Search and Rescue Career: A Pathway to Seafaring

by | Last updated Aug 29, 2023 | Career Guide | 0 comments

For many seafarers, the only way to work on ships and the high seas is to apply for a position in merchant vessels.

Unfortunately, most graduates of any maritime course end up confused, helpless, hopeless, and unemployed at the start of their life after school.

Everybody knows that this industry is tough for those fresh meats who have no backers but want to embark on a career at sea.

But there are many ways to skin a cat. Search and Rescue volunteers at sea can be a good starting point if you use this both as a stepping stone and training ground for skills improvement.

Why You Should Consider This Career

Imagine yourself in your 3rd year at college. No backers, no connections, not in a scholarship program, no Php45,000.00 for a paid apprenticeship, and with three months left on your academics.

You read a whole lot of negative heartbreaking testimonials about cadets struggling for company application- some of which are already three years unemployed since they graduated. Others even gave up.

If you want to experience sea life after graduation, you may want to consider joining a search and rescue organization as a volunteer like in the Philippine Coast Guard.

This may not be the kind of maritime job that you envisioned during your academic days but it’s a good start than hopelessly praying for a backer.

Here’s why.

Low Competition

The barrier to entry in this field is very low and the competition is second to none since only a few people are interested in being part of a SAR organization. Perhaps, the word volunteer is not so appealing.

In every rescue operation, the story always focuses on the scenario and the victim. Of course, the rescuers are given credit but there is not so much oomph on promoting this career. This line of work is seldom sensationalized by the media even on Facebook.

Therefore, there is a good chance that you will be hired- or approved upon submitting your requirements.

Skills Improvement

If you ask any seaman, having survival skill sets on emergency preparedness is vital on board. Crisis could happen any time and medical facilities on ships are very limited.

Thus, having lifesaving abilities is a plus on your resume if ever you start to apply on merchant ships. Search and Rescue volunteers are skillful since they are trained in different aspects of their field.

First aid, situational awareness, emergency response, map reading, compass reading, teamwork, rappelling, and many interesting life-worthy abilities are taught.

These skills go with you whether you are in uniform or not as they can be applied in the real world.

Search and Rescue Officer rappelling down the vessel from a helicopter.
SAR Officer rappelling down the vessel. Click the picture for more stunning images.

Character Building

Having a solid and fully developed character is one factor that will set you apart from other people. Character is the relationship between your values, knowledge, and skills- good or bad.

They sum up the person inside you and tell other people who you are. A person with a strong character can be easily distinguished in a simple conversation, particularly during a job interview.

Having said this, rescuers are some of the most disciplined, versatile, calm, courageous, and confident individuals. These traits are instilled in their training and developed during their career.

The ability to build confidence in your team and direct total strangers to give assistance is what every industry needs. Calming a shocked person by the mere presence of a rescuer is something a volunteer is trained to do.

These kinds of people are always at their peak state during rescue operations. Intense focus is needed even on drills or rescue exercises at sea. If not handled well, this feat can turn into a highly dangerous situation.

Stepping Stone

Taking a search and rescue career can be a game-changer for your. If you aspire to be a seaman in the future, you can use this job as leverage. You can write everything you seriously learned and applied as a volunteer in your application form.

If I were a manning agent, I would choose an applicant who has life skills rather than a fresh graduate cadet. The time you spend as a rescue volunteer is a time well spent since you are trained to handle the worst-case scenario, especially at sea.

Not only that, you can make the most of your time in that chapter of your life by networking. It means knowing people like the big boss or team leaders who have connections to manning agencies.

This is not about boot-licking or S-I-P. Those traits are not taught during training. Building a good relationship with your team, team leader and the higher-ups is possible without harming others around you.

Knowing who has the right connections in your organization to the seafaring industry will put you at an advantage. Just don’t make this very obvious since it will seem that you are not serious about being a SAR volunteer.

Moreover, people will know that being a rescuer is not actually your intention. You should strive to excel and learn in this field. Only then that your “networks” will genuinely help you when you want to take the shift.

Search and Rescue Volunteer landing on the poop deck of a ship with stretcher
SAR Rescuer with a stretcher landed on the poop deck of a ship.

Who are Qualified to Join?

In most cases, search and rescue volunteers come from all walks of life. Each has their own expertise and day jobs that they manage.

But because of dedication and the willingness to help in times of crisis, they devote a portion of their life to this service.

Anyone who is 18 years old and above has the potential to become a rescue volunteer. A membership application form will be provided to be filled out by the applicant.

You are also required to write any skills that you have so that the rescue organization can quantify the strength of their team.

If you have no particular skills, they will give you appropriate training for the type of search and rescue sub-field that you will take.

Since marine rescue is your choice of preference, the number one requirement is that you know how to swim.

How far can this job take me?

You have the choice to make this a stepping stone for your seafaring career or take it to a different level. This means you will dedicate much of your time and effort to developing your skills as a rescue volunteer.

There will be lots of training and skills that a rescuer must learn. Who knows you might get to fly a SAR helicopter someday and save seamen on a sinking ship.

Promotion is also available as you advance your career. Each rank requires specific years of experience and training. The more advanced your training is, the higher your responsibilities will be.

There are different rescue organizations which varies depending on the funding they get. Non-profit, non-government organizations (NGOs) may rely on the government and charities for donations.

Other private sectors like Global Rescue provide this in the form of business. The people or persons in distress must pay the rescue team a certain amount in the form of insurance.

Search and rescue navy vessel hovering close to the waters during a SAR exercise with our ship.
Seafarers participating in a SAR exercise.

Salary – Does it pay the bills?

Since you are working as a volunteer, expect that you will not get any payment. But this is better than standing by in Kalaw hopelessly looking for a backer.

You’ve heard and seen the struggles of other applicants. Time is wasted especially if you won’t make any improvements in your life.

By being a search and rescue volunteer, you are making better use of your time and energy. This is more useful than going around Manila hunting for jobs and ending up rejected many times.

If you take this career very seriously, there is a good chance that you can find a SAR job overseas that pays dollars or British pounds.

According to an online job posting that I saw, search and rescue officers abroad earn as much as $61,000 in a year. That’s about $5,000.00 per month! You may have to acquire certain training, documents, and probably legal visas to work there.

Search and Rescue Career- Is it worth it?

Watching search and rescue teams in action either live or in videos is always a fascinating view.

As a seaman for quite a few years now, experienced highly skilled SAR rescuers engaging in exercises with our ship. Everybody on board drops what they’re doing and watches how this dramatic scene unfolds when it happens.

Search and rescue is not only a job. Saving a person’s life in distress is one of the noblest professions out there. Every rescue effort you make will leave a deep scar on your life and the lives of the people you save.

Your knowledge and abilities will be tested and stretched to the limit. In some instances, you will transform a person’s life after saving him.

People realize the value of their life after giving them another chance to live. It’s a life-changing career both for you, your teammates, and the person you saved.

You will also develop a deep brotherhood with your search and rescue teams and fellow rescuers. Imagine the dangers that you will go through to save someone.

So, is it worth it?

Well not everyone gets to become a SAR volunteer and save lives. Giving a few years of your life in this line of work can be rewarding.

After this episode, you can still shift to the seafaring world. The skills, knowledge, and experiences will always be with you whichever seas you sail.

May the winds be in your favor



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