starts to descend.
I am expecting the
stretcher to move
and will begin letting
out rope.
GSTL RAISE When the stretcher
team starts to move.
Belayer RAISING I am expecting the
stretcher to move
and will begin to take
in slack.
GSTL SLACK When rope is
GSTL TENSION When a tight belay
rope is needed.
GSTL SECURE When stretcher team
is secure.
Belayer BELAY OFF When belay is off.
Anyone STANDBY If not ready to
Anyone STOP To stop the
Final Comments It must be stressed that the techniques that have been discussed in
this chapter are only to be used to assist movement up and down
low angle slopes (slopes on which dropping to the ground would not
result in movement down the slope).
A Rope Rescue Team using rope rescue techniques is required if a
person would slide or fall if they slipped.
Additional Reading Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Rope Rescue Manual. 1992
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is the difference between a dynamic rope and a static
rope. Which one is used in SAR?
2. When is a single point anchor acceptable?
3. Which hand must never leave the rope when using an Italian
4. If you are the belayer and you say “On Belay” what does that
5. Be able to tie all the knots and bends described.
Answer True or False to the following statements.
6. A ring bend must have tails at least 4 cm long.
7. Flat webbing is recommended for SAR work.
8. A ring bend is used to tie two pieces of webbing together.
9. A Double Overhand Back-Up Knot is used with a Figure Eight
Follow Through Bend.
10. After finishing this chapter you are ready to conduct technical
Chapter 11 - Orientation to Tracking
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Define clue, sign and track (print).
• Describe the use of tracking in SAR.
• Be aware of sign.
• Preserve sign.
• Describe a tracking stick and its use.
• Describe techniques used by a tracking crew.
• Explain how a track is labeled.
Introduction Over the years tracking has been shown to be a very effective
technique in locating lost persons. Tracking (sign cutting) is the
step by step following of a person. It takes training, determination
and hundreds of hours of practice to become a skilled tracker.
The skills required for tracking and for sign cutting are beyond the
GSAR Course. However, GSAR team members without training in
tracking still need some knowledge of what these skills are in order
to assist trackers.
In this section, only a basic understanding of what is involved in
tracking will be covered. Tracking can not be learned from a book,
only hours of practice will make a person competent in tracking. In
BC, there are a series of courses available for people who are
interested in increasing their tracking skills. The courses are set up
in progressive levels of proficiency starting with Tracking Aware
followed by Tracker 1, Tracker 2 and Sign Cutter. These courses
are delivered through Universal Tracking Services.
Clue Awareness was covered in the Initiating the Search Chapter
and should be reviewed at this time.
Definitions Clues
Clues are objects, information, or some form of evidence that helps
locate a missing person.
Cutting for Sign
Cutting for sign is a process of looking for sign usually along natural
barriers such as creeks, banks, or roads.
Sign is the evidence of a person’s passage. This can be visible
tracks, compressed ground, moisture knocked off of grass,
damaged leaves, dirt transferred onto plants or many other things.
Track or Print
A track (print) is the impression left in the ground as a subject past
over an area. A signature print is a footprint displaying
characteristics that make it unmistakably identifiable.
Tracking (sign cutting)
Tracking is the step by step following of a person.
Track Trap
A track trap is an area that is especially good for finding sign.
Tracking Team
A team of three, each with a specific function, following a line of
Use of Tracking
in SAR
When tracking is used early in the search, the search area can be
significantly reduced. Tracking teams cut for sign around the point
last seen, last known position or initial planning point until a
signature track is found. Finding a signature track may be one of
the most difficult parts of the search especially if many people have
crossed the search area.
Tracking teams then follow the tracks to determine the direction of
travel. By finding the direction of travel the high probability search
area is now reduced to a wedge shaped area instead of a circle.
Figure 11.1 Search Area Reduction by Establishing Direction
Tracking teams may then follow the subject’s trail step-by-step. The
sign they follow may be visible tracks or may be slight indications of
travel such as overturned pebbles, crushed grass or dew knocked
off leaves. Progress may be quite slow going step by step.
If another team of advanced trackers is available, the process of
cutting for sign is used to speed up movement along the subject’s
trail. This second team of trackers will look for sign while moving
across the projected line of travel at 90°. This will determine if the
subject continued in that direction. If they find identifiable sign, they
take over moving from track to track and the original team now
moves ahead to cut for sign. This allows the trackers to “leap-frog”
ahead on the missing person’s track (Figure 11.2)
Figure 11.2 Cutting for Sign
If no sign is detected and the sign cutting team is highly skilled, it
may be concluded that the missing person has not passed this way
and has either changed his or her direction or has stopped
somewhere between the cutting line and the last identified track.
Sign Protection Inexperienced searchers can easily destroy sign by trying to cut for
sign. They can also miss sign that is present but not obvious. This
can lead to incorrect assumptions about the subject’s location.
Cutting for sign is only to be attempted by experienced
It is important for every searcher to try to prevent sign from being
damaged or destroyed. Once sign is destroyed there is no way to
bring it back. For example, if a search is starting at the missing
subject’s vehicle, the area around the vehicle should not be walked
on. This is the most likely area to find a signature print and a
direction of travel. If the car is to be checked, a single travel line
coming from the rear of the vehicle should be used to access the
driver side of the car and the access route should be marked.
Experienced trackers may also cut for sign along trails, roads,
creeks or any other track traps to determine if the subject went in
that direction. This is called a perimeter cut and can vastly reduce
the search area by determining where the subject has not been.
Searchers should also be looking for sign anytime they are traveling
down any pathways.
Even though GSAR trained personnel are not as sign aware as
a trained tracker, they should still always be looking for sign
anytime they are traveling down a trail, road or through the
Tracking Stick A tracking stick is an invaluable tool for the tracker. It is used to
help focus the trackers attention on an area of ground most likely to
have the next track.
Tracking sticks are used to measure track size (length of foot) and
the distance of a person’s stride (from the toe of one track to the
heel of the next track). They can be made from anything that is
available such as ski poles, branches, or a section of an avalanche
probe. Rubber O-rings are placed on the tracking stick and can be
adjusted to mark the two measurements.
How Trackers use a
Tracking Stick
Experienced trackers will use a tracking stick when two tracks can
be positively identified. The tip of the stick is placed in line with the
rear of the front heel print. A rubber O-ring is placed on the stick
where it lines up with the toe of the rear print. This is the stride
measurement. The tracker also places a rubber O-ring at the heel
of the rear foot. This is the foot measurement. The tracking stick is
held over the known tracks not on the ground. This prevents
damage to the tracks.
The tracker searches for the next track by pivoting the stick with the
toe marker lined up with the toe of the last known track. She
concentrates on the area at the tip of the tracking stick as this is the
prime sign area. The tip of the tracking stick is moved from the 10
o’clock to 2 o’clock position above the toe of the last print. The next
heel mark should be in that area. It may be very obvious or it may
be almost impossible to see. The tracking stick is used to focus the
tracker’s eyes on the prime sign area so that minor details will be
seen. It takes considerable practice to train your eyes not to wander
off of the prime sign area.
Moving from one well-defined obvious track to the next well-defined
obvious track without finding the tracks in between is called jump
tracking and is avoided by trackers. The process of jump tracking
destroys sign and makes it very difficult to retrace the steps if the
tracker moves off onto the wrong course. This is a common error of
beginner trackers.
Tape Measure A tape measure is used to measure various dimensions on a print.
The dimensions are used to compare different prints.
A Note Pad A note pad is important to record print measurements and to draw a
print picture.
Flagging Tape Flagging tape is useful in marking sign and marking off areas to
prevent sign damage. Make sure it is removed after use.
Light and light angle plays an important role in viewing tracks. A
flashlight can be useful in sub-optimal lighting.
The Effect of Light
Light plays an important role in how well tracks can be seen. The
low angle light in the morning and evening is the best light for
viewing tracks. The longer shadows make slight depressions easier
to see. Having the light source directly in front of yourself also
makes the tracks easier to see. However, do not damage sign trying
to get the sun in the right position.
At night, the tracker controls the light source and this proves to be
an excellent time to find sign. The tracker’s attention is focussed on
the small area of light on the ground enabling her to concentrate
and see more detail than in daylight. The tracker can also control
the strength of the light source and the angle at which it hits the
ground. A diffuse light source directed at a low angle to the ground
is the best for seeing sign.
Tracking Teams
Once a signature print has been found the tracking team may start
step by step tracking. Tracking teams are made up of three
members, a point person and two flankers. The point person stays
behind the last print found and uses the tracking stick to search for
the next print. The two flankers are on either side of the point
person and they watch for change of direction of the trail, any
incoming trails that may confuse the point person and help the point
person find the next track.
The point person requires extreme concentration that cannot be
maintained for a long period of time. The flankers should alternate
into the point position frequently. Exchanging ideas between the
tracking team is important so that no sign is overlooked.
Labeling Tracks If, during the course of a search you come across tracks, these
tracks should be labeled and care taken not to damage them. If an
entire print is visible a circle can be drawn around the print while
flagging tape may be used to identify where the track is. Search
base should be notified about the track and given the track
identification information as outlined below. If it is raining or very
windy the track should be protected by carefully placing a tarp over
the track.
Track Identification The sole of every shoe has an identified pattern. This variation in
patterns is beneficial to the tracker as distinguishing between
different tracks can be a difficult process. All searchers should be
able to describe a sole pattern over the radio.
Trackers identify tracks using some basic information such as:
(a) Length of print
(b) Width of ball of foot
(c) Length of heel
(d) Width of heel
(e) Length of Stride
Figure 11.3 Track Measurements
Shoe Type There are many different shoe types and only a sample of the more
common types is represented here.
Figure 11.4 Shoe Types
Shoe Shape • Toe – round, pointed or square
• Heel – straight leading edge, concave leading edge
Basic Sole Pattern As with shoe types there are many different types of sole patterns
and the best way to convey what the pattern looks like and
remember what it looks like is to draw it.
Figure 11.5 Basic Sole Pattern
Unique Features • Worn areas
• Cuts
Track Report A track report form such as the one shown in Figure 11.6 can be
used to communicate what the track looks like to others, to
differentiate the track from other tracks and it keep a record of the
track for future use.
Figure 11.6 Track Report
Final Comments The theory of tracking and sign cutting is fairly easy to describe. Its
practice is the opposite. Spotting sign is very difficult and only very
experienced trackers can state with confidence that no sign is
present. Much practice is essential to use the technique effectively.
It is not for the use of inexperienced searchers.
Additional Reading Hardin, Joel. Universal Training Systems Signcut Division (Manual).
Everson, WA.
Cooper, Donald C. and Taylor, Albert “Ab”. Fundamentals of
Mantracking: The Step-By-Step Method, 2nd Edition. Olympia, WA:
Emergency Response Institute, Inc. and National Rescue
Consultants, Inc., 1993.
Kearney, Jack. Tracking: A Blueprint for Learning How. El Cajon,
CA: Pathways Press, 1978.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. Why do GSAR trained members need to know about tracking?
2. Why is night a good time to track?
3. What type of information is important for track identification?
4. What is the key to becoming a good tracker?
Answer True or False to the following statements.
5. Base should only be informed at search team debriefings about
tracks that are found.
6. The search area can often be reduced when a tracking team is
used early in a search.
7. Tracks and sign are the same thing.
8. Jump tracking is used to move along a subject’s trail.
Chapter 12 - Helicopter Safety
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Outline the advantages and disadvantages of using helicopters
and aircraft for SAR operations.
• Perform duties safely in the vicinity of helicopters.
• Describe some of the requirements for helicopter landing zones.
• Demonstrate correct procedures when boarding and deplaning
from helicopters.
• Demonstrate correct procedures when acting as an air
operations observer.
Helicopter Use
in SAR
Helicopters are used in SAR operations for two main tasks: to move
crews and equipment to the search area and to evacuate injured
subjects. They have been increasingly used in SAR because of
their speed and maneuverability. Even though they are a valuable
resource they do have some disadvantages. Disadvantages include
cost, physical limitations (i.e. payload capacity), inability to function
in bad weather or at night, and difficulty communicating with ground
High velocity rotors present safety hazards that must be respected.
The rules that will be outlined in this chapter are to ensure that
GSAR team members work safely around helicopters.
There are a number of different models of helicopters in use and
these vary in their seating capacity, allowable payload, required
landing pad size, and stretcher loading capabilities and procedures.
The GSAR member does not need to have a detailed knowledge of
all the different models of helicopters but should become familiar
with the helicopters that are used in their area.
SAR groups sometimes have an over-reliance on helicopters and
this should be avoided. Valuable time can be lost while waiting for
weather to improve for helicopter flight or waiting for the arrival of
the helicopter. Back up plans should always be in place in case the
helicopter cannot be used.
Helicopter Safety As a GSAR team member, you may be present on a task where
helicopters are used, the following must be followed to work safely
around helicopters.
• All GSAR team members and bystanders who are not part of
the crew working directly with the aircraft must stay 35 metres
(120 feet) away from the aircraft.
• A member should be assigned to maintain site security. This
person would ensure that everyone except those boarding the
helicopter are 35 metres away. They would also ensure that the
helicopter is approached only in a safe manner.
• Do not load without the pilot’s or other authorized crew
member’s permission and supervision.
• Always approach or leave a helicopter from the front so the pilot
can see you at all times (Figure 12.1).
• Keep your head down at all times but look forward so you can
see where you are going.
• Never touch an external load, hook or any part of the helicopter
until it has made contact with the ground due to the buildup of
static electricity.
• Never approach or leave a helicopter from any side where the
ground is higher in relation to where the helicopter is resting.
• No smoking within 35 metres (120 feet) of the helicopter.
• Maintain a wide clearance from the tail area and the tail rotor.
• Headgear should have chinstraps. Loose clothing or equipment
(ropes, sleeping pads, parkas etc.) must be secured and not be
left around the landing zone.
• Long handled tools (ice axes, skis, shovels etc.) must be kept
parallel to the ground when approaching or leaving a helicopter.
• In soft ground terrain (eg. snow, swamp) do not stand on the
skid of a small helicopter when exiting or entering the aircraft.
• Have appropriate clothing for conditions outside while flying in a
helicopter in case an emergency landing has to be made.
• If you require medications, bring extra with you in case flight
plans change.
• No items such as bear spray, bear bangers, or explosives are
allowed in the passenger compartment.
• Goggles can be worn to protect eyes from flying debris.
• Never stand below a helicopter when it is slinging equipment
unless you are part of the loading operation.
Figure 12.1 Helicopter Approach Zones
Landing Zone
If helicopters are going to be used on a task then landing zones
have to be found or built.
A good landing zone provides enough cleared space for a helicopter
to safely land and take off into the wind. Vertical landings and
takeoffs require more power reducing safety. Therefore, elongated
landing and take-off lanes should be oriented parallel to the wind
direction. The size of clearing required will vary depending on the
type of helicopter being used. In general you will want to have a
distance of 50 m from the end of your landing zone to the first 15 m
high object in the flight path. (See Figure 12.2)
The touchdown pad should be level, firm, clear of debris and have
nothing sticking up more than 30 cm. Wires are difficult to see from
an aircraft so the location of the landing zone should be well away
from any wires.
12. 2 Helicopter Landing Zones
The best landing zones are located on the top of ridges, hills or
other exposed areas. The final decision on whether to land the
helicopter is the pilots and he may decide to land somewhere else.
It is then important to have good communication between the
ground team and the helicopter.
To indicate wind direction to the incoming helicopter use a smoke
flare, wind indicator (brightly coloured clothing) or light a small
smoky fire 50 meters away from the landing zone (watch out that it
is not too close as the rotor wash can easily spread the fire).
Keep clear of the landing zone when the helicopter lands. Dust,
snow, or anything loose will be blown toward you by the rotor draft.
Crouch down to the ground 30 metres (100 feet) away and/or turn
your back from the helicopter. Eye protection can be useful.
Figure 12.3 Locating Helicopter Landing Zones
Preparation of a
Landing Site on
To prepare a landing site on snow, pack the snow level with
snowshoes, skis, feet or a snowmobile. Pack the snow at least half
an hour before the helicopter arrives so that the snow can harden.
If the snow is extremely soft, and cannot be compacted, further
support for the helicopter should be provided.
• Build a mat of spruce boughs 3 m square and 15 cm thick.
• Lay five or six strong, trimmed logs each 2 ½ to 3 m long on the
mat at 0.5 m intervals and at right angles to the helicopter
approach. Ensure the logs will not roll.
Landing Sites on
Soft Swampy
On soft, swampy ground a landing site similar to that described for
extremely soft snow could be made.
12.4 Helicopter Landing Zone on Snow
Boarding a
Before the helicopter arrives the Ground Search Team Leader
should go over the boarding plan with the team. Details such as
where the team will wait for the helicopter, the order in which team
members will board, who will stow gear, and any safety
considerations should be reviewed. Plans for exiting the helicopter
after the flight should also be discussed at this time.
The pilot may shut down the engine before loading or he may leave
the engine running and the rotor turning. Loading while the engine
is running requires considerable care and attention to safety.
Only those who will be loading need to be close to the loading area,
everyone else should keep clear. As the helicopter approaches,
crouch down at the edge of the intended landing area with all loose
items secured. Loose items can be drawn up into the moving rotors
or jet intakes causing damage to the helicopter. In severely cold
weather make sure all your skin is protected to prevent frostbite
occurring from the rotor wash.
Approach the helicopter from the front only when the pilot gives you
a positive signal that it is safe to do so (usually an exaggerated nod
of the head as the pilots hands are busy and he may not be able to
wave). Never approach from the rear as under some conditions the
moving tail rotor cannot be seen. People have been killed walking
into the tail rotor.
Remember: if you can’t see the pilot’s eyes you are in the
wrong place.
Approach the helicopter from lower ground. Never approach from
the uphill side as this puts you closer to the rotor.
Keep low when you approach the helicopter as the blade will drop
lower when the pilot cuts power. Look ahead as you approach in
this crouched position, not at the ground.
Do not go under the tail boom to get from one side of the helicopter
to the other.
Carry tools and equipment horizontally at waist height.
Open the door hold, place packs and cargo on the floor then climb
slowly aboard one at a time.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 12.5 Do not approach a helicopter from an uphill slope.
Enter and exit downhill.
In the Helicopter • Ensure that all seat belt ends are inside before closing the door.
Gently pull the door shut. Do not slam the door.
• Wear your seat belt including the shoulder straps if provided.
• Wear the headset, and ask the pilot how to use it before taking
off. Do not talk to the pilot during takeoff or landing. Don’t
forget to remove the headset when you deplane.
• Remain in your seat unless given permission to move.
• Do not distract the pilot during takeoff, maneuvering or landing.
• Do not let items contact the plexiglass windows and do not
touch the window surfaces.
Single Skid Landing Under some conditions the pilot will not be able to completely land
the helicopter. In this case, one skid may be put on the ground
while the other skid is still in the air and the pilot maintains the
position by hovering. Loading during a single skid landing requires
a gradual placement of weight onto the helicopter allowing the pilot
to adjust for this new weight.
Exiting the
On the approach to the landing site the helicopter pilot may advise
you on hazards that he may see, where he wants you to exit to and
he may confirm your pick up point and time.
The pilot will indicate when you can exit (deplane).
Remove headset and seatbelts.
Exit one at a time on the side opposite the pilot unless told
otherwise. Move slowly, hand out gear and reconnect your seat belt
before exiting.
Once out of the helicopter, secure the door and crouch down at the
side of the helipad with your equipment. Never depart uphill from
the helicopter. The Ground Search Team Leader will give the allclear signal to the pilot. Wait until the helicopter has lifted off and
cleared the pad before moving equipment away.
Air Operations
To be a spotter in an air search conducted by CASARA (Civil Air
Search and Rescue Association) or Rescue Coordination Center
search aircraft formal training is required. However, SAR team
members are occasionally required to be observers from an aircraft
or a helicopter. In addition, if you are being transported to a search
area by helicopter or aircraft, the time in the air can be spent
spotting. There are some basic skills that should be known to be an
effective observer.
Being an observer takes considerable concentration and the length
of time that a person is effective is only 2 to 3 hours. Techniques
which make the observer more efficient are:
• making sure that the window is clean,
• having a comfortable position,
• having the lights off in the aircraft,
• using binoculars only to investigate naked eye sightings
• communicating only when necessary.
Visual coverage of the search area is best achieved by setting up a
scanning pattern with the eyes. As the aircraft moves forward scan
slowly back and forth at right angles to the flight path. Try to move
slowly from one point of focus to the next and pause briefly at each
focal point. Moving the whole head instead of just the eyes can
prevent eyestrain.
Any sign that you observe should be mentioned to the pilot so that a
closer inspection can be performed. Signs would include anything
out of the ordinary such as tracks, tents, vehicles, signals (lights,
flares), shiny objects or movement. Any sign or lack of sign should
be documented in a log that can be given to the SAR Manager and
used for future planning.
Additional Reading Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Forests. In and Around
Helicopters - Passenger Safety.
Workers’ Compensation Board. Safe Work Practices for Helicopter
Operations in the Forest Industry. Richmond, BC, 1995
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. How far away from a helicopter should GSAR team members
who are not loading stay?
2. Describe how you would load during a single skid landing.
3. Never approach a helicopter from _________________ or
4. For SAR in BC, what are the two main tasks that helicopters are
used for?
5. Why should the back of the helicopter be avoided?
6. Describe how to achieve the best coverage of a search area as
an air operation observer.
Answer True or False to the following statements.
7. You should approach the helicopter as soon as it lands.
8. Elongated landing zones are the best shape for helicopter
9. Always use binoculars when scanning from a helicopter or
10. The GSTL has the final decision on where the landing site will
be located.
Chapter 13 - Avalanche Orientation
Upon viewing of the avalanche video, you will be:
• Aware of the avalanche hazards that exist on snow slopes.
and SAR
Snow kills. Every year 10 people on average are killed in
avalanches in BC. Hundreds of SAR personnel are annually
involved in performing winter searches however, it is beyond the
scope of the GSAR Course to provide instruction for safe winter
backcountry travel and avalanche response. The objective of
watching the video “Beating the Odds” is to increase your
awareness of the potential and probable hazards that are present
during snow travel.
It is PEP policy that for any avalanche SAR response the Site
Safety Officer is a Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) Level II
Technician and that the SAR Team Leader, and preferably all
volunteers involved should have completed the Justice Institute of
BC (JIBC) Organized Avalanche Response Course.
Furthermore, many SAR Groups in BC are often conducting SAR
operations in areas containing avalanche terrain. These groups
should make it a priority for their members to take the Organized
Avalanche Response Course.
CAA Certified Avalanche Technicians may be accessed through the
Ministry of Transportation and Highways, the CAA or from local
outdoor commercial operators such as ski hills.
Organized Avalanche Response Course, Justice Institute of British
Canadian Avalanche Association web site at
Chapter 14 - Evacuation
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Identify the type of terrain over which evacuation is possible as
a ground search and rescuer.
• Be familiar with the equipment your SAR Group uses.
• Assist the first aid attendant with patient loading and packaging.
• Assist the first aid attendant using appropriate precautions
against communicable diseases.
• Attach a rope the stretcher.
• Perform lifting, loading and carrying techniques that avoid back
and other injuries.
• Participate as a member of a stretcher evacuation team over
terrain which varies from flat to low angle slopes.
• Perform evacuation procedures that do not cause further harm
to the subject.
• Be able to use a safety rope to assist stretcher movement on
low angle slopes.
Introduction Many SAR subjects require evacuation – that is, they cannot or
should not walk out on their own. Stretcher transportation is often
required either alone or in combination with mechanized transport.
First Aid courses cover techniques to safely lift and place the
subject in a stretcher.
Once in the stretcher, the patient must be secured into it in a
manner dependent on the nature of the injuries. A common error is
to secure the casualty inadequately, so that he shifts and
aggravates injuries when the stretcher is tipped. Tipping may be
required to allow for quick drainage of vomitus or when the stretcher
is angled up or down a hill. While it is not essential that all SAR
group members know the full details of these techniques, it is
essential that all personnel be able to assist in a stretcher
evacuation. In the discussion that follows, it shall be assumed
that the first aid attendant will be in charge of patient care.
This chapter outlines the skills and techniques required for
wilderness evacuation over rough ground, low angle slopes and
short verticals. It is assumed that a minimum of 6 rescuers is
being used. That is, in general, the fewest rescuers with which most
obstacles can be handled within the bounds of basic training and
the circumstances of most patients.
You must work within the limits of your abilities at all times.
Occasionally, terrain will require you to go to the extremes of these
limits. To go beyond, without additional safety gear and the training
to use it, as per the specific requirements of PEP, will dangerously
risk injury or death to yourself, your team members and to the
patient. Unnecessary risk-taking should never be tolerated by any
SAR member.
As such, it is strongly recommended that teams with GSAR training
not be supplied or supply themselves with any additional technical
rescue equipment that would allow them to function beyond these
limits, without further training by recognized JIBC instructors. Even
then, if trained rescuers have difficulty or any doubt in remembering
exact procedures, they should not attempt them.
GSAR team members should be able to evacuate stretchers over
rough ground, low angle slopes, and short verticals.
Rough Ground Rough ground is any irregular terrain offering poor footing that is
relatively flat. This could be a trail, field, brush, meadow or swamp.
Low Angle Slopes A low angle slope is at an angle at which loose material naturally
stops rolling. On a low angle slope, an unbelayed fall by a rescuer
should not be hazardous, as he will not continue to fall. Some
moderately angled slopes such as hard snow, packed mud or slick
grass may, due to the consequences of a slip or fall, require rescue
techniques ordinarily used in vertical terrain.
Short Verticals Short verticals are any drop steeper than an embankment up to 30
cm higher than the reach of the tallest rescue team member. The
passing of ditches and crevices must also be reasonably assessed
regarding the safety of unsecured rescuers operating near the
edges of these obstacles.
There will always be grey areas. Safety of rescuers must be the
primary consideration, even to the point of becoming an obsession.
Heroics have no place in the SAR team.
Ground Search
Team Leader (GSTL)
The Ground Search Team Leader (GSTL) is the individual assigned
to supervise and monitor the conduct and activities of a GSAR
team. The GSTL is responsible for the following functions: team
safety, performance, accountability, logistics, organizational support,
supervision, briefing, reviewing (debriefing), liasing with the SAR
Manager or designate, ground to air communications, and record
Safety Officer During a complex evacuation, compounded by darkness or bad
weather, it becomes impossible for the GSTL to see everything and
be everywhere to assure safety. Also, no one is infallible, and the
GSTL may miss something or make a poor decision in the heat of
the moment. For this reason, the GSTL may appoint a Safety
Officer for each operation.
The Safety Officer should be a highly experienced, respected, and
conservative individual, whom the team will listen to. If there are
enough personnel the Safety Officer should not be used for anything
else other than ensuring the safety of the team. He should be
allowed to move freely and observe, concentrating on hazards and
alerting the GSTL to anything he observes. If, as more commonly
happens, his participation is required in stretcher handling, he can
still alert the GSTL to any hazards he observes.
This does not mean that other team members can then relax and
“leave safety to the Safety Officer”. Every member should be
constantly aware of his own and other’s safety. The effects of an
accident caused by a moment of inattention can last a lifetime.
Stretcher Types Polyethylene Basket Stretcher
These are the most common stretchers used by SAR Groups. They
are constructed of a dense polyethylene shell supported by a heavy
duty aluminium frame. They can be used on dirt and snow as well
as in the high angle environment. Polyethylene basket stretchers
come in either one-piece or two-piece models. The two piece
models are popular because they can be attached to backpacks
when in two pieces.
An example of this type of stretcher is the Ferno-Washington Model
Wire Basket Stretchers
Wire basket stretchers have been used for many years and the two
most common are the “Stokes” and the “CMC Rescue Litter”. They
are comprised of a rigid metal tubing frame lined with wire mesh.
Fibreglass Basket Stretchers
Fibreglass basket stretchers are constructed of a fibreglass shell
supported by a heavy duty aluminium frame. They have been
largely replaced by polyethylene models.
Plastic Stretchers
The most common model of plastic stretcher in use is the “Sked”
stretcher. It is constructed of a 1 metre by 2 metre sheet which is
formed into a cocoon shape. Heavy brass grommets are present on
the stretcher for attaching tie-ins, end straps, and carrying handles.
Stretcher Wheels On most stretcher models, a wheel can be mounted to aid in
evacuations. This will help lessen the burden for stretcher carriers,
when on long rescue operations.
Backboards Packaging of the subject often begins with the subject being put
onto a backboard prior to a stretcher arriving on the scene. The first
aid attendant will determine if a backboard will be used.
Spinal Jackets Some SAR Groups in BC use soft spinal jackets (KED or SED)
instead of a backboard. The advantages of these spinal
immobilization devices are their lightweight, ease of use and that
they act as an excellent lifting device. If your Group uses one of
these devices then your first aid attendant should provide some
training to familiarize members of the various uses.
Approaching the
On steep ground, avoid approaching a subject from directly above.
Falling rock may be kicked loose by the many feet of the rescue
team, and injure the subject. This is a common error of rescuers
descending to a car at the bottom of a road embankment.
The same applies when setting up a steadying rope to move a
subject up a low angle slope, as the rescuers or the rope itself may
knock rocks loose. Set ropes up well to one side, then carry the
stretcher to the ropes, rather than setting the ropes up above the
You must be especially careful while moving on terrain with loose
rocks which could dislodge and fall upon the subject. Ensure that
the subjects condition is improved by your intervention and not
worsened by it. The injured subject may be lying face up unable to
move and protect himself from a barrage of rocks. A helmet on top
of his head is not going to protect his face. Fasten plexiglass or
wire shields to the stretcher or improvise protection with extra packs
or padding. In very loose footing, a wire Stokes litter may be
inverted over the carrying litter during exposure, provided that it
does not interfere with first aid procedures.
Patient Packaging The decision to package the patient will be made by the first aid
attendant on scene. As a GSAR team member you should be
familiar with the packaging equipment your SAR group uses.
The key points to remember when assisting the first aid attendant
with packaging are:
• Follow the first aid attendant’s instructions regarding any first aid
or spinal immobilization.
• Have the appropriate equipment available such as blankets,
tarps and space blankets.
• SAR team members may hold a tarp above the patient to help
keep the patient and equipment dry.
• If there is any chance of rocks falling on the patient try to protect
the patient (the building of a barrier with packs/rocks//logs may
be required).
• Remove all the patient’s wet clothing when you have the
equipment ready.
• Place the patient into the dry environment.
• When using a backboard place a Thermarest, insulating pad or
blanket between the patient and the backboard to prevent
pressure sores and to reduce heat loss.
• Make sure the patient is securely tied to the backboard (if used)
and the backboard is securely tied to the stretcher. The first aid
attendant will supervise the attachment of the patient to the
• Maintain easy access to the patient for the first aid attendant to
monitor vital signs and to access the injury site.
Improvised Blanket
and Tarp Packaging
• Place a tarp 2 m X 3 m, out on the ground, in the stretcher or on
the backboard.
• Place a reflective space-blanket on the tarp.
• Place a minimum of 2 blankets out on the space blanket.
• Dry the patient making sure that the feet, hands and head are
covered. Dry wool socks should be available to be put on both
the patient’s feet and hands.
• Some teams use heat generation units such as Res-Q-Air or
Heatpac Heater to provide supplemental heat to prevent
hypothermia in the patient. If your team uses one of these
devices you should become familiar with its use.
Precautions Against
It is always a possibility that the subject that you are assisting the
first aid attendant with may have a communicable disease such as
HIV or Hepatitis B. You need to be able to provide assistance in a
way that minimizes the risks of infection to yourself.
The main precaution to take is to wear gloves when there is any
chance that blood, body fluids or contaminated equipment will be
touched. On a SAR operation you should have several pairs of
disposable gloves available in case your first pair become damaged.
If artificial respiration or CPR is performed a pocket mask with a one
way valve should be used.
PEP recommends that SAR Groups meet with a medical
professional to discuss whether a Hepatitis B immunization program
should be instituted for the group. If it is decided that an
immunization program should be started then PEP will provide
Hepatitis B shots to volunteers.
Extended Patient
During a SAR operation there is often a period of time after a SAR
volunteer has made it to the subject but before the subject can be
evacuated. This can vary from minutes to many hours. For
example, a team of two SAR volunteers may find the subject and
will remain with the subject as equipment and more personnel are
moved to their location.
The following is not a complete review of extended patient care but
is an introduction to some of the most important considerations.
More information can be found in references such as Outdoor
Emergency Care (see the resource list at the end of this chapter).
Besides requiring initial first aid the subject will need to have their
ordinary day to day requirements met before and during evacuation
to medical aid. Their survival requirements are the same as those
of the rescuers except that they may need assistance in meeting
these requirements. They need:
• Shelter (both above and below the patient)
• Maintenance of body temperature (dry clothes, fire, etc.)
• Water
• Food (only on very long evacuations)
• Assistance with natural processes such as eating, drinking,
urination and defecation
• Psychological support
While the first aid attendant is conducting first aid the other available
SAR Volunteers who not directly involved in the first aid can be
starting to build shelter for the subject and ensuring that the
subject’s body temperature will be maintained (having dry clothes
available for the patient, getting insulation for above and below the
subject, starting a fire, etc).
The rescuers should ensure that they do not put themselves into a
hypothermic situation by offering too much of their own clothing and
gear to the subject. Having extra subject clothing in a ready pack is
For short evacuations fluids will normally not be given to the injured
subject however for long evacuations or where the subject has
vomiting, diarrhea, or has extensive burns then fluids should be
given. The types of fluids that could be given in frequent small
amounts are plain water boullion, fruit drinks or electrolyte
containing sports drinks. Food is generally not needed as the
subject can go for several days without eating with no permanent
The SAR volunteer must be prepared to assist the injured person
with natural body functions such as urinating and defecating. A
0.5 –1.0 L wide-mouth screw top polyethylene bottle can be used as
a urinal. It is important to try and prevent the subject’s clothing from
becoming wet with urine as this can increase the risk of
hypothermia. If necessary, a subject can defecate in the supine (on
their back) position if a hole is cut through an Ensolite pad or clothes
are carefully arranged and positioned over a hole in the ground or
Although medical treatment of injuries must never be compromised,
psychological support is very important in maintenance of the
subject’s will to live. Talking positively to the patient is essential
(see page 15 in this chapter ) as well as performing your duties in a
calm, deliberate and unhurried manner.
The above details are only a few of many necessary to ensure that
the subject is evacuated to medical aid in the best physical and
mental state possible.
Stretcher Straps The first aid attendant will supervise the securing of the patient to
the backboard or spinal jacket. The backboard (spinal jacket) then
has to be firmly attached to the stretcher. For transport over
relatively flat terrain the commercially built stretcher straps that
come with the stretcher provide the best attachment. They allow
easy access to the patient and have wide webbing. One
disadvantage is that the locking mechanism can become clogged
with dirt or snow. Double-check the clasp once it is secure.
For steep slopes or high angle evacuation, further strapping of the
patient to the stretcher is required to prevent lengthways or side to
side movement. There are a variety of ways to achieve this with
many teams using a combination of webbing and a patient harness.
Attaching a Rope to
the Stretcher
When a rope is used to assist the stretcher to go up or down a low
angle slope, the rope must be attached to the stretcher in a safe and
simple manner. Three examples will be covered in the GSAR
1) Use a commercial bridle according to manufacturer’s
2) To attach the rope to a wire basket stretcher, a Figure 8
Follow Through Knot is used with the rope wrapped around the
basket frame as shown in Figure 14.1. Remember to use a
Double Overhand Back-up Knot after the Figure 8 Follow
Through Knot.
Figure 14.1 Attachment of a Rope to a Wire Basket Stretcher.
Note: For any situation other than a low angle slope a more solid
attachment to the stretcher is required.
3) To attach the rope to a polyethylene stretcher, a locking
carabiner can be clipped into the grommet (attachment hole) on
each side of the head end of the stretcher with the carabiner
gate opening into the stretcher. Separate slings are attached to
each locking carabiner and brought up and clipped to a master
locking carabiner above the head end of the stretcher. The
belay rope is then clipped into the master carabiner using a
Figure 8 on a Bight with a Double Overhand Backup Knot.
Guarding Your Back
Back injuries are extremely common among emergency workers. A
minor back injury can terribly complicate a rescue, creating a new
casualty who must be cared for. Back injuries often recur, to the
everlasting pain and incapacity of the victim.
For example, if you are loading someone into a stretcher on the side
of a slope, in poor conditions, it is easy to work from an awkward
position that you wouldn’t consider on level ground. Always, take
your time, get well positioned, and lift with your legs. During
the heat of a rescue, it is easy to ignore body mechanics for just a
GSAR team members should be able to evacuate stretchers over
rough ground, low angle slopes, and short verticals.
The most important aspect of correct body mechanics is to "Bend
Your Knees". The following are other principles of good body
mechanics that will help you prevent an accident:
• Use a broad base of support to increase stability – keep feet
• Size up every load before trying to move it. Be sure you are
strong enough!
• Ask for help!
• Lift and carry heavy objects close to your body.
• Change sides often when carrying stretchers.
• Roll or slide heavy objects rather than lifting, if possible.
• In snowy conditions it may be better to slide the stretcher rather
than carrying it.
• Reduce friction when sliding objects by interposing something
smooth. Work with gravity rather than against it.
• Turn from the feet or point the forward foot in the direction of the
turn; Do Not Twist.
• Align your body in the direction of the move.
• Use your body weight by rocking as a force for pulling or
• Practice a lift on an uninjured subject before trying an important
• Maintain eye contact with fellow lifters when making a lift, this is
the best means of insuring co-ordination.
• Count before lifting. 123 Lift.
• Keep Your Back Straight!
• Bend your Knees!
Stretcher Bearing
Six stretcher bearers is an absolute minimum for any other distance
than a transfer to a vehicle. For this number to be adequate, the
following conditions should be met:
• The way out (egress) is well known.
• The route is clear of obstacles and the terrain is easily handled
(no need for safety lines at any time).
• The patient is light and/or the distance is less than 1 km.
• The patient is stable and not in need of constant supervision by
the first aid attendant.
As conditions become more difficult, the team must grow.
• If the "way out" is not known and flagging is required, at least
two additional members will be needed.
• If the route is not clear of obstacles, two more members will be
• If the slope requires a belay or steadying rope, then one more
member will be required.
• If the patient is heavy and the distance is long, two to four more
members would be necessary.
• If the patient requires constant observation or care, one more
member is required so that the attendant will have no other job
but attend to the patient.
Thus, the numbers can vary from 6 to 16 depending on the specifics
of your situation. Figure 14.2 illustrates one configuration for an
“ideal” large stretcher team.
Rotate to
opposite side
behind stretcher.
Direction of
travel on
flat terrain
or downhill.
Figure 14.2 Standard Stretcher Bearing Team
Standard Stretcher
Bearing Procedures
1. The stretcher is carried whenever possible by six (6) bearers.
When starting to move have all the stretcher bearers start with
their inside feet. This will give a smoother ride for the patient.
2. In narrow situations, one person at the front end (i.e. the end of
the stretcher proceeding first through the narrow passage) and
two at the back, unless absolutely impossible. A single rescuer
should not carry the back end of a stretcher. The back end
position is especially hard as your vision will be obstructed by
the stretcher making foot placements difficult and awkward.
3. If any member of the stretcher team slips and falls, the entire
team should immediately react by lowering the stretcher quickly
to the ground. Do not attempt to compensate for the fallen
bearer. The sudden uneven loading can cause the remaining
bearers injury. Always keep in mind that your first responsibility
is your own safety.
4. Proceed with the stretcher foot end first on flat ground and
5. Proceed head end uphill.
6. All bearers must rotate on a regular basis. A good system is
illustrated above in Figure 14.1. There are a variety of rotation
systems: the main criterion is that it works, and allows bearers
to rest. On a long haul, the leader must discourage those who
insists that they can carry for ten minutes on a side without rest!
Two minutes is a good standard rotation time, with the bearers
rotating forward. Each stretcher bearer is carrying for a total of
6 minutes (2 minutes X 3 positions) before getting a rest. This
seems short on paper, but it will become apparent in the field
that it is quite long enough. Exceptionally strong, uniform teams
may go slightly longer.
7. The Ground Search Team Leader will call the rotation. He may
or may not stop forward motion during the switch, depending on
the situation. When proceeding feet first, the resting members
come in from behind to take the head, the two just relieved at
the head end move up to the middle position. The middle
position bearers move behind the foot end bearers and the foot
end bearers let go, step aside and allow the group to pass.
Moving head first, the two resting bearers must get ahead of the
stretcher in preparation for their rotation. After rotating through
the positions on one side of the stretcher, the member will take
a rest period before going to the other side of the stretcher for
the next rotation.
8. On longer carries and/or in difficult terrain, the number of
members ideally should be increased. Still maintain the two
minute rotation from heavy to light to rest. Thus with more
carriers the rest period is increased but the time on the stretcher
remains the same.
9. Pass high obstacles with the stretcher facing head first when
going uphill and, if possible, feet first going downhill. Fences
and logs no more than 1-2 metres (3-6 feet) high should
generally be passed feet first because it is easier to raise the
foot end of the stretcher up to the top of the obstruction.
Caterpillar Pass When obstacles must be passed or footing is insecure, the bearers
stop moving their feet and the stretcher is moved hand over hand,
until the obstacle or difficult terrain is passed. This is called a
caterpillar pass and is a fundamentally important procedure. It
should be practised until it becomes second nature. Mastery of this
technique allows teams to pass a stretcher with speed, efficiency,
ease and smoothness over the most irregular terrain.
As the team approaches the difficult spot, two rescuers who are not
carrying the stretcher move ahead to the beginning of the difficult
area. They position themselves, facing each other with just enough
room between them to pass the stretcher. They ensure a good solid
footing and take the front end of the stretcher when it arrives. The
two rescuers who were at the front end will now move to the back
end. The back two rescuers then rotate around past the four
holding the stretcher to get in front at a spot where they can receive
the front end. This done, the next two rotate to the front to receive
and pass on, etc. A similar technique is used for passing logs,
fences and ditches. For a major slope more rescuers are needed.
The more people in the rotation the faster the area is passed, the
smoother the ride and the easier it is on the entire group.
(1) (2)
Figure 14.3 Caterpillar Pass
Belay or Steadying
When bearing over continuous rough country a belay or steadying
rope is often desirable. For this, two ropes may be attached to the
head of the stretcher. As one belayer is belaying, the other is
moving ahead, coiling the rope, and walking behind the stretcher
until the first rope has almost run out. He then applies a belay and
is, ideally, ready to take over when the first belay rope runs out.
The first belayer then “leapfrogs” and is prepared to take over when
the second rope runs out.
The scouting team should carry webbing and carabiners for
constructing anchors. When an area is reached that requires a
belay, the scouting team can set up the anchor ahead of the
stretcher team. This allows the stretcher team to keep moving once
it reaches the rough terrain.
Further information about belaying a stretcher team on low angle
slopes is included in the chapter “Orientation to Rope Management”.
Figure 14.4 Belaying a Stretcher
Falling rocks All members must beware of moving, loose rocks on steep ground.
Falling rocks are one of the greatest hazards in rescue
operations. This is one of the reasons helmets are so important.
Whenever a rock starts to fall whoever sees it should shout
“ROCK!” to alert those below. Despite our instincts to observe the
falling rock’s trajectory you should not look up. Face straight ahead,
hunch your shoulders, attempt to move into a sheltered position and
wait for the rock to clear.
Talking to the
After being evacuated many subjects state that the evacuation went
smoothly but that they felt ignored. The rescuers talked among
themselves but no one talked to the subject. It is important not to
forget about the person who you are evacuating.
Make them aware of what is going on around them but do not
emphasize any of the problems that will inevitably occur during the
evacuation. Being confident in the skills of your team will make
them feel safe and secure.
Additional Reading Bowman, W.D., Outdoor Emergency Care. Second Edition. National
Ski Patrol System, Inc, 1993.
Foster, Richard. Patient Packaging for Wilderness Search and
Rescue. From the GSTL manual.
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader (GSTL)
Manual. 1997
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is the most important procedure for protecting your back?
2. Who decides whether a backboard will be used?
3. What do you have to consider when approaching a subject
down a low angle slope.
4. Why would you want a Safety Officer in addition to a Ground
Search Team Leader?
5. When is a ”Caterpillar Pass” used?
Answer True or False to the following statements.
6. When travelling downhill the head end of the stretcher goes first.
7. A common error is for the patient to be inadequately secured to
the stretcher.
8. When you hear “Rock” it is best to look to see where the rock is
coming from so that you can avoid it.
9. The straps that come with stretchers should never be used.
10. Maintaining eye contact with your fellow lifters is a good way to
ensure co-ordination.
Chapter 15 - Type 1 Search Methods –
Initial Response Searches
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Define Initial Response Searches (Type I methods) and justify
why they are the most effective and efficient methods to use at
the beginning of most searches.
• Describe confinement tactics.
• Describe attraction techniques.
• Describe the use of search dogs in SAR.
• Describe the role of mechanized equipment in initial search
• Describe the roles and responsibilities of IRT members.
• Perform as a member of an Initial Response Team (IRT).
• Explain the problems associated with searching at night.
• Explain the distinct advantages of searching at night.
Introduction In the early stages of a search the potential search area is quite
large relative to the number of trained SAR personnel available.
Initial response searches require a rapid deployment to areas of
highest probability. Tactics and techniques include:
• Investigation
• Initial Interviews
• Tracking
• Search Area Reduction/Perimeter Sign Cuts
• Confinement
• Attraction
• Search Dogs
• Quick Reconnaissance
• Aerial Reconnaissance
These procedures are classified as Initial Response Searches
(formerly Hasty Searches or Type I search methods) and are
described in greater detail in the sections that follow.
Initial Investigation
It is seldom that a new GSAR member will be involved in the initial
investigation. Usually the Duty SAR Manager will gather this
information and use it to decide on the search urgency and define
the search area. Information gathering was discussed in the Search
Initiation chapter.
Search Area
Sign Cutting
If experienced trackers are available they may be used to check the
last known position (LKP) for tracks, clue, direction of travel, etc.
They may sign cut a perimeter around the LKP and determine if the
subject has left the search area. If the subject has left an area there
is no point searching it.
Figure 15.1 Sign Cutting
They will look for any indication that will establish with greater
certainty the direction the subject is heading from the last known
If a direction of travel can be established, then an area having a
high probability of the subject being located in is defined.
Figure 15.2 High Probability Search Area Defined by the
Subject’s Direction of Travel.
Tracking Once a direction of travel has been established, tracking may also
be used to follow the known or suspected route. Two groups of
trackers may use a technique called cutting sign to move more
quickly along the subject’s route.
The skills required for tracking and for the related procedure,
sign cutting, are beyond the GSAR Course.
However, searchers without training in tracking still need to know
what these skills are and how to assist trackers using them.
An overview of tracking is given in the Orientation to Tracking
The search area increases as the missing person travels. If the
mobile missing person is found quickly, the possible search area
rapidly increases. Confinement procedures ensure that the subject
cannot leave the area without the searchers being aware of the
Confinement should be used as soon as possible in any
Although most missing persons are located within a relatively small
distance of the LKP some individuals travel a surprising long
distance. Regardless of the urgency of the search, it is desirable to
introduce confinement procedures immediately. Confinement
techniques include:
• Road blocks
• Trail blocks
• Lookouts
• Camp-ins
• Track traps
• String lines
Some of these procedures can be boring for the SAR volunteer but
being thorough with these assignments is critical for the success of
the search.
Road Blocks
If the subject wanders out onto a road, he may find a ride out of the
area with neither the motorist nor himself realizing that a search is in
progress. If his safe departure does not become known, the search
could conceivably continue for days. Road blocks at appropriate
locations will reduce this possibility. Figure 15.3 illustrates a typical
arrangement. Even on foot, travel on a graded road can be quite
rapid (up to 7 km per hour), so even if the victim does not get a ride,
interception is very important. Road blocks also provide an
opportunity to alert non-search personnel who are going into the
area to be on the lookout for the subject. Their co-operation could
contribute to the success of the search. In addition, people leaving
the search area can be questioned on whether they have seen the
Searchers who are stationed at road blocks should be well identified
with uniforms if they will be stopping vehicles. These searchers
need to possess good interviewing skills and be in radio contact with
the base.
Trail Blocks Often the lost person finds a trail but doesn't know which way to go.
One direction may lead back to the car, the other into the
wilderness. By blocking the wilderness route, the lost person will be
prevented from going too far in the wrong direction. “Trails” include
any good travel aids such as creekbeds, powerlines, seismic lines
and beaches.
A team of two or three is all that is needed. At least one person
should remain awake and in a position to see the trail at all times. It
should not be assumed that the lost person will stop just because a
camp is seen. He may believe that he is on the trail out and that his
car is just around the next bend in the trail. Figure 15.3 illustrates a
trail block. A position should be taken where a person can be seen
approaching for some distance. For various reasons, including the
sheer embarrassment of being lost, the missing person may not
want to be seen, so it is important that the searcher be able to see
the approaching person first.
The trail block team should have a radio and the ability to
communicate with base as well as having copies of the Missing
Person Questionnaire.
Figure 15.3 Road and Trail Block
Look-Outs In open areas, such as above treeline or in the sub-alpine it is
possible for searchers to take a position on a hill or ridge affording a
view of several potential travel routes. If the lost person comes
along the travel route, the lookout will see him. Figure 15.4
illustrates a lookout situation.
A lookout should work with a partner. The lookout can direct the
partner by radio towards suspicious objects that may be seen in the
valley through binoculars. It is important to have lookouts at night
as well as in the daytime. The sounds of the victim will usually be
much more audible after dark and the light of a candle or flashlight
will only be visible under these circumstances.
Figure 15.4: Lookout
Camp-In A camp-in may be a trail block, a lookout, a radio relay or virtually
any situation where searchers are stationed on a full-time basis.
For confinement purposes a camp-in would be located in the
periphery of the search area. It could be stationed anywhere for
detection purposes. Natural features where a lost person may be
attracted, such as a pass between large hills, are ideal spots for a
Track Traps
Track traps are areas where footprints are easily seen. Naturally
occurring track traps include creek banks, beaches, road shoulders,
dusty or muddy trails and snow patches. These are checked as part
of the search.
A man-made track trap can be constructed where the terrain
narrows or otherwise constricts passage and can thereby function
as an unmanned camp-in. If soft soil is smoothed and then rechecked periodically, the presence of tracks becomes a very helpful
clue. A number of track traps may be used and each one should be
checked relatively frequently. This can be an effective technique if
there is a shortage of personnel.
Tagged String Lines
Where dense brush and trees prohibit the effective use of lookouts
string lines can be used to create an artificial boundary. String lines
can be placed using a “hip-chain” device that lays out string while
recording distance travelled. Tags indicating to the missing person
which way to go to safety should be hung from the string lines at
regular intervals. This technique has not been used very frequently
in BC. Figure 15.5 illustrates the string line confinement technique.
x Figure 15.5 Tagged String Lines
Combinations A number of these methods may be used in combination in order to
achieve confinement. For example, trail blocks can construct trap
tracks on nearby travel routes or could function as lookouts in
mountainous terrain. The choice will be dictated by terrain,
available personnel and area size considerations.
Searchers positioned at confinement sites can also use the
attraction techniques, which are listed below.
In order to assist a mobile or responsive subject, various techniques
can be used to enable the subject either to make their own way to
safety or to make their presence known to the search team.
Attraction techniques include the use of sound and visual
Attraction techniques should not be used around dangerous terrain
(especially at night) as this may draw the subject into a more
dangerous spot. Care should be used while using sound attraction
techniques to protect your hearing and the hearing of your team
Some procedures that may be used to attract the missing person
• Calling
• Sound
• Beacons
Calling The missing person's name may be called out at frequent intervals
at all stages of a search and especially should be used by
confinement and initial response teams. Several people yelling the
name simultaneously is most effective. Silence should then be kept
for at least 10 seconds in the hope of hearing a response. Careful
co-ordination of this technique is essential. Of particular
concern are circumstances arising from the presence of more than
one team in the same area where the technique is being used. In
good weather assume that the subject will remain responsive for 72
hours but the response will be weaker as time goes by.
Sound Sirens, horns, whistles, chainsaws or any other loud sound sources
may be sounded at regular intervals to attract the missing person. If
the sound source is from a vehicle, the vehicle be stopped and the
motor should be off so that responses can be heard. Establishing
the direction from which a sound comes may not be easy for the
subject so a visual signal should also be given. Some possibilities
include flares, spot lights pointed at the sky at night and balloons
above the forest canopy. Consideration of the subject profile is
important when deciding whether or not to sound a siren. This
noise could frighten some subjects such as children or the mentally
challenged and have the opposite effect to what was intended.
Loud Sound
Attraction and
In many less settled areas of BC many missing persons will be
carrying firearms (eg hunters, trappers, prospectors). Gunshots can
be heard for many kilometers and can be used to locate a
responsive subject. Recently, in Fort Nelson, a lost hunter was
located after a number of days when searchers heard his gunshot.
Instead of using live ammunition, devices such as bear bangers or
bird bombs can be used. However, care has to be taken to avoid
starting fires in dry forests with these devices.
If live ammunition is used the searcher has to be properly trained in
firearms and has to consider where his gun is pointed at all times
and never use it near settled areas. Using a shotgun with birdshot
lessens the concern about where the bullet will land.
Before using this technique, the loud sound source has to be
calibrated for the conditions of the day. A searcher moves in one
direction and every 250 m fires a shot (or whatever loud sound is
being used) until he is no longer heard. Since wind will reduce the
distance that the signal and response can be heard, the calibration
should be repeated upwind and downwind.
Once calibrated the searchers can move along the search route
using the following procedure:
• Move the distance along the search route that the sound can be
heard (for example you calibrated your bear banger and found
that the sound can be heard for 1.5 km).
• Stop the engine, fire two shots at least 10 second apart. Have
ear protection available to put on while firing the shots to
preserve your hearing.
• Take your ear protection off and listen carefully for a response
for one minute.
• Listen for several more minutes while scanning the search area
with binoculars.
• Check with other teams by radio to see if they heard a response
that you may have missed.
• Move to the next signal point (another 1.5 km)
If you get a response, try to get a compass bearing on the response
(it may be difficult). Mark the bearing on the map and move to
another spot and fire again. Take another bearing and triangulate
the subject’s position on the map. If other teams are in the area and
can hear the signal, they can take the second bearing (see page 79). The location may not be totally accurate but it will help you
move towards the subject’s location.
Beacons Beacons are especially useful at night when a bright lantern or the
light of a fire can point the lost person to safety. The smoke from a
fire, reflectors, or signal panels can all perform the same function
during the day.
Search Dogs As the subject moves through an area a scent is left behind and
Police and civilian SAR dogs are commonly used to follow this
scent. The type of dog that is used in most searches in BC is one
that is trained to follow any human scent. Dogs can discriminate
between the scent of different people but the situation where a dog
is given an article of the missing person's clothing to smell and then
told to look for that scent almost never happens here. Thus, the
scent of searchers can easily be a distraction to a police search
In areas where the police have dogs trained for searching, their use,
particularly in the early stages of a search, is very likely. To be
effective, they must be searching areas through which searchers
have not passed. Thus, where this early use of dogs is anticipated,
all high probability areas must be kept free of searchers until the
dog has finished with these areas. Decisions regarding such areas
are a police / search management responsibility.
A further situation that can limit the effectiveness of search dogs is
the presence of other dogs. Untrained and unsupervised dogs have
no place on a search. Leave your pet at home. Bystander’s dogs
also have to be kept away from the search area.
All dogs used on the search fall under the jurisdiction of the RCMP
Dog Master. Anyone who is training their dog for use in SAR has to
be working through an RCMP Dog Master.
Police search dogs are most effective in humid conditions and light
winds. They work downwind from the area to be searched and can
function effectively day or night. Having dog handlers that are good
visual trackers is a valuable asset as the handler may be able to
follow visible sign after the scent is no longer detectable by the dog.
Quick reconnaissance is the searching of high probability areas
such as trails and hazardous areas by small teams. Statistics show
that at least 50% of missing persons are found on some form of
travel-aid, therefore a search of roads, trails, ridges and drainages is
a very efficient way to initiate a search.
Mechanized Search
In some cases, mechanization can increase the speed of these
searches. Searching a network of logging roads is best done by 4
wheel drives, ATV’s, mountain bikes, snowmobiles or horses. An
organized SAR group with a pre-plan and an up-to-date listing of
resources will know how to access them. However, it must be
stressed, that seeing tracks from moving vehicles is not easy and
not particularly effective.
Depending on the nature of the trails, it may be possible to use
either trail bikes or horse-mounted searchers, although horses
should not be used where a search dog is likely to operate. In
winter conditions, snowmobiles can be of great benefit.
Two points should be remembered in using such assistance. The
first is that engines of motorized transport should be stopped at
frequent intervals in order to call for the missing person and listen
for a response. The second is that clues must not be destroyed!
Tires, snowmobile tracks, horses hooves are all great destroyers of
sign. In high probability areas it is best if trained sign-cutters are
sent in before motorized equipment or at the very least the
searchers on the equipment should be sign aware.
Machines may occasionally be advantageous, the majority of initial
response searches must be done by foot.
Initial Response
Initial Response Teams are fit, fast and skilled teams that quickly
search the high probability areas. Many small communities may not
have a SAR group but they have an Initial Response Team (IRT).
These teams have to have all the skills of an IRT that is mobilized
by a SAR Group as they will provide an initial response until mutual
aid can be brought in.
An Initial Response Team (IRT) mobilized by a SAR Group will
typically consist of three people.
Familiarity with the area is a strong asset for a member of such
a team, and inclusion of a volunteer from outside the SAR group
who knows the search area very well could be of great benefit.
All members of the IRT need to be:
• fit and fast,
• have very good survival skills,
• be trained in aspects of SAR Management, interviewing, scene
protection, record keeping,
• be very clue conscious and
• have a higher level of first aid.
At least one member of the team must be skilled in navigation, as
details of the route followed must be given to the SAR Manager.
Most teams will be equipped with a radio, so radio communication
skills are also a must. If possible, have a trained tracker on each
IRT. All trails in the search area should be investigated by IRTs,
and well defined trails may be searched at night.
Cabins and known camping areas should be checked. Areas where
cliffs and other hazards exist should be investigated to the extent it
can be done safely. Watercourses should be followed to at least the
perimeter of the search area and possibly further if travel proves to
be easy. Other probable routes such as ridges and spurs leading
onto ridges may warrant investigation if there are sufficient numbers
of trained personnel.
The attachment of flagging tape (preferably biodegradable) at
regular intervals along the route taken is common practice. Using
flagging tape unique to SAR is recommended. This flagging tape
can be of benefit in helping the search team retrace their steps and
it tells other searchers that the route has already been followed. A
marking or ballpoint pen may be used on the flagging tape to
provide information to other search teams. Such information may
include Team number, date, time started, and compass bearing.
(eg. IRT #1 30 Nov 97 1430 Hrs 090o MAG which translates to
“Initial Response Team #1 on the 30 of Nov, 1997 at 1430 hours
heading on a compass bearing of 090° Grid”).
Flagging tape should not be used indiscriminately. If there is no
necessity for it to serve either of these purposes it should not be
used. Plastic flagging tape will remain where it has been placed for
many years unless it is removed after the search. Desecrating
wilderness areas in this way should obviously be avoided.
Night Searching
Searching at night can be quite difficult, but very effective and may
be necessary when the victim profile and weather conditions
demand a full and immediate response. Even in cases where a full
response is not required, the immediate application of confinement
techniques is certainly beneficial. Thus, some degree of activity is
appropriate for almost any search that starts or continues through
the night.
Effective searching includes searching at night.
Although more complicated search patterns may be impractical to
conduct at night, initial response teams can operate in the dark and
most types of confinement procedure can also be applied at night.
The IRT’s searching will be slower due to limited visibility and
difficulties with navigation. Co-ordination of teams at night will be
more difficult.
However, there are distinct advantages to searching at night and
include the following:
• The subject is usually stationary and more aware of sound.
• The amount of time during which the search is conducted is
• Sounds and smells are easier to detect.
• Light from beacon fires and flashlights will be more visible.
• The absence of ambient noise from daytime activities makes
sound sweeps more effective.
• Tracks illuminated at a low angle by a flashlight show up more
readily than when illuminated by the overhead sun.
• Radio communication is usually clearer at night.
Some form of light is required for a night time search. Hand-held
flashlights are satisfactory, but headlamps, allowing for hands-free
operation, are the most effective. All searchers must be equipped
with a light with good batteries and carry extra batteries and light
bulbs. It is important that searchers do not allow their lights to shine
in other searchers eyes as each time this occurs it takes several
minutes to restore the searcher's night vision.
Another concern about searching at night is the danger it can
represent to the searcher. Areas that cannot be searched safely
should be left until daybreak. Cliff areas and areas where old mine
shafts exist are places to avoid at night.
Summary The majority of missing persons are found solely by the application
of Initial Response methods. Such searches are usually of short
duration and generate little media attention. It is those few
occasions when these methods are not successful in locating the
missing person that the highly publicized large scale searches take
place. When this situation happens, what are referred to as Sweep
Searches and eventually Grid Searches are used. These will be
discussed in the following chapters.
Additional Reading Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What is meant by an initial response search?
2. Describe two attraction techniques.
3. Explain why searching at night is recommended.
4. Why do you have to be careful when conducting searches by
motorized vehicles?
5. What skills are required for an IRT team?
6. What is the advantage of determining the direction of travel?
Answer True or False to the following statements:
7. A track trap can function as an unmanned camp-in.
8. At least 50% of missing persons are found on travel aids.
9. Tagged string lines are used frequently in BC.
10. Searchers conducting confinement procedures should not use
attraction techniques because they will confuse other search
11. Confinement is only useful immediately after the person goes
Chapter 16 - Type II Search Methods –
Sweep Searches
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Define a sweep search.
• Describe different types of sweep searches.
• Demonstrate a sound sweep.
• Demonstrate a visual sweep.
• Participate as a member of a 3-person team in a sweep search
and be able to serve as either a compass bearer or a flanker in
such a team.
• Define Critical Separation.
• Outline other varieties of type II searches such as:
- Use of feature guides
- Contour searches
- Aircraft
- Dog searching
The Initial Response Search methods previously described are
usually the most effective way to initiate a search. A more thorough
examination of the search area requires a large number of trained
personnel and such resources are not likely to exist early in a
search. However, when a number of searchers are available and
some reasonably high probability areas exist, it is possible to initiate
a sweep search of these areas using widely spaced searchers.
Closely spaced searchers conducting “Closed Grid Searches” are
highly inefficient and should only be used in very specific situations.
They will be discussed in the chapter “Closed Grid Search”.
Martin Colwell of Lions Bay SAR has done considerable work on
probabilities of detection (POD). His research has become the
foundation to BC’s sweep configurations. Five types of sweep
searches can be used and include the following:
• Sound Sweeps: for adults or children who are probably still
responsive to sound.
• Standard (Visibility) Sweeps: for adults or children wearing
normal outdoor clothing or adults or children who, under winter
conditions are likely to shelter beside a tree within sub-alpine
• High Visibility Sweeps: for adults wearing high visibility clothing
or adults or children who, under winter conditions, are likely to
move into open areas within sub-alpine forest.
• Low Visibility Sweeps: for unconscious persons or persons
wearing low visibility, camouflaging colors or infants or toddlers
in dense coniferous forest
• Body Sweeps: Persons presumed to be dead.
It should be noted that Colwell’s POD data is for coastal terrain and
there is some uncertainty as to the extent to which the POD
calculations have to be modified for use in other terrain types.
The SAR Manager will select the type of sweep that will be
conducted based on the subject category, the terrain type, and the
personnel and equipment available.
Sound Sweep If the subject is responsive, the sound sweep is the most effective
sweep search method. Sound sweeps utilize sound attraction in
combination with wide searcher spacing to cover large search
areas. The sound sweep search is 3 to 4 times more effective than
visual sweeps and is a practical night searching technique.
A sound sweep should be implemented immediately if the initial
response searches have been unsuccessful. It should be initiated
within the first two days of a search (preferably within 24-48 hrs)
when the subject is likely able to respond (usually by shouting).
Sound sweeps are not conducted in the same way as the sound
attraction used in an initial response search. In the initial response
search there is minimal co-ordination of sound production. In a
sound sweep, radios are used to co-ordinate the sound production
used to attract the subject.
To conduct a sound sweep, all members must have a whistle, radio
and compass. A base station is set up which will co-ordinate the
whistle-blasts. The searchers move to their points on the baseline,
mark the starting location, and either follow a compass bearing or a
direction (i.e. uphill, downhill). Searchers do not have to start at the
same time from the baseline. The first searcher to reach his starting
spot will radio base and the timing of the whistle blasts will
Searcher spacing varies depending on the desired probability of
detection (POD) and the search conditions (i.e. dense coniferous
forest under summer conditions). Colwell has produced probability
of detection tables for certain terrain types that SAR Managers can
use. Searcher spacings of 43 m to 200 m are common. At these
spacings searchers will not be able to see each other.
The base radio co-ordinates the searchers to produce one whistle
blast every one to two minutes depending on the search conditions.
To coordinate each blast, the base radio will say “4,3,2,1, BLAST”.
The searchers cover their ears, blow their whistles, then uncover
their ears and listen for 5 seconds for a response. Covering the
ears during the whistle blast prevents the searcher from losing their
hearing sensitivity.
Also, do not move as you listen for a response as the noise of
moving fabric (e.g. Gortex ) will drown out any faint sounds.
The searcher then continues on his route until the base radio calls
for another whistle-blast. This is repeated until the search area has
been covered.
Figure 16.1 Sound Sweep
Sometimes an area will be searched to 40% POD using the sound
sweep technique. In the beginning of the search it is sometime
better to search large areas at lower PODs than small areas at high
PODs. If enough personnel is available, additional sound sweeps
may be performed at right angles to the original sweep to increase
the probability of detection.
Other Sound
The sound sweep technique can be adapted for other situations
such as trails, trailheads and roads.
Trail Sound
Search teams that are travelling on trails can be co-ordinated by the
base radio to produce whistle blasts in much the same way as the
searchers travelling on compass bearings. The use of a whistle
blast increases the probability of detection on the sides of the trail
well beyond the limits of visibility. Only one radio per team is
required when the trails are searched by teams of three. The
recommended length of time between whistle blasts is 30 seconds
for trails located in dense coniferous forest and 1 minute for trails
located in open Sub-Alpine Forest. Although the whistle blasts are
very frequent, lengthening the time between blasts will lower the
probability of detection.
Vehicles at the trailhead can also be co-ordinated with the searching
field teams to perform horn-blasts at the same time.
Vehicle Sound
Vehicles equipped with radios may also be used to perform sound
sweeps. The convoy of vehicles are stopped 1 km apart and
simultaneously sound their horns. The drivers listen for a response
then drive 0.1 km up the road and stop and wait for the next signal
to sound their horns. Once the horns have been sounded and the
driver has listened for a response, the vehicle is moved up another
0.1 km. This continues until each car has driven 1 km at which time
the convoy moves up to a new section of road and starts the
process again.
Visual Sweeps Visual sweeps depend on the eyes of the searcher to find clues,
sign or the subject. Visual sweeps should be used only if it is
suspected that the subject would not respond to sound, the search
area is small and there is enough person power available.
It should be remembered that visual sweeps are considerably
slower than sound sweeps. They require more person power than a
sound sweep to cover the same amount of ground in the same
amount of time. Searchers should still call or use whistles at
frequent intervals while conducting a visual search.
Conducting a Sweep
(Open Grid) Search
The procedures for conducting a visual sweep or a sound sweep
are relatively similar. It is recommended that a sweep search be
conducted as outlined by Colwell.
1. The SAR Management Team will divide the search area into
relatively small segments. As most teams are made up of three
members, each team’s search segment width will often be 3
times the distance between the searchers. If time and
personnel permits, baselines, search segment boundaries and
searchers starting locations should be flagged with tape or
2. For a sound sweep each searcher should have a map,
compass, a whistle and a radio. For a visual sweep each
searcher should have a map, a compass and a whistle. If the
searchers can still see each other, each 3-man team should
have a radio. If the searchers cannot see each other each
searcher should preferably have a radio.
3. The searchers are divided into 3-person teams and given a
search segment to search. Each searcher is given a defined
starting location along the baseline of their search area. The
searcher spacing is based on:
• Desired thoroughness of search (desired probability of
• Type of Sweep (eg. sound versus high visibility)
• Search conditions (alpine, sub-alpine, timber, season)
• Total surface area to be searched
• Time available for searching area
• Number of personnel available
This information can be used to look up correct searcher
spacing in Colwell’s POD tables. If the search terrain type is not
described in the POD tables then critical separation may be
used to set searcher spacing. Critical separation is discussed
later in this chapter.
If the baseline is not flagged, the searchers may pace
themselves to their starting locations. Determining your own
pacing distance is described in the chapter “Map and Compass”.
Note: everyone has a different pace depending on the length of
their stride.
4. Searchers are dispatched in teams of three from their respective
baseline positions. It is preferable to stagger starting times of
each team, as it is easier to co-ordinate and wastes less
searching time than attempting to handle large numbers of
searchers at once.
5. Searchers then sweep the search segment following the
compass bearing (datum line) that they have been assigned.
Stopping, calling, whistling and then listening, looking forwards,
backwards, upwards and side-to-side as well as purposeful
meandering have all been found to increase the probability of
finding the missing person. Do not hurry. Look for small clues
as well as for the missing person. If a sound sweep is being
conducted, each searcher will be prompted by radio to perform
a whistle blast, on cue, typically every one to two minutes. After
performing each whistle blast, stop and listen for the missing
person’s response before continuing the sweep.
6. When a team has completed a sweep, the exit location should
be flagged and labelled by that team. The team should
communicate with base to record their exit time, provide brief
details of their sweep and determine if they are required to
proceed to a new search area.
Visual searches may be carried out at spacings at which searchers
cannot see each other. If this is the case every searcher needs to
have a compass, map, whistle and preferably a radio. It is
necessary to be proficient at navigation. It does not help the search
if a search area is missed because of a navigational error or a
searcher gets lost.
Visual searches may also be carried out at spacings at which
searchers can see each other most of the time. Distances are
usually 10 to 30 metres in length.
If the searchers can see each other most of the time, the threemember team will consist of a compass bearer and two flankers.
The point where the compass bearer starts the sweep should be
clearly marked. The flankers use the compass bearer as a guide for
maintaining their spacing, but may move to either side in order to
check out locations in which the victim could be hidden, as well as
to get around impassable objects.
The flankers should also flag the outside of their search area to
guide the next search team. Even though flagging slows down the
search team, it prevents adjacent teams from overlapping (causing
inefficient searching) or having gaps of unsearched areas between
the teams.
The typical arrangement of a 3-person team is illustrated in Figure
10 - 30m
10 - 30m
Figure 16.2 3 Person Sweep Team
Critical Separation
Another technique that is used for setting distances between
searchers is critical separation. This technique requires closer
searcher spacings than Colwell’s Visual Sweep and therefore
requires more personnel to cover the same area. However, it is a
technique that is readily adaptable to all terrain types.
This technique may be used if Colwell’s visual sweep search tables
do not include the type of terrain that is to be searched. Critical
separation is the searcher spacing that provides a high probability of
detection (50 – 80%) regardless of terrain type.
Two searchers are required to determine critical separation. A pack
of approximately the same colour as the missing person’s clothes is
placed in the area to be searched. The two searchers walk away
from the pack in opposite directions until each searcher can just see
the pack. The critical separation is the distance measured between
the two searchers. It is twice the limit of visibility of the object
between the searchers. The exercise is repeated in a different spot
and the average critical separation is calculated.
This distance is used to set up the visual sweeps of the search area.
At this separation most objects between the two searchers should
be seen although there is a chance that something will be missed.
Note that Critical Separation is not the distance from either searcher
to the pack but twice the distance. For example, if each searcher
walked 10 m from the pack before losing sight of it the critical
separation is 20 metres.
Do not estimate critical separation in the woods next to the
road as the vegetation is often thicker where the light from the
road opening penetrates.
The advantages of this technique are that critical separation can be
determined in the field for any particular conditions or vegetation
and that approximate PODs can be determined.
Feature Guide
Rather than follow a particular compass bearing, searchers can use
a road, a trail or a well-defined drainage as a guide. The searcher
closest to the feature uses it as a guide and the other searchers in
the line use the inner searcher as a guide.
This type of search proceeds quickly as a compass bearing does
not have to be followed. The searcher travelling along the feature
should be diligent in searching for sign or clues as often the subject
has used the feature as a travel aid. The farthest searcher from the
feature flags or strings a line for the next pass of searchers to follow.
On some features, such as large rivers that act as barriers, only one
side of the feature will be searched. On other features, such as
roads, both sides of the feature will be searched. Teams working on
opposite sides of a feature will work independently of each other.
X = SearcherX
Figure 16.3 Searches Using a Feature as a Guide
Contour Search
Another variation involves the use of an altimeter by the compass
bearer (navigator). Instead of maintaining a constant direction, the
navigator attempts to follow a path of constant elevation with the
flankers maintaining their spacings on either side of the navigator.
Contour searches work particularly well when the assignment is a
large mountain slope where a lateral search is preferred over a topdown or bottom-up search.
Remember, an altimeter registers differences in air pressure and the
readings will be affected by changes in weather systems. It is
possible that your altimeter will indicate increases in elevation due
to an oncoming trough of low pressure even though you have not
A GPS unit does not give an accurate enough reading to guide the
search team on a contour search. Only altimeters should be used.
Also, during a contour search, you will wear out much more quickly
as you are constantly traversing across a slope in one direction
Other Sweep
Generally speaking, any method that gives a quick, but not
particularly thorough, search of an area is classified as a Sweep
Search Method. For this reason, sweep searches by fixed wing
aircraft or helicopters may be considered sweep searches. Dog
searches where the dog is working back and forth in a particular
area rather than just following a trail could also be so classified as a
sweep search.
Forward Looking
Infrared (FLIR)
A Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) unit mounted on the bottom of a
helicopter and flown over a search area will give an image of the
ground based on temperature differences. The on-board monitor
shows the outline of objects based on these temperature
differences. In the right conditions, humans and other mammals are
easily identified on the screen.
Ideal conditions for identifying subjects are cool or cold
temperatures and little forest cover. Poor results can be expected if
the ground is warm (no difference to the subject’s temperature) or
there is an obstruction or dense canopy of trees. Also, it is easy for
gaps of unsearched area to be left between the passes of the
helicopter. Success has been extremely limited but it should
improve with newer technology and further training for the
Before a FLIR mounted helicopter is flown over a search area, the
searchers on the ground should confirm with the FLIR operator on
how they will identify themselves. A common signal to identify the
searchers as not being the subject is for the searchers to hold their
arms straight out from the body. The arms should not be above the
head as this looks like someone waving for help.
Under ideal conditions FLIR is a useful search tool but it shouldn’t
be assumed that an area searched by FLIR has been completely
searched until it has been searched until a thorough ground search
has been conducted.
Search Dogs Search Dogs were covered in Chapter 15 - Type I Search Methods Initial Response Searches.
Multiple Sweeps
One simple variation of the methods just described is to do a
second sweep of the same area using compass bearings differing
by 90° from the bearings used in the first sweep. Conducting two,
Sweep Searches, at right-angles to each other can produce nearly
the same degree of thoroughness as the more time consuming
"closed-grid" search described in the chapter “Type III Methods –
Closed Grid Searches”.
Additional Reading Collwell, Martin. New Concepts for Grid Searching. ERI Inc.,
Olympia, WA.
Collwell, Martin. Sound Sweep: a New Tool for Search Teams.
ERI Inc., Olympia, WA.
Collwell, Martin. Conducting a Sound Sweep – Instructions to
Search Teams. August 31, 1996.
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. What type of subject is a sound sweep looking for?
2. What are sweep searches?
3. What is the difference between a contour search and a feature
4. What are ideal conditions for the use of FLIR?
5. How does a SAR Manager decide what type of sweep search to
Answer True or False to the following statements:
6. All people involved in a sound sweep start from the baseline at
the same time.
7. Visual sweeps are generally more efficient than sound sweeps
for responsive subjects.
8. With visual sweeps you can always see the next searcher over.
9. Multiple sweeps are conducted at 180° to the first sweep.
10. The length of time between whistle blasts on a trail sweep may
be as little as 30 seconds.
Chapter 17 - Type III Search Methods Closed Grid Searches
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Explain the theory, reasoning, and limitations of closed grid
• Be able to mark off an area for a closed grid search with a base
line and datum line.
• Demonstrate how to space searchers in the line and the
techniques searchers can use to maintain this spacing.
• Outline the responsibilities of individual searchers in the line.
• Demonstrate the commands that are appropriate for use in Type
III searches, including the use of whistles.
• Function in a closed grid team.
Introduction Some searches will reach a stage where Initial Response and
Sweep Searches have been unsuccessful in finding the missing
person. A more thorough search of the higher probability areas may
be required. This situation will normally result in a “closed grid
search” being conducted. The searchers are lined up in a row with
a searcher spacing of 10 m or less. Four conditions should be
satisfied in order to use this technique:
• The search area should be relatively small area (less than 1
• There seems to be a high probability of either finding the victim
or finding a strong clue to the victim's whereabouts in the search
• There should be a large number of trained searchers available
who cannot be more effectively used elsewhere.
• The subject is likely hiding, unresponsive or dead.
The necessity for satisfying these four conditions can best be
understood by consideration of Table 17-1.
Grid Search Data Searcher Spacing (m) Probability
of detection
Searcher-hours for 1 sq.
40 33% (1/3) 55
20 67% (2/3) 110
10 83% (5/6) 220
5 92% (11/12) 440
2 97% (29/30) 1100
Table 17.1 POD and Searcher Hours at Several Different
Searcher Spacings
The figures in the table are derived from data based on studies
conducted in moderately dense bush in Washington State. The
original figures may be found in several papers including one on
Grid Search Techniques by Syrotuck (l974). The figures are
approximate and are intended only as a rough guide.
What should be apparent from the figures is that closed grid
searches take a lot of time to cover a small area.
Closed Grid searches should be used as a last resort.
In spite of this, there are search situations, as mentioned above,
where closed grid searches should be used. The coordination of
this type of search is described in the sections that follow.
Initiating a Closed
Grid Search
Closed grid searches will normally involve searcher spacings of less
than 10 metres. A closed grid search team will usually consist of
between 6 and 10 searchers and a Ground Search Team Leader.
Experience has shown that having more than 10 searchers in the
line creates an unmanageable situation. The area to be searched
needs to be marked out carefully in advance.
In marking out an area for a closed grid search, the first requirement
is a base line. Ideally, this base line will be a long straight section
of a road or trail, or some natural boundary such as a river. If no
such boundary already exists, a base line can be created by
hanging flagging tape at regular intervals. A sweep boundary at
the point at which the sweep ends should also be marked. Datum
lines running at 90° to the baseline should be marked at each end
of the search area. The outside boundaries of each search teams
swath should also be flagged. When flagging the different lines, the
tape should be hung so that from any tape the next 2 tapes can be
seen. This procedure prevents searchers wasting time looking for
the next tape.
A flagging team can work well in advance of the search team and
mark off a large number of strips to be searched. Such a team must
be skilled in following bearings precisely. As a result of defining the
boundaries just described, the area to be searched will be laid out in
a manner similar to the situation illustrated in Figure 17-1. The
flagging team will also have the opportunity to conduct a open grid
search as they mark the lines.
The flagging of several strips in advance allows the search teams to
concentrate completely on searching and permits teams to work in
adjoining areas independently. It is also much more likely that the
flagged lines will be along the desired bearing.
Figure 17.1 Area Marked for a Closed Grid Search
The width of each team’s sweep will be the space between
searchers multiplied by the number of searchers in the line. For
example 8 searchers spaced 5 m apart the sweep width will be 40
m. The two outside searchers are only ½ of the spacing distance
(2.5 m) from the flagged sidelines. This maintains the 5 m spacing
between this search team and the adjacent search team.
Figure 17.2 Arrangement of an 8 person search team
Closed Grid Team
Searchers must be extremely thorough in this type of search as
failure to locate a victim or clue within the area can be taken as
reasonably conclusive evidence the victim or clue is not there. After
being searched once by a closed grid an area will probably not be
searched again.
Being thorough involves looking in all directions, including
backwards and even upwards in the trees. It also involves checking
any possible hiding place, and as with all types of search, looking
not only for the victim, but also for clues. Anything that does not
appear natural should be reported. Searchers should approach
their work with the positive expectation of finding something of
significance rather than with the pessimistic attitude of finding
In order to begin a closed grid search, the searchers line up along
the baseline. The end searchers are at ½ the searcher spacing
from the flagged sidelines. For a team of 8 with a searcher spacing
of 5 m, the line would appear as in Figure 17.2.
Before starting, the Ground Search Team Leader, (GSTL), reminds
all the searchers of the signals to be used.
One whistle blast from anyone means stop
2 whistle blasts from the GSTL means go
3 whistle blasts from the GSTL requires the searchers to
number off (see next page)
The GSTL then floats behind the searchers, giving the commands
for starting and stopping, and working to maintain uniform spacing.
In a closed grid search, searchers try as much as possible to walk a
straight line parallel to the datum line. To achieve this, the end
searchers (1 and 8 in the diagram) follow the flagged boundaries as
a guide. The searchers on the left side of the line (2, 3 and 4 in the
diagram) use the searcher immediately to their left as a guide. The
searchers on the right side of the line (5, 6 and 7 in the diagram)
use the searcher immediately to their right as a guide.
The biggest problem in co-ordinating a closed grid search is
maintaining correct spacing. One way of reducing this problem is
staggering the line. Each searcher follows several metres behind
the neighbouring searcher who is her guide. With this arrangement
the searcher does not have to turn her head completely left or right
to see her guide. The guide is more frequently in view and
maintenance of correct spacing should be slightly more automatic.
The appearance of the resulting line will be similar to that shown in
Figure 17.2. For this method to work, the "sagging" line must be
The team leader monitors the spacing and orders corrective action
when necessary. For spacing to be maintained in this way, it is
essential that no searcher get too far behind or too far ahead. If a
searcher does get too far behind, a stop command should be given
to the team so this person can get back in line.
String Lines One method of marking boundaries that can define areas quickly
and accurately is the use of string lines. Hip chains or large rolls of
light string, preferably brightly coloured, can be used to divide a
search area into distinct blocks. As with flagging tape, every
attempt should be made to remove such lines when the search is
Communications It may be difficult for the Ground Search Team Leader (GSTL) to
communicate directly with all members of the team when the bush is
dense and the spacing is large. An additional command may prove
useful in these circumstances. Before starting the sweep, the
searchers number off from one end of the line to the other. Later,
when the line has stopped (1 whistle blast) for some reason, the
GSTL may give 3 blasts of a whistle. Three (3) blasts of a whistle
requires searchers to call out their numbers in order. The
searcher who gave the stop signal does not respond when the count
reaches his or her number. The leader then knows the source of
the stop signal and can respond accordingly. Again, the GSTL must
be sure this signal is fully understood before searching commences.
The numbering off procedure is not recommended when more direct
communication is possible.
Once the GSTL has determined that the line can move again he
gives 2 whistle blasts.
Difficult Areas Whatever method is used, maintaining the line is the
responsibility of every searcher in it. A searcher getting behind
must not be forced into superficial searching in order to catch up to
the rest of the line. Any area within a search grid that proves so
difficult to search that the line will be held up for an extended period
of time should be flagged off, noted and searched later by a different
Multiple Teams When several teams are working in adjoining sections, it is most
unlikely that they will reach the sweep boundary simultaneously. To
avoid confusion with signals between two teams, it is best if the
teams are staggered in the search area.
Before starting a return sweep in a different section, the GSTL must
be sure that another team is not already searching the new area.
Co-ordination between GSTLs is obviously essential and each
GSTL must carry a radio. Attaching a special tag at the ends of a
completed sweep can provide useful information to other teams.
This tag may be a card with relevant information filled in, or it may
simply be some additional flagging tape attached according to a
standard code known to all teams.
Closed Grid searches do not represent an efficient use of SAR
personnel. They should only be used in the exceptional
circumstances as previously outlined.
Additional Reading Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review
Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. When is a grid search appropriate?
2. How is line spacing maintained in a grid search?
3. Draw how an area is flagged before a grid search is conducted?
Answer True or False to the following statements:
4. One whistle blast means go and two whistle blasts means stop.
5. The grid team waits for searchers to search difficult areas.
6. Closed grid searches should be used as a first resort.
7. When the search line is stopped, three blasts from a whistle
signals the searchers to number off.
Chapter 18 –
Shoreline Searches and Safety
Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Describe the urgency of water-related searches.
• Describe the strategy used in river and lake searches.
• Outline basic river hydrology.
• Identify swiftwater hazards.
• Describe appropriate equipment for working within 3 m of
• Describe basic swimming techniques.
• Describe various stream crossing techniques.
• Discuss and demonstrate use of a throw bag.
• Discuss what is meant by Reach, Throw, Row, Go, Helo.
Shoreline Searches
Accidents on or around rivers or lakes often lead to searches for
missing people. These accidents can occur as people boat, fish or
even just walk along the shore of a river or a lake. In fact, in BC the
drowning rate is twice the national rate. Most drownings are the
result of boating accidents with a high percentage being alcohol
As a GSAR team member, undoubtedly you will be called on to be
part of a search around water. No matter what the reason is for the
water search, searcher safety must be maintained.
SAR incidents that involve water are divided into searches and
rescues. Water rescues, especially whitewater rescues, take
considerable training and experience. Water rescues will not be
covered in the GSAR course. Water rescues are covered in the
Swiftwater Rescue Technician 1 (SRT 1) course that has been
developed and is delivered by Rescue Canada. The SRT 1 course
is for those volunteers having an interest in swiftwater rescue and
who have the opportunity to train in that environment.
Only Swiftwater Rescue Technicians should venture into the
water during a SAR incident and those who stay on shore need
to have basic self-rescue training and adequate equipment. In
this chapter we will discuss river bank and lakeshore search
strategies and searcher safety.
River Searches
River searches occur whenever anyone goes into the water and is
swept away. River searches are also necessary whenever there is
a person lost in the vicinity of a river, since falling into the river is a
likely reason for the person’s disappearance.
Whatever the reason for the person being in the river, the possible
outcomes are similar. If the subject does not drown he or she will
be carried downstream until they are:
• able to get out of the river onto one of its banks
• trapped against a log-jam, a rock or some other obstacle
• able to get out of the river onto a rock or a small island
The second and third situations may require rescue techniques
beyond the scope of a GSAR course. The GSAR team member
may still be involved in locating a trapped subject but a swiftwater
rescue team is brought in to conduct the rescue.
Many rescuers have died trying to perform rescues that they
are not trained for.
A subject may float considerable distances downstream before
being able to reach shore and get out. Once the subject has
escaped the river, he may have crawled up the bank and into the
woods, either to seek shelter or from disorientation resulting from
either hypothermia or injury.
Because of the threat of hypothermia all river searches require
a high-urgency response.
River Search
As with any search the point last seen (PLS) has to be determined.
If the PLS is in the river then this point will be the top of the search
area unless there is reason to believe that the subject has gone
The bottom of the search area is calculated by determining the river
current speed and multiplying it by the time since the person was
last seen (e.g. 3 km/hr (current speed) X 2 hours = 6 km
downstream). Often actual measurements are not taken and the
bottom of the search area is determined from local knowledge.
A confinement team is placed downstream beyond the bottom of the
search area to ensure that the subject is not swept out of the search
Initial response teams are sent to quickly search the river and river
banks downstream from the PLS. They may utilize boats, vehicles
or aircraft. Usually a combination of these resources is used. Any
searcher who is on the river has to be certified as a Swiftwater
Rescue Technician.
The types of boats that may be used are zodiacs, rafts, kayaks or
aluminium jet boats. The normal boat procedure is for a fast boat to
cover the area quickly and for slower boats to conduct a more
thorough search once the initial search is completed.
Vehicles are used to drive down riverside roads checking river
banks that are visible from the road and checking whether the
subject has escaped the river and is on the road. Access points to
the river are checked in case search teams have to be deployed.
If available, aircraft may be used as they can cover the river very
quickly and if the river is relatively clear spotters can see submerged
objects that would normally be unseen from a boat. The
disadvantage is that they cannot see into the bush on the river bank
and are often not available.
As the subject may be in the river bank bush, GSAR teams are sent
to search the river banks downstream from the PLS. The strategy is
to have numerous small teams searching different spots along the
banks to cover the search area as quickly as possible. Ideally,
several teams will be searching each bank, the starting point for
each team is dependent on access points to the river. Figure 8.1
illustrates this typical situation.
Figure 18.1 River Search
Teams of three are desirable (two is the minimum) with each team
having a radio. Any person near the water should be equipped with
the appropriate gear such as helmet and personnel flotation device.
Personal safety is discussed later in this chapter.
The teams should search the woods a short distance away from the
side of the river looking for any evidence of the subject having left
the river. The subject’s name should be called and whistles blown
however, river noise may make this ineffective. The first search
should be quick and concentrate on finding a live body. A more
thorough search can be done later if the initial search is
The searching of some river banks can be very hazardous and
under no circumstances should the lives of searchers be
endangered. Canyon areas may have to be bypassed, but attempts
should be made to find a viewpoint from which the canyon can be
scanned in case the person is trapped within it. Rope Rescue Team
members can use a belay to assist in searching slightly treacherous
areas. Only personnel with the training to deal with the hazards
should enter hazardous areas.
Drowning Victims There is always a possibility that the subject has drowned.
Drowning victims tend not to travel far in rivers. The body tends to
end up in one of the following places which should be carefully
• Trapped by the current against a log-jam or sweeper.
• Against the upstream side of a rock or other obstacle.
• Beached in a shallow area where the water is moving more
• At the bottom of a deep pool where there is little current.
Seeing to the bottom of a deep pool can be very difficult owing to
light reflection. Finding a vantage point which permits looking down
into the pool will improve the detectability of any object at the bottom
of the pool. The use of polarizing sunglasses will greatly aid the
searching of pools.
Often when a subject has been lost in a river at high water the body
will not be found. The search team may have to return numerous
times as the water level drops before finding the subject. In one
case in BC, it took three and a half months before the water level
was low enough to expose the body.
Glacial Streams
Sediment loaded streams that originate from glaciers occasionally
take the lives of people travelling through the mountains. Usually,
the accident happens when the person tries to cross the stream
when the water level is too high or the person slips off a rock when
trying to jump across the stream. Once in this very cold water the
subject’s strength is consumed and they can not swim for very long.
The water level of most glacial streams will fluctuate over the course
of a day. The glacier melts faster during the day and melts slower
at night. Since the melted water has to travel down the stream,
there is a time lag between when the ice melts and when the stream
is highest. The water level is usually lowest in the morning and is
higher in the afternoon and evening. The best time to search for a
body is in the morning when the stream is at its’ lowest.
Lake Shore
Searching a shore of a lake for a missing subject is similar to
searching a river bank. You are looking for any sign that the victim
came out of the water. Beaches of sand or dirt are good track traps
and should be checked by SAR teams. If no sign is found on the
beach, there is a good chance that the subject did not leave the lake
at that point. However, many lakes in BC have rocky or brushy
shores that take considerable more care and expertise to detect
sign and to confirm that the person has not left the lake area.
While looking for clues or bodies on lakeshores pay special
attention to the direction of the wind. Debris will move to the
downwind shore from the incident. On most lakes, debris
accumulates in one area indicating the direction of the wind and a
good place to start searching.
Body Recovery You may happen to be a member of a team that finds a body that
has been in the water for a period of time. This can be one of the
most difficult experiences for a member of a SAR group to deal with.
Bodies that have been submerged for a long period of time are
horrendous in their smell and appearance.
Rubber gloves, facemasks and waterproof, airtight body bags need
to be used for the recovery. Some members use a dab of Vick’s
Vapo-Rub underneath their nostrils to mask the smell.
If you have been involved in a body recovery you should be aware
of how you and your fellow team mates are handling the incident
and a critical incident stress debriefing should be arranged. The
Search Termination chapter contains further information on CISD.
RIVER SAFETY GSAR members who are searching along river banks need to know
some basic safety information. The following section of this chapter
deals with the basics of safely working around rivers when called on
to do a search.
River Orientation While working around a river you need to be able to describe your
location to base and to other team members. Positions on a river
are described from the perspective of looking downstream. River
right is the right side of the river looking downstream while river left
is the left side of the river looking downstream.
River Left
Cu rre
nt Figure 18.2 River Orientation.
River Hydrology Once water starts moving downhill it is considered swiftwater. What
changes the behavior of the swiftwater is the volume of water, how
fast it moves and the surface that it runs on (riverbed and banks).
There is greater force with more volume or a steeper drop.
Cross River Section
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.3 Types of Current in a River
Laminar and Helical
There are two types of current in a river; the laminar flow that is in
the middle of the river and helical flow of water along the banks.
Laminar flow moves straight down the river while the helical flow
corkscrews down the side of the river, due to the friction of water
against the bank that slows the outside water. This helical flow can
sometimes sweep subjects out into the laminar flow and make it
difficult for swimmers to get to shore.
River Bends As a river bends around a curve the current is fastest on the outside
of the bend and slowest on the inside of the bend. The faster
current on the outside of the bend erodes the bank while the slower
current on the inside drops suspended material such as sand.
Eddies As water moves around an object such as a rock it forms an eddy.
An eddy is the movement of water upstream behind an object in the
water. An eddy fence is a line in the river that separates the current
moving downstream from the current moving upstream. Crossing
over an eddy fence to get in or out of an eddy, from a boat or as a
swimmer, takes more force than moving in regular current.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.4 How an Eddy Forms
Standing Waves Waves in rivers are called standing waves because they stay in one
spot. They can occur in a number of spots on the river such as
where the water flows over an object, the current changes speed, or
there is a narrowing in the width of the river.
Extra caution has to be taken If you see any of the following hazards
in the river while searching along the riverbank. You may have to
avoid searching certain areas if there are too many hazards.
You do not want to fall in the river above any hazard.
Hydraulics and
A hydraulic (keeper or reversal) forms when water pours over the
top of an object and the current reverses back upstream (Figure
8.5). The water is aerated (40-60% air) and appears white and
foamy. The current in a hydraulic can hold an object for a long
period of time.
A hole is considered to be a standing wave that breaks back
upstream. It is not as dangerous as hydraulics as more water
moves downstream at the bottom of a hole allowing an object such
as a swimmer to be washed downstream. However the terms
hydraulic and hole are often used interchangeably.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 8.5 Hydraulics and Holes
Holes come in two types: frowning and smiling. When looked at
from upstream they resemble their namesakes. A frowning hole
tends to keep objects by recirculating on itself while a smiling
hydraulic tends to flush objects out.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.6 Smiling and Frowning Holes
Strainers are solid material in the river that allows the water to flow
through but which would stop a solid object like a boat or body. The
most common strainers in BC are trees but other types of strainers
include boulders, fences and other man made objects. An object
held against a strainer will be difficult to move because of the force
of water pushing against the object. It is surprising how little current
it takes to hold an object against a strainer.
Cold water Most rivers in BC are very cold and anyone who ends up swimming
in the river could potentially get hypothermic. A more immediate
threat is the loss of strength from the cold water that can lead to
drowning. It is extremely important for searchers who fall into the
water to get out as quickly as possible.
Entrapment Hazards Foot entrapment in crevices and cracks is a potential hazard as
most rivers have rocky bottoms and banks. When a swimmer
stands up in deep, moving water and their foot gets trapped, they
are pushed forward by the current. They cannot free themselves
because of the force of the current and drowning often occurs.
If you end up swimming in a river and you are nearing shore do not
stand up until the water is very shallow. This will lessen the
likelihood of foot entrapment.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.7 Foot Entrapment
Bears Extra care has to be taken while searching along creeks and rivers
(especially those with spawning fish in them) as these areas attract
bears. The information on bear avoidance contained in the Survival
Chapter should be reviewed at this point.
Tying Into a Rope Never tie directly to a rope without a means of releasing the
rope. If you get swept downstream while tied to a rope that you
cannot release, when the rope will goes taut the current will force
you under water and you will drown.
Lines Across the
Lines that cross a river in the water should never be at 90° to the
current. In this position the line can trap a person on the upstream
side. An angled line across the river will allow the person to move
down the line and out of the current.
To work safely in the swiftwater environment some personal
equipment is mandatory. Therefore, if you are searching within 3 m
of swiftwater you must wear the appropriate safety gear. The
minimal gear required is a helmet, a personal flotation device (PFD),
a knife, a whistle, and proper footwear.
Personal Floatation
Device (PFD)
PFDs are rated according to the amount of flotation they provide. A
PFD with 18 –24 lbs is the recommended minimum. Ensure that the
PFD fits you properly and that movement is possible when it is on.
It is difficult to swim with an overly bulky PFD. Horsecollar PFDs
are not to be used in swiftwater.
Helmets are important to protect the head from impacts with rocks
both when walking around the shore and if being swept
downstream. A lightweight, ventilated helmet which protects the
forehead, and the sides and back of the head and does not have a
rim is recommended.
Hoods The head is a major source of heat loss. A searcher must have a
neoprene hood or pile cap to keep warm. Make sure that it can fit
under your helmet.
The proper footwear can provide protection and warmth. The types
of footwear range from runners and wool socks to neoprene booties
with thick soles.
Knife A knife is an essential piece of equipment to have while working
around swiftwater. The knife would be used to free either the victim
or the rescuer if entangled in line. The usual knife used is a straight
blade in a positive locking sheath attached to the shoulder of the
Whistle In the swiftwater environment it is often difficult to vocally
communicate with people so a whistle becomes very important. It is
essential that the whistle can function when wet (i.e. Fox 40).
Throw Bag A throw bag is an important part of any swiftwater operation. It is a
length of rope (made of various materials) inside a nylon sack.
Often, on river operations, SAR members are stationed downstream
from an incident. Equipped with throwbags, SAR members will
provide downstream safety in the event that subjects or rescuers
are swept downstream.
If, while searching, you happen to fall into a river it is important to
know the correct procedures to self-rescue. The most important
objective is to get to shore as quickly as possible. Once in the water
you will want to get into the swimming position. This position is on
your back with your feet downstream and raised up. This will
prevent your feet from becoming trapped on underwater hazards.
Scan down river to identify any hazards.
You also want to keep your feet pointed towards hazards such as
rocks and use them to fend off these hazards.
Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.8 Correct Swimming Position.
Swimmer’s Ferry To move toward shore use the swimmer’s ferry. This is to have
your body at 45° to the current, head upstream and pointed towards
the shore you want to go to. Back paddle and the current will help
move you towards shore.
If you want to move more quickly roll on to your stomach and do the
front crawl towards shore. Keep your head upstream and maintain
a 45° angle to the current.
Ferry Angle
moves this way,
towards shore.
upstream at
Figure 18.9 Swimmer’s Ferry
Avoiding Strainers If you are heading towards a strainer and cannot avoid it by using
the swimmers ferry, the best thing to do is to get on top of the
strainer. Approximately 5 metres before the strainer, roll on your
stomach and swim as quickly as you can towards the strainer to pull
yourself up on top of it.
Stream Crossing Often in searches it may be necessary to cross streams without a
bridge. It is necessary to know what type of stream is safe to cross
and what techniques should be used. Crossing creeks and streams
can be one of the most dangerous activities on a search.
The factors that have to be considered before crossing a creek are
the depth of water, current, channel bottom, any downstream
hazards and suspended material in the water. If the water level is
above your knees there is a definite risk of being knocked over and
swept downstream. However, any depth of water can be dangerous
if the current is very strong or the stream bottom is very smooth. In
addition, look downstream for hazards such as waterfalls or rapids.
Hazards downstream increase the risk of even easy crossings. The
decision to cross should only be made if it is unlikely that you will be
swept off your feet and there are no hazards downstream.
Techniques for
Any time you decide to cross you have to be prepared to swim.
Therefore before crossing you should unfasten your pack’s waist
and chest straps so that it can be removed quickly if you fall in. A
loaded pack will drag you under water very quickly.
If you decide to wade across a stream, pick the widest point in the
stream where the water is the shallowest. If the stream bottom is at
all rocky it is best to leave your boots on but remove your socks and
Time of day can also be an important consideration when crossing
creeks. The water level is usually the lowest in the morning as there
is not as much melt water flowing down the creek. As the day
progresses, the water level increases, and a stream that would be
easy to cross in the morning may become impassable in the
Single Person
The best way for a single person to wade across a stream is for the
person to face and lean upstream using a pole as a third point of
contact. As you move sideways across the stream you always have
at least 2 points of contact.
Group Crossing There are a number of formations that can be used for a group to
cross a stream. One formation is to be in a straight line parallel to
the current with all members facing upstream. The front person of
the line leans onto a pole and into the current. This front person
breaks the current for the rest of the group. Each person holds onto
the person in front of them for support. One person at a time moves
sideways, starting with the person at the front of the line (Figure
Another formation that can be used is to cross in a triangle shaped
group (a wedge) with everyone facing upstream. The point person
is the farthest upstream breaking the current and leaning on a pole
for support.
Adapted from Publisher: CFS Press Author: S. Ray Title: Swiftwater Rescue
© This material has been copied under licence from CANCOPY. Resale or further copying of this material is strictly prohibited.
Figure 18.10 Stream Crossings
In forested areas, fallen logs to walk or crawl across often are the
safest, easiest way. Poles or hand lines for balance can assist in
crossing on the log. Jumping from boulder to boulder is another
way to cross a stream. Make sure you do not overestimate your
jumping ability of underestimate the slipperiness of the rocks.
Reach, Throw, Row,
Go, Tow, Helo
For rescue operations in swiftwater, one should remember the
axiom Reach, Throw, Row, Go, Tow, Helo. However, it should also
be remembered that many potential rescuers have died in
swiftwater rescues trying techniques they are not trained for. As a
GSAR member, only the reach and throw rescue techniques should
be attempted.
Reaching with some sort of equipment such as a paddle is the
safest form of rescue and should be attempted first. Always reach
with an object and not your hand. If you start to get pulled in you
can release the object and not get pulled in.
Throwing a throw bag is the next safest as the rescuer is still not in
the water. More risky is Rowing a boat and Going and Towing
which should only be attempted by Swiftwater Technicians. Finally,
helicopter rescues in the swiftwater environment should only be
used if all other rescue techniques have been tried.
Use of a Throwbag Throwbags are one of the most often used pieces of swiftwater
rescue equipment. As a GSAR team member you may be asked to
provide containment downstream of an activity. To perform this
duty you will have to be wearing the proper personal safety gear
and have a throwbag. Your duty is to watch for any person swept
downstream and use the throwbag to safely bring the swimmer into
When using a throwbag do not loop the rope around your wrist or tie
into the rope. Hold the bag in one hand, open the top of the bag
and grab the end of the rope in the other hand. Wetting the bag
makes the bag easier to throw. Yell to alert the subject and throw
the bag with an underhand or overhand toss. Aim to throw past the
subject and slightly ahead of them. Once the subject has the rope,
draw them into shore in a broad arc while trying not to totally
submerge them. Walking down the riverbank prevents you from
being pulled into the water when the rope becomes taut.
If you are the person in the water receiving the throwbag, grab the
throwbag and get onto your back (if you are not already there). Put
the line across your chest and over the shoulder that is farthest
away from the shore. Perform the swimmer’s ferry with your head
pointing upstream to the shore so you will be pulled in to. When the
line goes taut expect some water to come over your head.
Additional Reading Croslin, Mike, Edwards, Barry and Segerstrom, Jim. Swiftwater
Rescue Technician, 2nd Edition. Elkgrove CA: Rescue 3 / Rescue
Source, 1991.
Ray, Slim. Swiftwater Rescue. Asheville, NC: CFS Press, 1997.
Further references listed in the Bibliography.
Chapter Review Please answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
so that another student can use this manual. The answers to these
questions are located at the end of the manual.
1. Where are you most likely to find a live missing person on a
2. What might you do to smoothly bring to shore a subject to whom
you have thrown a throw bag.
3. Describe the technique for a single person to wade across a
4. What is the function of downstream containment?
5. What is the minimal equipment required by shoreline searchers?
Answer True or False to the following statements:
6. Looking upstream river right is to your right.
7. River searches require a high-urgency.
8. An eddy forms when water flows over an object and the current
reverse back upstream.
9. A line across a river that is in the water should be at 90° to the
10. A glacial fed stream is at it’s highest water level in the afternoon
and evening.
Auerbach, Paul S. Wilderness Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Mosby –
Year Book Inc., 1995.
Bigon, Mario and Regazzoni, Guido. The Morrow Guide to Knots.
New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1982.
Brewer, Dave and Brewer, Gerry. How to Organize a Search and/or
Rescue (A Handy Reference Guide). New Westminster, BC,
Justice Institute of BC, 1998.
Bowman, W.D., Outdoor Emergency Care. Second Edition. National
Ski Patrol System, Inc, 1993.
Cooper, Donald C. and Taylor, Albert “Ab”. Fundamentals of
Mantracking: The Step-By-Step Method, 2nd Edition. Olympia, WA:
Emergency Response Institute, Inc. and National Rescue
Consultants, Inc., 1993.
Cooper, Donald C., LaValla, Patrick “Rick” and Stoffel, Robert
“Skip”. Search and Rescue Fundamentals, 3rd Edition. Olympia,
WA: Emergency Response Institute, 1996.
Croslin, Mike, Edwards, Barry and Segerstrom, Jim. Swiftwater
Rescue Technician, 2nd Edition. Elkgrove CA: Rescue 3 / Rescue
Source, 1991.
Fear, Gene. Surviving the Unexpected Wilderness Emergency.
Tacoma, WA: Survival Education Association, 1979.
Frank, James and Patterson, Donald. CMC Rappel Manual. Santa
Barbara, CA. CMC Rescue Inc., 1993.
Graydon, Don, and Hanson, Kurt. 6th Edition, Mountaineering, The
Freedom of the Hills. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997.
Hardin, Joel. Universal Training Systems Signcut Division (Manual).
Everson, WA.
Hawley, Donna L. Conservation and Outdoor Recreational
Education. Richmond, BC: Open Learning Agency, 1989.
Industry Canada. Study Guide for the Radiotelephone Operator’s
Restricted Certificate (Land) No longer produced.
Kjellstrom, Bjorn. Be Expert with Map & Compass. New York, NY:
MacMillan General Reference, 1994.
Kearney, Jack. Tracking: A Blueprint for Learning How. El Cajon,
CA: Pathways Press, 1978.
Kelley, Dennis E. Mountain Search for the Lost Victim. Montrose,
CA: Dennis E. Kelley, 1973.
Kelley, Dennis E. The $250, 000 Message. Salt Lake City: SAR
Paper No. 2 76-108, N.A.S.A.R., 1976.
Klassen, Karl. Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (Manual).
Banff, AB: The Association of
Canadian Mountain Guides, 1991.
Merry, Wayne. Official Wilderness First-Aid Guide. Toronto, ON:
McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1994.
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Ground Search Team Leader Manual. 1997
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Rope Rescue Manual. 1992
Provincial Emergency Program, Justice Institute of BC, Emergency
Management Division. Search and Rescue Management. 1989
Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of Attorney General. Policy
and Procedures Manual. 1998
Provincial Emergency Program. Search and Rescue Advisory
Committee, Information Booklet. Victoria, BC, 1998.
Ray, Slim. Swiftwater Rescue. Asheville, NC: CFS Press, 1997.
Schimelpfenig, Tod, and Lindsey, Linda. Wilderness First Aid.
Lander, WY: NOLS Publications, 1991.
Sebert, L.M. Every Square Inch. Ottawa, ON: Department of
Energy, Mines and Resources Canada.
Seidman, David. The Essential Wilderness Navigator. Camden,
MD: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 1995.
Setnicka, Tim J. Wilderness Search and Rescue. Boston, MA:
Appalachian Mountain Club, 1980.
Simer, Peter, and Sullivan, John. The National Outdoor
Leadership’s Wilderness Guide. New York, NY: Simon &
Schuster,Inc, 1983.
Syrotuck, William G. An Introduction to Land Search Probabilities
and Calculations. Westmoreland, NY: Arner Publications, 1975.
Vines, Tom and Hudson, Steve. High Angle Rescue Techniques.
The National Association for Search and Rescue. 1992
Wartes, Jon. Washington Explorer Search and Rescue Team
Member and Team Leader Training (Manual). , 2nd Edition.
Tacoma, WA: Xerox Ventura Publisher, 1988.
Wartes, Jon. Search Area Confinement: An Overview. National
Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), 1980.
Wiseman, John “Lofty”. The SAS Survival Handbook.
Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Brewer, Dave. Standardized Review Process. SAR Reference
Memo, Provincial Emergency Program. Victoria, BC, 1998.
Bower, Donald C. and Hill, Kenneth A. GPS Navigation and Land
Search. Waverley Ground Search and Rescue.
Collwell, Martin. New Concepts for Grid Searching. ERI Inc.,
Olympia, WA.
Collwell, Martin. Sound Sweep: a New Tool for Search Teams.
ERI Inc., Olympia, WA.
Collwell, Martin. Conducting a Sound Sweep – Instructions to
Search Teams. August 31, 1996.
Foster, Richard. Patient Packaging for Wilderness Search and
Millar, John, Dr.. Tick Bites and Disease. BC Ministry of Health,
Victoria, BC, Summer 1994.
Natural Resources Canada, Geomatics Canada. Topographic
Maps. (Information Pamphlet).
Philip, H.G. Entomolgist. Pest Control Note 93-04 - Ticks and Man
in British Columbia. Province of BC, Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food. May 1993.
Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Forests. Bear Aware
Student Manual.
Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Forests. In and Around
Helicopters - Passenger Safety.
Provincial Emergency Program. Search and Rescue Advisory
Committee, Information Booklet. Victoria, BC, 1998.
Sprague, David and Woo, Arthur, Trimble Navigation Ltd.
Fundamentals of the Global Positioning System.
Syrotuck, William G. Analysis of Lost Person Behavior.
Westmoreland, NY: Arner Publications Inc., 1976.
Workers’ Compensation Board. Safe Work Practices for Helicopter
Operations in the Forest Industry. Richmond, BC, 1995
Articles Continued The following articles were obtained from the Ministry of
Health publication entitled “from the Health files”:
• Campylobacter. Number 58, March 1997
• Tick Bites and Disease. Number 1, Summer 1994
• Giardiasis and other Water-Borne Diseases. Number
10, September 1990
• Hepatitis A. Number 33, October 1996
• Cryptosporidiosis. Number 48, October 1997
• How to Disinfect Drinking Water. Number 49b, August
• Rabies: Early Treatment is Essential. Number 07,
August 1997
• Wilderness Health Risks. Number 24, February 1992
Web sites SARINFO at
Chris Weddle’s “Team Membering, Skills for the Individual” at
Declination calculation
Canadian Avalanche Association web site at
Chapter Review
Answer Key
Chapter 1 – Search and Rescue in BC
1) Air SAR, Marine SAR and Ground and Inland Water SAR 2) Responsible for
Ground and Inland Water SAR 3) SAR Commander (Police Officer) 4) SAR
Manager (Deputy Incident Commander) 5) see page 1-10 6) ECC 7) Coroner
8) T 9) F 10) F 11) F 12) F 13) T 14) T 15) F
Chapter 2 – Initiating a Search
1) Of the lost people found dead 50% had died on the first day and the search area
grows rapidly with each passing hour. 2) The duty officer (usually a SAR Manager)
3) Sign in and wait for instructions, get your gear ready and study maps 4) PLS is the
place where the subject was last seen while the LKP is the last place where the subject
was known to have been but the subject may not have been seen there. 5) The rating
is 12 but the 1 ratings of several factors makes an urgent response necessary.
6) F 7) F 8) F 9) T 10) F
Chapter 3 – Search Progression
1) Between 1 km and 2.6 km downhill from PLS 2) see page 3-6 3) Field search
assignments 4 to 6 hours, operational periods 6-12 hours 4) State the obvious, Police
Authority or SAR Manager 5) To find out and record exactly what the team did
6) Locate, Access, Stabilize and Transport 7) Probability of Detection – the likelihood
that a team would have found the subject if the subject was in the search area.
8) F 9) F 10) F 11) F 12) T
Chapter 4 – Search Termination
1) The clean-up and preparation for the next search done at the end of a search.
2) Team equipment being taken home and searchers not signing out. 3) An
opportunity to improve the SAR response. 4) Observation, comment, suggestion,
action, responsibility for action, date action to be taken 5) Police 6) When there no
chance that the subject is alive or the subject is not thought to be in the area.
7) Expense claim form filled out by member and given to SAR manager (may vary in
some SAR Groups) 8) T 9) F 10) T 11) F 12) F
Chapter 5 – Maps
1) There will be some differences in answers but if you are 2 or more numbers off on
the third and sixth digit of a UTM grid coordinate or 10” or more off on your latitude
and longitude then recheck your answer.
a. 892 228; 55° 14' 40" N, 127° 35' 50" W
b. 891 176; 55° 11' 50" N, 127° 36' 00" W
c. 945 178; 55° 11' 55" N, 127° 30' 55" W
d. 922 153; 55° 10' 30" N, 127° 33' 05" W
2) A motel 3) A lake 4) F 5) T 6) T 7) T (when using a 6 digit UTM grid
reference) 8) F
Chapter 6 – Compass
1) True North is the true pole of the earth, Grid north is what the grid lines on a map
are based on, and magnetic north is the point at which a compass needle points to,
Grid north and magnetic north 2) It simplifies compass work 3) Check your own
compass! 4) At waist level and the sighting method, the sighting method is more
accurate 5) Any iron or steel objects or magnetic fields
6) F 7) F 8) T 9) T 10) F
Chapter 7 – Map and Compass
There will be some differences in answers but if you are more than 2° off on your
bearing, or 2 or more numbers off on the third and sixth digit of a UTM grid coordinate
or 10” or more off on your latitude and longitude then recheck your answer.
1) 275°, 95° 2) 049 151 3) Latitude 49° 47' 45" N , Longitude 122° 59' 25" W,
UTM Grid 007 157 4) Examples of technical terrain: Garibaldi or Lava Glacier,
steep slopes and cliffs around Pyramid Mountain or the Gargoyles, swiftwater in Zig
Zag or Skookum Creek
Chapter 8 – Survival Skills
1) Stop, Think, Observe, Plan 2) The Will to Live 3) Require Assistance 4) Fight
back 5) First aid, fire, shelter, signals, water, food (but can vary depending on
circumstances). 6) It is a cold shelter without a fire. 7) In a survival situation you
have a limited amount of energy, therefore, the benefits of any action should outweigh
the disadvantage of energy loss. 8) F 9) T 10) F 11) F 12) F (if no ready
food source is available then more energy may be expended than is gathered)
Chapter 9 – Communications
1) Describe how you are receiving the signal with simple words. 2) A mobile is in a
vehicle while a portable is hand-held. 3) It allows the SAR Manager to keep track of
what exactly is happening and to keep the communications functioning effectively. 4)
Squelch mutes the radio speaker when there is no incoming transmissions. 5) First
name – Golf, Echo, Romeo, Romeo, Yankee Second name- Juliet, Oscar, Hotel,
November, Sierra, Echo, November 6) 2145, 0347, 1820 7) T 8) F 9) F
10) T
Chapter 10 – Orientation to Rope Management
1) Dynamic rope stretches much more under tension than static rope (low stretch rope).
Static rope is used in SAR. 2) On low angle slopes where if the stretcher is dropped it
will not slide down the hill. 3) Brake Hand 4) I am in belay position and ready to
belay. 5) Do it! 6) F (10 cm, 4 inches) 7) F 8) T 9) F 10) F
Chapter 11 – Orientation to Tracking
1) So that they are more aware of sign and the need to protect sign. 2) The light
source can be manipulated to more easily see sign. 3) See the information on the
track report. 4) Patience, practice and instruction 5) F 6) T 7) F 8) F
Chapter 12 – Helicopter Safety
1) 35 m (120 feet) 2) Gradually place your weight onto the helicopter.
3) behind, uphill 4) Moving crews and equipment and evacuating injured subjects.
5) A fast moving tail rotor is hard to see. 6) see page 12-9 7) F 8) T 9) F
10) F
Chapter 13 – Avalanche Orientation
No questions asked.
Chapter 14– Evacuation
1) Bend your legs (remember to keep back straight) 2) The First Aid Attendant
3) Not to kick rocks on the subject. 4) The GSTL may miss a safety hazard.
5) To cross an obstacle. 6) F 7) T 8) F 9) F 10) T
Chapter 15 – Initial Response Searches
1) Initial Response searches are rapid searches in the areas of highest probability.
2) Describe calling, sound or beacon procedures. 3) Describe the advantages, on
page 15-13 4) They can destroy clues and engines can drown out the response of a
subject . 5) see page 15-12 6) The size of the search area is reduced.
7) T 8) T 9) F 10) F 11) F
Chapter 16 – Sweep Searches
1) A responsive subject. 2) Methods that gives a quick but not particularly thorough
search. 3) Contour search follows an elevation and a feature search follows a river,
road, etc. 4) Cool or cold temperatures and little forest cover 5) Depends on
subject, terrain type and available personnel and equipment 6) F (the searchers can
start at the same time but do not have to) 7) F 8) F 9) F 10) T
Chapter 17 – Closed Grid Searches
1) Small search area, high probability subject is in search area, many searchers,
subject unresponsive 2) A staggered line is used where the searchers can see a
neighboring searcher and maintain spacing from that person. 3) See page 17-4
4) F 5) F (difficult areas are marked off and left for another search team) 6) F 7) T
Chapter 18 – Shoreline Searches and Shoreline Safety
1) On a bank, on a rock or island or against a log-jam 2) Move down along the shore
3) Facing upstream, leaning on a pole 4) Watch for any person swept downstream
and use a throwbag to bring them into shore. 5) Helmet, PFD, knife, whistle and
appropriate footwear 6) F 7) T 8) F 9) F 10) T

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