Search Procedures


The success or failure of any search conducted underwater can be affected by a multitude of factors. Those of particular concern are: Surface conditions, underwater visibility, depth, bottom topography, bottom composition, vegetation, accessibility, surge, tides, currents, accuracy of bearings, water temperature, pollution, obstacles or hazards, etc.

None of these listed factors can be controlled by the searcher. There is, in fact, only one aspect of an underwater search that can be controlled - organization. The other factors must be taken into consideration when a search is planned. Each must be considered as the search is organized and methods altered to ensure that the most effective and efficient means are implemented. However, it is most often organization of the Dive Team (or lack thereof), which most significantly impacts the outcome of an underwater search. Organization is the difference between a systematic, methodical approach to the search and a bunch of divers doing their own thing in the water.

There is a common misperception that a diver need only get to the bottom to efficiently search for sunken objects. Often divers inexperienced in search and recovery are under the impression that they need only descend where a helpful witness indicates and there the object will be. Unfortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. More frequently, divers searching for an object have made a poor showing due to lack of organization, planning, and experience.

Divers participating in an organized underwater search receive a great deal of satisfaction when the object of the search is located and successfully recovered as this is in most cases no small feat. However, an underwater search may involve many long hard hours of diving ending in disappointment should the object of the search not be found. Unlike pleasure diving, search and recovery diving must be done at the place where the object was lost and many times without delay, which may necessitate diving under adverse conditions. The techniques involved in locating and recovering an object submersed underwater are based both in art and in science. The mechanics of the search are truly an art; while the principles applied to the operation are firmly grounded in science and mathematics.

This publication is not intended to be a manual on how to dive. In fact, we assume a degree of proficiency in the reader equal to that of an advanced level diver. This publication does not claim to be the final authority on search and recovery diving. The techniques described herein are limited to the use of open circuit scuba. In addition to those contained in this manual, there are other techniques that utilize equipment differing from that which we describe. The reader must realize that while the listed techniques and equipment will suffice to successfully accomplish the majority of underwater search and recovery operations, there often are occasions wherein further specialized techniques and equipment are required. Some examples of such are penetration searches conducted in underwater caves or wrecks, dives below ice, dives requiring decompression, or dives in polluted water.

The information and techniques presented in this website have been developed and refined over the past 30 years by the Underwater Search and Rescue Unit of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. However, we do not claim sole authorship....much of the information contained herein has been shared both with us, and by us. The benchmark of professionalism in a public safety agency lies in the sharing of knowledge and expertise with others. It is to this end that we dedicate this publication to the professionals involved in underwater search, rescue and recovery.

Search Equipment
Each team member is responsible for providing and maintaining his/her own search gear. This link details the standardized equipment used by the VC SAR Dive Team. 
Organization and Planning
Describes factors affecting a SAR operation and gives step-by-step account of duties of divemaster overseeing the call-out.

Dive Operations

Defines guidelines for scuba recovery operations. Emphasis on full face mask procedures.

Search Patterns
Outlines some common search patterns for underwater recoveries.

SAR Swimming Technique

Watermanship tips for the SAR diver.
Pros & cons of different types of underwater communication systems are given.
Recovery and Salvage
Procedures and theory of recovery and salvage.

Rescue/Body Recovery

Facts regarding drownings, near drownings and scuba related deaths. Body recovery procedures outlined.


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