Bush Search and Rescue Victoria Manual

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria's comprehensive manual details how the organisation works along with search procedures, policy and techniques.

2003 edition hardcopies are available to all members and other organisations on request. A softcopy can be downloaded from here: [PDF 46MB]

This online version of the Bush Search and Rescue Victoria Manual contains both historical and some newer information.   


BSAR searchers in the field 

Bush Search and Rescue searchers in the field

BSAR stretcher carry

Bush Search and Rescue members carrying a stretcher


Foreward to the First Edition 1993

The Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs is the peak organisation of walking clubs which promotes interest in safe and enjoyable bushwalking and conservation of the bush.

In 1949, a walker, Ambrose Howie, was lost at Wilson’s Promontory. There was no Police Search and Rescue Squad and the search operations were under the control of the local Police at Foster. Several experienced members of the Federation attended the search area and offered their services. Howie was not found, but the Police were impressed by the professionalism of the walkers. A report was made to Police Headquarters which resulted in an invitation being extended to discuss the formation of a Federation Search and Rescue Unit and this duly occurred.

Since then, the Federation has developed a soundly based administrative structure that has the capacity to support its considerable operational expertise in the areas of bushwalking, mountaineering, cross-country skiing and associated search and rescue skills.

Victoria is fortunate to have a diversity of natural terrain and an abundance of National Parks for the public to enjoy. Inevitably, the use of these facilities will lead to the inexperienced and, at times, the experienced adventurer finding themselves in difficult and often life-threatening situations.

Since its foundation, the Federation Search and Rescue Section has assisted inmost major searches conducted in Victoria. In that period, they have established an excellent rapport with the Victoria Police and, in particular, the Search and Rescue Squad.

The support of the employers of members of the Search and Rescue Section has been an essential component of the successful work of the Federation.

In 1989, I had the pleasure to present the Section with a Chief Commissioner’s Certificate in appreciation of its 40 years service to the public of Victoria. This Manual is indicative of the continuing professionalism of the Unit, and I commend it to you.

Kelvin Glare, Chief Commissioner of Police

2003 Edition


Preface to the Second Edition 2003

The first editon of this manual, published in 1993, developed from a series of duplicated instruction booklets produced since 1949 by the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs Search and Rescue Section for its members. Over this period of more than 50 years much has changed, yet much remains the same. 

The volunteer work of the Victorian bushwalking community in providing searchers when people are lost in remote bush areas is the basis for this manual. The information on bushwalking equipment, the skills and techniques utilised by bushwalkers when searching and the operational structure of what is now called Bushwalkers Search and Rescue (BSAR) have well and truly stood the test of time.

What has changed considerably is the support provided to searchers in the field, largely through technology in all its manifestations, and the growing community requirements for accountablity, particularly reflected here in much more detailed advice for those people in leadership positions in Bushwalkers Search and Rescue.

To this end, changes made in this second edition include:

During the life of this manual further changes in the organisation and operation of Bushwalkers Search and Rescue will occur from time to time. Members will be kept updated through their Club Delegate and Bushwalkers Search and Rescue newsletter “Behind the Log”.

Manual Sub-Committee

2003 edition hard copies are available to all members and other organisations on request. A soft copy can be downloaded from here: [PDF 46MB]

2003 Edition

Acknowledgements 2003 edition

This manual was revised and updated for Bushwalkers Search and Rescue by a sub-committee of members from the BSAR Committee of the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (VicWalk) Inc. consisting of:

This sub-committee wishes to acknowledge and especially thank John Retchford with assistance from Duncan Brookes and Mike Tegg for their contributions to the writing of the first edition. Thank you also to Stuart Brookes and Jayne Retchford for contributing drawings to the first edition that have been retained in the second and Stuart Brookes for the redrawing of some of the diagrams for this edition.

Monica and John Chapman are thanked for the design, layout, image scanning and digital preparation of the manual.

Many others, including the Police Search and Rescue Squad and Police Air Wing, contributed in various ways, particularly by providing material and commenting on the draft. We thank them all.

Black and white cover photograph by courtesy of The Age. Other photographs supplied from Stuart Brookes’ collection, Neville Byrne, Peter Campbell, John Chapman, Monica Chapman, Peter Dunbar, Rik Head, Karl Hradsky, Leigh Johnstone, Luke Maslin and Frank Zgoznik.

Bushwalkers Search and Rescue wishes to thank Sport and Recreation Victoria who again supported this publication with a grant towards its printing.

Sports Recreation Victoria logo

Sport and Recreation Victoria

Donations from the family and friends of the late William Peden contributed to the publication of this manual. Members of Bushwalkers Search and Rescue are very appreciative of this support and generousity.

2003 Edition

2003 BSAR manual front cover


2003 Bush Search and Rescue manual launch

Launch of Bush Search and Rescue Manual 2003 Edition

Left to right: Frank Zgoznik, Chris Jarvis, Monica Chapman, Duncan Brookes. Behind: Justin Madden, Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation.


Chapter 1 - Introduction

Welcome to Bushwalkers Search and Rescue. The principal aim of this book is to introduce members of the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs Bushwalkers Search and Rescue to their roles and responsibilities within the organisation. It is also intended that this book provide a back¬ground of the history, structure, administration and operational methods so that the role of the individual is understood within a broader context.

Bushwalkers are invariably free spirits who work more effectively when they thoroughly understand the group of which they are a part and the methods they are expected to employ. The organisation of informed and motivated people into small groups in which the ideas of the individual are readily heard seems to be much more effective on searches than a more military-style model with a few “generals” and many relatively uninformed “troops” doing just what they are told.

Wherever possible, this book tries to answer the question of why things are done in a particular way.

We are one of several organisations Police call on to assist with searches in remote areas. Each organisation is called because of the particular exper¬tise it brings. The State Emergency Service often provides searchers, skilled drivers with four-wheel drive vehicles and sometimes horses. In alpine areas in winter, resort-based ski patrollers are used.

Local Police and land management authority staff (e.g. National Park rangers) will often have begun search¬ing before Bushwalkers Search and Rescue volunteers arrive. Each of these organisations has its own speciality and together we provide the resources necessaryin most large searches.

Bushwalkers Search and Rescue is fortunate to be able to call on the services of so many skilled people. The entry requirements ensure that all members are experienced bushwalkers and many bring additional outdoor (ski touring, mountaineering) and other skills into the organisation. Thus this manual assumes these personal skills and concentrates on the more specific aspects of search and rescue.

To many outsiders, searching seems to be a fairly random process and its success is seen to be largely a matter of luck. There is no doubt that luck does play a part, but searchers make their own “luck” to a large extent. Search organisers take account of many factors, but probably the most im¬portant one is the knowledge of how a large number of lost people behaved in the past. Other factors include the background and experience of the lost person, knowledge of likely survival times and the competence of the searchers.

It can therefore be seen that, while the process remains one of “playing the odds”, well-run searches weigh the odds very heavily in the lost person’s favour.

Searchers on the 1952 Marysville search

Searchers on the 1952 Marysville search


Procedures, structures and other details described in this manual are current at the time of writing, but may change over time. Members should keep up-to-date through their Club Search and Rescue Delegate.

2003 Edition

Chapter 2 - History

Bushwalking Victoria (previously known as The Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs or VicWalk), is a grouping of more than sixty clubs and individual members.  Bushwalking Victoria promotes safe and enjoyable bushwalking, conservation of the bush and represents bushwalking to the public and to government. As well as bushwalking, the activities of member clubs include ski touring, rock climbing, orienteering, mountaineering, canoeing, bicycling, rafting and rogaining.

Bushwalking Victoria has maintained a Search and Rescue Section since 1949. The Section was formed to assist Police during searches for people lost in remote or difficult terrain. This occurred after a number of individual members of bushwalking Clubs served as volunteers during an unsuccessful search for a solo walker lost at Wilsons Promontory. Senior Police were very impressed with the skill and independence of these walkers and encouraged the Federation to establish a formal search and rescue group. Several clubs made this a reality.

In the early 1990s the Section changed its name to Bushwalkers Search and Rescue. Further information on the history of the Section (and the Federation generally) is contained in “The Scroggin Eaters” by Graeme Wheeler.

The current name, Bush Search and Rescue Victoria, was formally adopted in 2010.

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria is probably the largest organised pool of bushcraft and mountain skills in Victoria. These skills, together with an appropriate organisational structure and regular search practices, form the basis for an emergency group which has quietly served the Victorian public for many decades.

The organisation is totally voluntary and involves around 300 people. It is noteworthy that the Bush Search and Rescue Victoria considerably pre-dates the Police Search and Rescue Squad.

Since its inception in 1949, the Bush Search and Rescue Victoria has provided advice to Bushwalking Victoria clubs, the Bushwalking Victoria Board, government, schools and other organisations.

John Retchford with the then Minister for Sport, Recreation & Racing, Hon. Tom Reynolds, at the launch of the 1st edition of the manual, 8th May 1993

John Retchford with the then Minister for Sport, Recreation & Racing, Hon. Tom Reynolds, at the launch of the 1st edition of the manual, 8th May 1993

Updated 13 Feb 2011

Searches involving Bushwalkers Search and Rescue

 Bill Bewsher (centre pointing) directs searchers on the 1955 Baw Baw Plateau search

Bill Bewsher (centre pointing) directs searchers on the 1955 Baw Baw Plateau search

List of searches

2016 Grampians search for missing person, not found
2016 Yea search for missing person, not found 
2016 Monbulksearch for missing person, found deceased
2016 Merrijig/Sawmill Settlement - search for missing person, found deceased
2015 Lederderg State Park - search and rescue of missing person
2015 Mt Burrowa - search for missing bushwalker in Burrowa-Pine National Park
2015 Mt Erica - search for missing woman
2015 Mt Bogong - rescue of injured person from Tadgel Point
2015 Lake Eildon National Park - missing boy, found and rescued
2014 Mt Bogong - rescue of injured person from Michell hut
2014 Mt Bogong - two missing snowboarders on Eskdale Spur, found dead
2014 Mt Bogong - missing party on Staircase Spur, found and rescued
2014 Howitt Plains - missing bushwalker, rescued by helicopter 
2013 Razorback near Mt Feathertop - rescue of two snowshoers pinned down by bad weather 
2012 Wellington Plains - rescue of stranded school group
2012 Blue Range - missing deer hunter, found
2012 Donna Buang - missing bushwalker, found
2011 Tomahawk cold case - missing deer hunter, not found
2011 Tomahawk Creek - missing deer hunter, not found
2011 Otways - missing man
2011 Mount Erica - missing girl aged 13, found by BSAR team and rescued by helicopter
2011 Bunninyong - missing child
2010 Combienbar - missing man, found safe by BSAR team and rescued by helicopter
2010 Eagles Peaks - injured bushwalker, rescued by helicopter
2010 Lake Mountain - missing woman
2009 Davies Plain, missing man
2009 Point Nepean, missing woman
2009 Mount Feathertop, missing man
2009 Gormandale - missing boy
2009 Mount Bogong - injured woman, rescued
2008 Lorne - two missing men
2008 Mount Dom Dom - missing man, not found
2007 King River - missing man
2007 Mt St Gwinear - missing boy aged 15
2007 Sabine Falls - missing man
2005 Mount William - missing woman
2004 Mount Buffalo - missing man, not found, later found dead
2004 Mount Bogong - missing party of three
2003 Cambarville - missing man, not found, later found dead
2002 Lake Mountain - missing man, found dead
2002 Mt Useful - missing woman, not found
2002 Noojee - missing man, found dead
2001 Tanjil Bren - intellectually disabled adult, not found
2001 Tawonga Gap - para-glider pilot, found dead outside search area
2001 Mt Buller - snowboarder
2000 Mt Fainter South - adult walker
2000 Mt Hotham - adult skier
2000 Mt Hotham - adult skier
2000 Powers Lookout, Whitfield - missing woman, not found
2000 Mt Feathertop - male tourist
2000 Mt Samaria - intellectually disabled boy, evacuated by stretcher
1999 Mt Kosciuszko - four snowboarders, found dead after snow melt, first interstate search
1998 Wilson’s Promontory - intellectually disabled boy, found, 58 BSAR searchers on first call-out
1998 Mt Hotham - adult skier
1997 Falls Creek - adult skier, found safe
1996 Mt Cobbler - walker found safe at foot of waterfall
1996 Mt Hotham - adult snowboarder, found dead after snow melt
1994 Woods Point - deer shooter, found safe
1993 Wongungarra River - solo walker, found safe after seven nights
1992 Mt Stanley - intellectually disabled man - evacuated by stretcher
1992 Lake Mountain - three tobogganists, two evacuated by stretcher
1990 Mt Buller - four teenage boys missing overnight
1990 Mt Hotham - three adult skiers missing overnight
1990 Razorback Ridge - nine Venturer Scouts overdue in blizzard
1990 Mt Buller - missing teenage boy, found in Howqua Valley
1990 Mt Buller - adult skier missing overnight
1989 Rocky Valley Creek - overdue fishermen
1989 Pretty Valley Creek - lost fisherman
1989 Dargo Plains - deer shooter
1989 Mt Baw Baw - lost male cross country skier
1988 Falls Creek - solo male daywalker
1988 Dargo Plains - male four wheel driver, not found
1987 Wilson’s Promontory - intellectually disabled boy lost, not found
1987 Falls Creek - man lost from Village at night, died
1987 Strathbogie Range - intellectually disabled boy lost
1986 The Razorback (Mt Hotham) - skier slid on ice, died
1985 Mt St Gwinear - two lost skiers, quickly found
1985 Mt Stirling - two lost skiers, found dead
1985 Mt Feathertop - cornice collapse, man killed
1984 Mt Feathertop - pair missing in snow
1983 Mt Buffalo - lost schoolboy
1983 Lake Mountain - lost boy found at conclusion of winter practice
1983 Mt Feathertop - fallen climber, died
1983 Mt Cope - two teenage girls missing, quickly found
1982 Cathedral Range - evacuation of injured girl
1982 Wongungarra River - “bicycle man” found
1982 Dargo area - girl found, evacuated by helicopter
1982 Mt Murray - lost Scout, quickly found
1981 Mt Bogong - recovered body, winter
1980 Seven Acre Rock - intellectually disabled girl
1980 Blackwood - intellectually disabled girl
1979 Mt Buffalo - missing woman
1979 Mt Donna Buang - three lost teenagers, quickly found
1978 Mt Hotham - two lost skiers, found dead
1978 Lerderderg Gorge - lost man, later found drowned
1976 Humphray River - lost man
1976 Mt Baw Baw - lost skier
1976 Lerderderg Gorge - evacuation of injured walker
1974 Wellington Plains - school group, many scattered in snow, evacuated
1974 Murchison Falls - lost male, not found
1974 Steavenson Falls - lost boy, not found
1973 Mt Wills - lost man, not found
1973 Baw Baw Plateau - man missing from 4 wheel drive
1972 Toorongo Falls - lost child, 12 days, 100 BSAR searchers, unsuccessful
1972 Lake Mountain - lost schoolboys, touring skis used
1972 Mt Buffalo - another missing walker
1971 Mt Buffalo - missing walker
1969 Mt Slide and Powelltown - missing aircraft, four dead
1968 Lake Mountain - man lost
1966 Mt Donna Buang - 15 missing teenagers, frostbite
1961 Mt Magdala - woman walker, found dead on cliffs later
1960 Olinda - man, not found
1959 Blackwood - lost woman
1956 Mt St Leonard - two Scouts, found safe
1955 Baw Baw Plateau - walker, 10 days, not found
1953 Mt Donna Buang - “Snowgirl” search, two sightseers
1952 Marysville (Paradise Plains) - six walkers
1950 Warrandyte - elderly woman, not found
1949 Wilson’s Promontory - solo walker, unsuccessful
All lost people on this list were found unless otherwise indicated.
Updated 29 Sep 2016


Chapter 3 - Structure

Responsibilities for Search and Rescue

There are so many groups, both volunteer and government, involved in aspects of search and rescue that it is understandable that the public and the news media are confused about who carries the final responsibility. An agreement made between the Commonwealth and the States in 1962 made it clear that Police are responsible for all searches on land and coastal waters.

Bush Search and Rescue is set up to assist Police and responds only to requests for help from the Victoria Police.

BSAR search briefing Mt Stirling 2001

Searchers gathered for a briefing by Police Search & Rescue Squad at the practice held on Mt Stirling 2001


Call-Out Systems

Police requests for assistance are directed to BSAR Police Liaison Officers (PLOs), who first arranges for a Field Organiser (FO).

For a General Call-out the PLO then telephones the Club Contacts, who then telephone their individual club members.  This is also known as a telephone tree.

For a Rapid Response Call-out the PLO then contacts BSAR members by SMS, Email and Automated Telephony

The call-out procedures are summarised in Figure 3.1 and the role and qualifications of PLOs are listed in Chapter 12.


 Figure 3.1 Call-out system


For a Local Call-out, a country club is called out by the local Police, the Club Contact then notifies a PLO of the call-out.

For longer duration searches, there may be more than one call-out issued to BSAR members.

For more information see:


 BSAR Country members joined search at Tawonga Gap 2001

BSAR country members joined search at Tawonga Gap 2001


Field Structure

In the field, Bushwalkers Search and Rescue’s contribution to a search is controlled by a Field Organiser, who reports directly to Police. The FO may appoint a deputy and will usually organise searchers into groups of four, including an experienced Group Leadet On a large and complex search, the FO may use other FOs to control several groups to achieve a particular task. A typical field organisation is illustrated in Figure 3.2. The roles and detailed duties of FOs, Group Leaders and Members are outlined in Chapter 8.

Search Field Structure 

Figure 3.2 Field structure


Skills and Experience

All members, both men and women, are skilled, experienced bushwalkers and navigators, with all necessary equipment. Many members have first aid training, while some are expert rock climbers, mountaineers, cross-country skiers, cavers and canoeists. All members must meet specified standards of experience in bushwalking and are encouraged to gain further experience in the fields listed above. Some members have participated in expeditions to New Zealand, Europe, the Andes, the Himalaya and Antarctica.


Practice weekends include instruction sessions in search and rescue techniques and also simulated searches and rescues. It is not necessary to train members in bushcraft and camping, because the entry requirements ensure that they come with these skills and because their normal bushwalking and outdoor activities continue to hone those skills. Training sometimes concentrates on a specific aspect of search and rescue, such as searching in heavy snow on skis and snow-shoes, or mountain rescue. Search practices are run in collaboration with the Police Search and Rescue Squad.

See also: Training

Workshop session in progress Mt Stirling practice 2001
Workshop session in progress Mt Stirling practice 2001


Updated 18 Mar 2011

Chapter 4 - Joining

Who can Join?

Bushwalkers Search and Rescue is open to members of Federation clubs who meet the experience and age entry requirements listed below. The entry requirements basically ensure that members are competent and experienced bushwalkers, ready to receive specific training in search and rescue techniques.

A search call-out is not the time to recruit new members and non-members will not be permitted to attend a search.


An excellent way to find out more about Bushwalkers Search and Rescue membership is to attend a training event. Non-members of BSAR are welcome at most traininig events and will quickly gain an insight into the methods of the organisation through practice activities and also by talking to members. It is essential that members regularly attend training events.

For more information see Training | Bush Search and Rescue Victoria

How to Join

A club member can only join BSAR by submitting an Application for Membership to their Club Committee. This committee then checks to ensure that the applicant meets the entry requirements. This step is an important feature of BSAR, because it is unlikely that the BSAR Committee will know the applicant and relies completely on the Club’s recommendation.

The application form is available from your Club Delegate to the BSAR Committee. If your club is without a Club Delegate or any search and rescue volunteers and you wish to participate in Bushwalkers Search and Rescue, write to the BSAR Convener.

Individual members of Bushwalking Victoria can now join Bush Search and Rescue.  

For more information see How to join Bush Search and Rescue Victoria.

Employer Support

Before joining, enlist the support and understanding of your employer so that if you are called for a search they will be co-operative. If you consider that a letter from the BSAR Committee to your employer explaining the purpose of BSAR and asking for their co-operation would be helpful, please advise your Club Delegate. Information for employers is included in Chapter 12.

Updated 15 Feb 2011


Entry Requirements

Applicants are expected to meet the following entry requirements.


Applicants must be at least 18 years of age.


A minimum of 16 full days of bushwalking, including one or more continuous periods of at least four days plus four weekends. One of the overnight walks must have been in adverse conditions and another in snow.


Applicants must be competent in off-track navigation, be able to give and interpret grid references, be conversant with orienting a map/ oneself using a compass and relate map to terrain. Applicants must be capable of being independent in the bush.


BSAR members are expected to cook and provide their own nutritious meals using light weight rations similar to those listed in Chapter 7.


Applicants must have a complete range of equipment in good condition. This includes skiers having suitable skis and ice climbers having a full alpine kit. Refer to Chapter 7 for more detail.


Applicants must be capable of prolonged heavy scrub-bashing on steep slopes. Club committees are reminded that searching imposes greater mental and physical demands than normal bushwalking or skitouring and recommendations for BSAR membership should be made with this in mind.


It is necessary that applicants have suitable arrangements with their employers for leave during searches.

2003 Edition


Desirable Skills

Other skills are recognised with BSAR, but are not mandatory for entry. These skills are listed on the Application for Membership Form and upon applying you should identify the level of skill you have attained in each of the following additional areas. 

Skiing Experience

Applicants of suitable ability are classed as intermediate or advanced skiers. Beginner skiers and people who have not skied with a pack are excluded from this category.


Intermediate skier Advanced skier
  • overnight snow camping experience
  • ski touring with overnight pack
  • can perform linked turns on intermediate angles 
  • can ski gradient up to 15 degrees; e.g. resort "Blue" run
  • can ski steep tree-covered snow terraingradient up to 15 degrees; e.g. resort "Blue" run

In addition to all skills for Intermediate skier:

  • can perform linked turns on slope angles up 35 degrees; e.g.. Resort "Black" run
  • have cross country downhill (XCD) ski equipment - skis, bindings & boots



Ice Climbing Experience

  • New Zealand technical mountaineering course or equivalent
  • Competent with ice axe & crampons

Leadership Experience

  • Qualified - BMLC/STLC graduate/staff member or equivalent
  • Club Leader - Club Leader of your bushwalking club

First Aid Experience

  • Medical practitioner
  • Wilderness First Aid or ASPA
  • First Aid Medallion
  • Current First Aid Advanced Certificate
  • Current First Aid Basic Certificate
  • Expired First Aid qualification


Search Attendance Requirements

Members are required to arrive at the departure point for a search with food and equipment so that they can be independent for three days should this be necessary. In the event of a prolonged search, return transport cannot be guaranteed for a shorter search period than two days. Some guidance on food and gear is given in Chapter 7. Police and BSAR provide specialised equipment.


Snow searches involve extended periods in cold conditions usually on skis, but often on foot, regularly in poor visibility, wind and during snowfalls


Scrub and steep terrain are features of most searches in subalpine areas. Searchers should be equipped with sturdy gloves and wet weather gear at all times.


2003 Edition



Chapter 5 - Responsibilities


As a member of BSAR you are now “on call”. It is assumed that you will maintain yourself and your gear in the state of readiness you have agreed to on application. We, the members of BSAR, offer this service because of our experience, skills, special knowledge and equipment.

It is understood that our services will not be called upon by the Police unless the need is considered sufficiently great. We will normally only be called to search in bush or mountain country, including the snowfields, where our skills are used to best advantage.

We will not be called to help in any case involving criminal investigation or, under normal circumstances, to find the body of a person known to be dead, but rather the humanitarian one of assisting where a person may be lost, injured or distressed. Occasionally, however, the lost person will be found dead, in which case we may help to recover the body.

Speed and ease of call-out are essential. The rapid availability of trained BSAR volunteers is usually a key element in a successful remote area search.

Club Delegate

Contact with BSAR is through the Club Delegate to the BSAR Committee. It is your responsibility to know who your Club Delegate is and to keep in touch. Club Delegates will notify members of changes in BSAR policy and generally keep members abreast of activities such as practices.

Personal Details

Relevant personal details are recorded on the Membership Application Form. If these details change at any stage, you must notify your Club Delegate immediately. Most important are contact details, but do not overlook other information such as the gaining or expiration of a First Aid Certificate.

Your Club Delegate will contact you annually to confirm that your details are current.


Leave details of the Club Contacts with family before heading out on a search. Then, if some emergency makes it necessary that a member be contacted in the field, family members can be put in touch with the PLO handling the search. Discourage enquiries being directed to police. Victoria Police is a very large organisation and it is most unlikely that information of the detail required will be readily available. BSAR operates fairly autonomously, so it is much more productive for queries to be directed through our system. The best point of enquiry is the Club Contact.

Occasionally there may be lengthy delays (as much as 24 hours) between the reported finding of lost people and the return of searchers to their homes. This may be due to a long evacuation, time taken for distant searchers to return to base or transport delays. It is also possible that news reports are inaccurate. Members and their families should be aware that only limited reliance can be placed on media reporting of searches.


Your employment circumstances will change from time to time. Most members experience periods when work commitments make it impossible to respond to any search callouts. However, if your long term work circumstances look like preventing a direct involvement in searches, it is best to drop off the list of searchers, and perhaps consider another role, such as Club Contact.

From time to time you may also have a new boss or change jobs. When this occurs it is important to promptly gain the support and understanding of your employer regarding your involvement in BSAR. A callout in the early hours of the morning is not the time to recall that your new boss has never heard of BSAR. Information for employers is included in Chapter 12.

Behind the Log

Bushwalkers Search and Rescue has a bi-annual newsletter called Behind the Log. It is currently the only direct communication with each individual member. Other communication avenues are through your Club Delegate and attendance at search practices.


The general form of training for BSAR is through the annual practice weekend. Members are encouraged to attend at least one practice every two to three years. If you have not attended a search or practice recently, please attend the next practice.

Only by keeping the members up-to-date about developments and techniques can BSAR be maintained at a high efficiency. Training is provided in specialist equipment including Police radios, BSAR OPS units and rescue stretchers. These practices offer the only opportunity to test out new ideas and suggestions and try out new people in unfamiliar roles. Practices also provide a good opportunity to get to know fellow members.

BSAR skiers towing sked


BSAR stretcher construction


Search practices provide opportunities for members to acquire the skills of making and carrying bush stretchers and towing skeds or ski sleds


In the Future

In the normal course of bushwalking activities be observant, with the idea of developing suggestions on aspects of search and rescue work.

Refer ideas and present comments and suggestions (preferably in writing) to the Convener, BSAR Committee or your Club Delegate. These comments and suggestions, which are always very welcome, can alternatively be submitted during any practice.


In Victoria, BSAR members are covered by the Emergency Management Act (1986). This provides for their compensation if injured or if property is damaged, during both searches and practices, provided they are registered members of BSAR and they have been officially requested to attend the search or the practice. Membership of BSAR is deemed to be registration under the Act.

Non-members attending practices are not covered by the Act. They are, however, most welcome to attend normal practices and would find it beneficial. They may find they are covered by their Club’s insurance.

2003 Edition


Chapter 6 - Call-out

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria will only respond to an official Victoria Police request. We will normally be called only for searches in bush and mountain areas, perhaps under snow, where our members’ skills are most appropriate, rather than in urban or farming areas.

Your Decision to Attend a Search

As a volunteer you are not compelled to make yourself available and you should only do so if no serious inconvenience would result, if you are in good health and if your equipment is up to standard.

However, you should make every reasonable effort to accept a call-out. BSAR is called out by Victoria Police because BSAR provides a source of personnel with expertise not readily available from other emergency services.

Your commitment as a searcher is valuable irrespective of who is missing. It may be natural to slip into making a personal judgment about the value of attending a particular search. But the information available to you is normally very brief and may not communicate the seriousness of the situation. If a call-out occurs, you are needed.

The default call-out commitment is for up to two full days of searching. Travelling to and from the search area is typically done at night. If you cannot commit for two days plus travel, it is best to decline. If you are unavailable initially but if you will be able to respond to a subsequent call-out, please inform the search PLO.

Police and Bush Search and Rescue members at the Mt Stirling practice 2001

Police and Bush Search and Rescue members at the Mt Stirling practice 2001

Who Should Respond

Only you.  A search call-out is not the time to recruit new members. Non-members will not be permitted to attend a search, no matter how willing or capable.  BSAR will not be able to vouch for their claimed capabilities; extra people may upset transport arrangements; they may not be covered by the Emergency Management Act.

How a Call-out Works

Sometimes news reports may indicate that someone is lost in the bush or snow. This might provide some advance warning, but call-outs can occur at any time, usually in advance of news reports. Weekends are the most likely time for trouble. It is also far more likely that call-outs will be at night rather than during the day. This is because people are seldom reported missing before nightfall and by the time police investigate and a decision is made to call BSAR, it is usually late at night. These two factors combined mean that the period around weekends is the most likely time for a call-out with Monday nights being the most common.

Searches are never called off due to bad weather or rough conditions.

The call-out process itself can take the Search PLO a long time. Also, at this early stage of a search, the PLOs will have very little information, some of which may be unreliable. For both these reasons you should not waste time requesting unnecessary details, but concentrate on times, transport arrangements and special equipment requirements. These are best written down immediately.

If you are available, you will be told briefly of the area, the person or persons lost, any maps required, any special equipment that may be required, and the place and time of departure. Do not report to the departure point without having responded to the call out.

Often as little as two or three hours notice is given and if delays or difficulties have occurred you may not have sufficient time to reach the departure point. Search groups must leave at the designated time, so if you are unable to make the departure point, advise the PLO and wait for the next call-out.            

Message Types

There are three types of message content:

Ways You Will Be Contacted

There are several media available for PLOs for sending Standby, Call-out or Cancellation messages:

            Call-out system


Typical Call-out Scenarios

While, detailed procedures exist for PLOs and FOs for each of these scenarios, search PLOs will use the contact media available to them in the combination that is most suitable to the circumstance.  These are the most likely combinations.

General call-out

- most commonly

- in some instances

Limited numbers call-out

Cold case call-outs

Local call-outs in NE Victoria


A missing person may be found ahead of BSAR's arrival.  However willingly you participate in this community service, there is no denying that every callout is a disruption for you and to all concerned.  A cancellation can be a frustration, but it is actually good news for the search subject, their family and you.  Call-outs which, in hindsight, were unnecessary, cannot be helped and must be accepted.

Updated 17 Feb 2014


Bush Search and Rescue searchers on general call-outs travel from the departure point to search base by Police bus. You will be advised by your Club Contact of the location of the departure point and the time of departure.

In some cases a second suburban departure point will be arranged by the PLO with Police during the initial phase of the call-out, and Club Contacts will be advised to offer two options to members. Inform your Club Contact which departure point you will use and stick to that option.

Country members and some suburban members remote from the departure point but en-route to the search area may make arrangements for pick up by the Police bus via their Club Contact. This will need to be approved by the PLO.

Plan to arrive at the departure point at least fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. This allows time for you to park your vehicle, check in with the FO and assist with loading the bus. It is not possible to wait for late members.

For local call-outs, transport is preferably provided by local Police or SES with 4WD vehicles to facilitate access to the search area.

Search base Tawonga Gap 2001

Search base, Tawonga Gap 2001


Reimbursement for use of private vehicles is not generally available.

The use of private cars to the search area by BSAR members is strongly discouraged. BSAR has a long-standing policy that members use the Police bus transport to the search area. The reasons are:

  • Search groups are easily organised and briefed by the FO en-route
  • Search group members can organise themselves before reaching the search area
  • The destination may change while en-route to the search area
  • The search may be called off while members are en-route
  • Searchers can rest and sleep prior to searching
  • Fatigued searchers do not have to drive home at the end of a search
  • The bus provides a venue for post search dc-briefing during the journey home
  • Some search locations do not suit access by private vehicles.

To conclude, it is crucial that BSAR members operate as a coherent unit for the duration of a search, from departure to return. The use of private vehicles can significantly interfere with this process.

 2003 Edition

Chapter 7 - Equipment and Food

Members are expected to be fully self-sufficient for three days even though the attendance requirement is for two days. The full list of bushwalking equipment shown below and three days food should be brought for all call-outs.

Equipment Lists and Details 

The following lists assume the member is an experienced overnight walker capable of operating in all conditions, including snow. Each member must bring the normal gear for a three-day walk. Excess equipment may be left at search base in a labelled bag showing name, club, home address and telephone number. Likewise, all major items should be labelled with your name and club.

Do not leave items out assuming somebody else will have them. Your equipment must be kept in a good state of repair.

A break for lunch, Baw Baw National Park practice 1999

A break for lunch, Baw Baw National Park practice 1999


In addition to normal bushwalking or ski-touring gear, the following is required.  All items mandatory unless stated otherwise.

Personal Search Equipment
Item Comments
Tent Do not plan to share a tent with a friend. You may be split into separate groups.
Sleeping mat, closed cell foam Self-inflating mats may puncture during casualty management, evacuation or emergency bivvy. Take both if desired.
Sleeping bag Lightweight
Spare clothes Can keep in a waterproof stuff sack
Towel & soap Optional. Useful where base accommodation is provided.
Stove, billy, fuel & matches Ensure adequate fuel for three days cooking.
Eating utensils  
Water Minimum two litres in sturdy container(s). Fill at home.
Food for three days Easily prepared, nutritious and durable. Refer to separate list of suggestions later in this chapter.
First aid kit & medication Refer to Chapter 11.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat  
Weatherproof clothing Goretex® or equivalent material hooded jacket and overtrousers.
Gaiters Heavy duty
Torch, powerful Powerful head torch recommended with spare batteries.
Long trousers, heavy duty Required for prolonged periods of thick scrub bashing.  Shorts are NOT suitable for searching.
Gloves, leather Leather garden gloves or leather riggers gloves. Required for scrub bashing.
Cordage, 10- 12 metres Venetian blind cord or 5mm sisal recommended. Required for bush stretchers.
Cutting implement (e.g. folding garden saw) For fabricating a bush stretcher, clearing evacuation path or preparing an emergency shelter. Ensure the cutting edge is suitably guarded.
Large plastic bags (2) Wheelie bin liners ideal. Used for hypothermia treatment, bivvy bag.
Storage bag or large sports bag For storage of personal items at base. Ensure name and club is clearly visible. Must be waterproof, as shelter at base is not guaranteed.
Compass, whistle & map case Whistle should be pea-less and rated at over 100 decibels
Note pad and pen Store in waterproof plastic bag.
Map of area (if known) Optional. In most cases, photocopies of areas to be searched will be issued at base. Personal maps in colour, can aid navigation.
GPS Optional. Confirm grid datum in use before leaving base (AGD for maps printed pre 2000, GDA for maps printed post 2000).
Large felt-tlipped pen (waterproof) Optional. Marking the group number on search boundary markers (toilet paper).
Rope, 30 metres 8 mm kernmantle climbing rope. Optional. Personal support on steep terrain or negotiating small cliffs. Assisting with stretcher escort in steep terrain.
Carabiners, screw gate Optional. Stretcher escort personal support, pack hauling.
Large day pack Optional. Minimum 40 litres. Many day packs are too small for searching. An alternative is to use your weekend size pack for day searching.
Cross country skis and ski poles

Required only of ski skilled members and if appropriate to the search conditions. Only bring a type suitable for back country skiing with heavy loads. Metal edges and safety straps are essential.  

Skins might be useful. Bundle your skis and stocks together for transport.

Snow shoes Optional.
Mobile telephone Optional.

 Table 7.1 Personal equipment to take on a search

A large day pack of sufficient capacity to carry the items listed for day searching, including a sleeping bag, is essential as well as the normal pack. As an alternative, the normal pack may be used in place of the day pack, provided a sturdy bag which can be easily carried is brought for the balance of your equipment, e.g. sturdy sports bag.

For members not yet issued with uniforms, clothing should be brightly coloured, if possible, to aid recognition in the bush, or a bright panel or pack cover could be used with day pack or weekend size pack. High visibility BSAR vests will also be issued at search base.

Remember that searching is often done in much rougher terrain and scrub than would normally be experienced on bushwalking trips, hence the need for such items as scrub gloves, tough long pants and gaiters.

Maps are usually supplied by the Police. However, members should bring their own maps if possible.


Packing group and personal gear

Packing group and personal gear


Snow conditions require cross-country skis or snow—shoes. Skis must be fitted with reliable safety straps.

Some searches require more specialised equipment such as ropes, ice axes or crampons. If you have completed BSAR alpine training, bring this equipment on winter searches as it may be used.   For more information see Alpine Search and Rescue.

Bringing extra equipment “just in case” may seem like heresy to the weight-conscious walker or ski tourer. However, unlike on a normal trip, surplus gear can be left at the search base when the search terrain and conditions are known. Time is always allowed for this purpose. A policy of “when in doubt, bring it” is appropriate for search packing.

Updated 9 September 2013

Day Searching Equipment

As the majority of searches involve day searching, the items listed for day use should be packed into the day pack or set aside while packing at home, to be ready for a quick departure on arrival at search base.

When going out on a day search (planning to be back at base that night), take the following items described in the next section.  All items mandatory unless stated otherwise.

Day Searching - Personal Equipment
Large day pack (mm 40 litres) or weekend size pack A normal weekend size pack is recommended. Items not taken into the field can be stored at base in the storage bag.
Weatherproof clothing GoreTex® or equivalent material hooded jacket and over-trousers.
First aid kit & medication Refer to Chapter 11.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat  
Fire lighting items  
Coloured toilet paper, one roll For marking a search boundary.
Large plastic bags  
Food, scroggin For personal needs. Include more than normal to cater for the casualty and in case of an unplanned overnight out. For example, extra noodles, packet soups. fruit etc.
Water Two litres. Fill up before leaving home.
Notepad & pen Inside a plastic bag
Torch. spare battery & globe  
Warm clothes Be prepared for an unplanned night out. Take extra for the rescued person.
Compass and whistle  
Map A photocopy of the search area will usually be issued at base. Personal maps of the area brought from home, if available, should also be taken.
Scrub gloves  
Sleeping mat, closed cell foam For casualty management and personal use
Long trousers Shorts are NOT suitable for searching
Eating utensils Optional. For feeding the rescued person and personal use, particularly if having to biwy out and eat emergency rations.
Scrambling rope & karabiners Optional.

Table 7.2 Day searching personal equipment list

BSAR pack covers and vests are usually issued to members on arrival at search base via the leader.


Updated 16 Feb 2011

Group Equipment

Shared within a search group, quantities may vary depending upon the number of people missing. The group leader should allocate who takes what item.

Each search group must be self-sufficient in the field, and each leader will check the equipment of their group before leaving search base to ensure the group is adequately equipped.

At search end, group equipment must be returned to its owner, Police or BSAR.

Day Searching - Group Equipment
Tent (1) A style with two entrances is most suitable for casualty management.
Sleeping bag (1+) At least one.
Stove, fuel, billy & matches  
Cutting implements (2) Ideally, one of each hype (folding pruning saw and machete).
Pack covers, vests Issued by BSAR for identification at base and in the field.
UHF CB radio and radio harness  Used for communication within and between BSAR groups.
Police radio with spare battery Supplied by Police with intructions on use. Used for communication with search base. To be returned to Police at the end of each day for recharging.
GPS Confirm grid datum in use before leaving base. BSAR GPS units may be issued.
Bothy shelter Useful for patient management in extreme weather conditions. BSAR units may be issued.

Table 7.3 Day searching group equipment list


Updated 16 Feb 2011

BSAR Equipment

Bush Search and Rescue has specialist equipment that is issued to members during searches and practices. This equipment includes:

  • Sked multi purpose stretchers
  • Bushwhacker cross country skis
  • Brightly coloured pack covers (which can also be used as bivvy shelters and casualty protection)
  • Radio harnesses
  • GPS units
  • Uniform vests (to identify members on the search)
  • Cordage
  • A ski sled kit
  • Haulage ropes.
  • Snow shovels
  • Avalanche probes
  • Avalanche transceivers
  • UHF CB radios

Most of the equipment is stored in Melbourne. Some equipment including a Sked, GPS units, ice axes, crampons and ropes are stored at Mount Beauty Police Station for local call-outs.

Practices provide opportunities to use this equipment. Take advantage of these so that you are familiar with them when you are required to use BSAR equipment on a search. This applies particularly to the Skeds, Bushwhackers, GPS units and UHF CB radios.

Please return all issued equipment at the end of the search or practice. Report any lost or damaged items to your Group Leader or the Field Organiser.


Updated 16 Feb 2011

Food for Three Days

You will need to bring lightweight food for three days on every search call-out. This is in addition to any food you may bring for the journey to the search area.

We are expected to be fully self-contained in both food and shelter and our search assignments will be determined on this basis. Your food needs to carry well and to be easily prepared in difficult conditions. The food brought for a search in hot conditions, when total fire bans are possible, will need to include items that do not require cooking.

The Police field catering unit and other service organisations sometimes provide meals when searchers are at the base area. This is a most welcome bonus for us, but in no way replaces the requirement that each member must bring food for three days to every search.

An example of a good food list for a search call-out is shown below as a guide only. Experienced bushwalkers will have their own preferences.

Note that the major items are relatively cheap and can be kept aside at home specifically packed for a search. The fresh items listed are likely to be on hand or easily obtained at the last minute.

Food for three days
Item Quantity for 3 days
Muesli, rolled oats, cereal 150gm
Dry biscufts, flat bread or rye bread, (or sandwiches) 300gm
Margarine 100gm
Spreads, vegernite, honey, peanut buffer, etc. 150gm
Cheese 150gm
Soup, single serve packets 12 packets
Pasta, instant noode or rice packet meals 3 by 120gm packets
Dried fruit 150gm
Chocolate 100gm
Energy bars 6 bars
Sweets or scroggin, etc. 100gm
Tea or coffee 40gm
Powdered milk 150gm
Sugar 100gm
Powdered fruit or sports drink 3 packets
Salt Small container
Water. Fill bottles at home 2 litres, more if hot

Table 7.4 Sample 3-day food list

The Police Field Catering Unit is a welcome addition on any search 

The Police Field Catering Unit is a welcome addition on any search


2003 Edition

Chapter 8 - Search Organisation

Field Organiser

The nominated FO leads and manages the Bushwalkers Search and Rescue members on each search, under the direction of the Police. A group of about ten very experienced members have been designated for the FO role. The first FO available when the call-out commences takes on the job for that particular search.

The FO will usually appoint a deputy. Together they will represent BSAR volunteers at all discussions and planning meetings. They will give all instructions to members, either directly or through the Group Leaders. Searches work best when either or both the FO and deputy remain at the search base almost all the time. The official contact with the Police is through the FO, but in the field this may not be practical. Once in the field instructions from the FO come via Police radio.

For detailed information on the role of the FO, see the Bushwalkers Search and Rescue booklet "Field Organiser and Police Liaison Officer Notes and Check List".


A young Stuart Brookes (second from right), together with a local Forestry Officer, assists Police with search planning

A young Stuart Brookes (second from right), together with a local Forestry Officer, assists Police with search planning 


Search Groups

The normal organisational structure for BSAR members on a search is the formation of search groups of four members. Usually while being transported to the search location, the FO will select Group Leaders from the members who have responded to the call-out and form the search groups around those leaders.

Even though your Club may rate you as a leader, you may not necessarily be used in that position in the field. Having many competent leaders is one of our real strengths. By working in small teams, everyone can make a significant contribution of ideas and skills, so your experience will not be wasted. Members of the group must take responsibility for first aid, radio communications and navigation.

The FO will attempt to form balanced and self- contained search groups of two or more members. This is generally achieved by grouping people from the same club, who may have walked together many times. The efficiency of the group is enhanced by their mutual confidence.

At search base (as elsewhere) it is essential to stay with your group. If you have to briefly leave the group ensure that your leader is informed of your whereabouts, so that you may be readily contacted if needed at any time.

As BSAR acts as an independent body for administration, all checking in and out at search base must be through the FO.

Search Group Leaders

Experience over many years has suggested that Group Leaders are the key people in the successful operation of BSAR.

Search Group Leaders are the vital link between the FO and the search¬ers. They are responsible for ensuring that the search tasks are carried out in the best possible way, communicating progress of the search to the FO and search command and ensuring the proper management and well being of their group members.

Group Leaders receive a briefing and relay instructions to group mem¬bers. They are responsible for ensuring their search groups have sufficient equipment and food before departing search base on their assigned tasks. They are responsible for ensuring their search group functions as a coherent team throughout the search, both in the field and at base. They also have responsibility for passing on information and suggestions from the group to the FO.

 Group leaders being given instructions by Field Organiser

Instructions are given to group leaders, Mt Stirling practice 2001

The Group Leader’s briefing of the search group will cover such matters as the general situation (if this has not already been done), the search tasks and the type of search technique to be used, basic radio arrangements, call signs, transport, group organisation, collaboration with adjacent groups, food and equipment requirements, and arrangements for excess equipment left at search base.
Group Leaders should stress to their group the importance of re¬maining together at every stage of the search. A clear understanding must be reached on the course of action the group is to follow to re¬unite the group if one member should become separated in the field.
Group Leaders should remember their responsibility for the wel¬fare of their group. Searchers are always expected to be prepared to undertake difficult and sometimes physically demanding tasks, but in the event of exhaustion or injury of a group member, the care and evacuation of that person takes priority over the continuation of the search. Group Leaders should keep the FO informed of any developments that may affect the running of the search.

Group Leader Selection by the Field Organiser

On a search, the Field Organiser will consider for selection as Group Leaders:
  1. Other FOs
  2. Members who:
  • are previous search group leaders, current overnight club trip
  • leaders or hold BMLC/STLC certificates AND
  • have previously participated in a search where field work was involved AND
  • have attended at least one practice search in the last five years.

2003 Edition




Group Leader Duties

En route to the search

The Field Organiser will issue a list of names of the members of your group.
1. Transfer the names to your log.
2. Identify, introduce and bring together your group members and question them on:
  • Completeness of food and equipment - tents, cutting implements, cord, first aid, stove and fuel, full water bottles, clothing, maps, toilet paper marker, whistles, sleeping bags, mats, skis, specialist equipment, food, clothing, etc.
  • Physical fitness.
  • Previous search and practice experience.
  • First aid qualifications and experience.

3. Appoint a First Aider.

4. Instruct your group members to remain together and with you, including when at base and in camp. Ensure that this occurs.

At search base

1. Obtain or make written instructions on the area that your group is to search.
2. Ascertain, and check personally if possible, the names, areas and radio call signs of the other Group Leaders, especially those whose search area is adjacent to yours.
3. Re-check and record any rendezvous times and places, including the latest time to return to base.
4. Check and record your task and any transport arrangements for getting into the field and back to base.
5. Obtain maps of search area, preferably one per group member. Ensure map has a grid and map datum is known. If maps do not have grid numbers, find out what they are and write them on the map.
6. When issued with a portable radio:
  • allocate it to a competent operator (which may be yourself)
  • test it before leaving base
  • if issued with a spare battery, ensure that you know how to change it
  • arrange, check and record schedules
  • ascertain and record your own, and other important call signs
  • ensure that a message pad is readily available to the opera¬tor, and that messages received and sent are put in writing
  • make sure that the operator stays with you and is under your control
  • check the recall arrangements.
7. When issued with a GPS unit:
  • allocate it to a competent operator
  • check battery status and unit operation
  • ensure you have spare batteries
  • check configuration of unit including map datum and grid reference format
  • confirm your current location is correctly displayed on the unit
  • store the location of search base as a Waypoint. Call it ‘base’
  • store the location of the start of your search task as another Waypoint.

Ensure your search task is clear and brief your group

If you are unsure with what you are required to do in your search area, discuss the details with the FO or the Deputy FO before setting out.
Fully brief your group on the instructions and requirements for the search.
  1. Remind your group of the importance of operating as a coherent unit in the field.
  2. Discuss with your group appropriate strategies to ensure that the group does not become separated while in the field. Reach a clear understanding on the course of action that the group is to follow to re-unite the group if one member should become separated from the rest of the group in the field.
  3. Oversee the packing of appropriate food and equipment by your group members. Ensure water bottles are filled.
  4. Ensure all necessary group and special equipment is shared appropriately and is packed.
  5. Ensure the surplus gear of your group members is placed to¬gether in one secure location, as directed by the FO.

In the field

The normal principles and practice of good bushwalking leadership should be followed. Constantly monitor the group members to ensure their well being, that effective searching is taking place, and that there is no risk of group members becoming separated.

  1. Maintain a log of the progress of your search, significant events, radio messages and grid references.
  2. Precise navigation is essential. Encourage each group member to monitor their position and to regularly confirm progress with each other.
  3. Leave toilet paper markers at key points or lines of travel (e.g. drop off point, search area boundaries, creek junctions in your search area.) Detailed notes or markers should also be left at other prominent features (including camp sites), especially if you are on an overnight search in your area, or if you do not have radio communications with base. Notes should include date, time, group details and intentions. Any clues found (eg footprints) should be reported and the site marked.
  4. If the missing person is found, immediately communicate with the search base. This may involve two members moving to a nearby high point, if local circumstances and the condition of the missing person permit this to be done with safety.
  5. If radio contact cannot be effected, two experienced members of the group should return to the base, leaving a trail that is distinct from both directions, once again provided this can be done, considering the safety of both the missing person and your group members.
  6. Once radio communication is established the search command will determine the course of action required to evacuate the missing person, considering your advice on the circumstances of the situation.
  7. The designated (qualified) first aid member of the group has absolute control of the management of the casualty(s). All treatment and observations must be recorded.
  8. Your group may have to deal with a deceased person. Do not move a corpse unless instructed, or if it is necessary to prevent its loss (e.g. rising floodwaters). Preserve the scene.

On return to base

  1. Promptly give a brief report to the FO. You will be expected to mark on the master map precisely the areas searched by your group.
  2. Provide specific OPS data on the route taken by your group and if required, download the data from your OPS unit.
  3. Continue to keep your search group members together while at search base, in camp or in accommodation.
  4. Refer any questions from the press to the Police. If you are nominated by the Police or FO to speak to the press, try to obtain a briefing on the parameters within which you are to confine your comments. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts before making comment and give facts, not opinions or speculations.
  5. At the conclusion of the search, ensure all your group members’ shared equipment and BSAR gear is returned.

Following the search

  1. If your search group played a key role in the search, (e.g. found the missing person), or was involved in any significant incident that affected the course of the search, a detailed written report should be prepared for the FO.
  2. If you have any constructive suggestions for improving the organisation make a concise written report and forward it to the FO or the BSAR Convener. 

 2003 Edition




At all times on a search you are an official representative of Bush Search and Rescue. The general public judge you not only on results but on appearances. Most importantly, you are judged on your conduct. This section details the responsibilities and specific expectations of you as a member of BSAR.

The Field Organiser will expect that you have responded to the call-out because you:

  • Are fit and have no injuries
  • Are ready for two days away
  • Have the correct food and equipment for three days (in the event of an emergency)
  • Meet any special requirements of the call-out
  • Have the support of your employer to attend.

Remember, a call-out is not the time to recruit new members. Only registered members, called out through the Club Contact can attend a search.

Ensure you arrive at the departure point ahead of time. Follow any instructions you may be given for parking your car and then fill in the attendance sheet.

Once you are on the Police bus, be considerate of the fact that most members will wish to get some sleep. Please leave the front seats free for the FO and assistants. Later, when the FO has allocated you to a search group, you will be expected to get together with your group. Under the guidance of your Group Leader, ensure that you organise yourself for the search task.

Remain with your group throughout the search. This includes when being transported, at base, in camp or accommodation and while in the field. Keep your Group Leader informed of your movements if you are required to be away from your group at any stage.

"Hurry up and wait!" is a common description of what it is like at the search base. There always seem to be excessive delays, while searchers wait around, keen to get started. In fact much detailed planning and organisation is taking place. Remember that a search cannot be planned in advance like an ordinary trip. During the inevitable delays check your instructions and ensure that you and your search group are packed, organised, fed and ready to go.

The SES frequently provide transport for BSAR search groups

The State Emergency Service frequently provide transport for BSAR search groups

Throughout the search you may notice minor problems or delays. However, the job gets done, so please maintain a sense of proportion if you wish to comment on any issue that has occurred.

Especially on a larger search, the search base area is busy with many interesting things going on. Avoid being distracted by the activity. Ensure you stay with your group, listen carefully to all briefings and remain focussed on the task at hand.

Be considerate of the likely presence of the family and friends of the missing person(s), the media, and members of other search organisations. While it is normal for searchers to discuss the circumstances of the search, the actions and possible condition of the lost person(s), the search strategies and progress, take care to keep these conversations private.

Group Leaders and FOs are always open to suggestions, ideas and comments, but give them at the appropriate time, not when they are in conference, particularly with Police Search Coordinators.

The FO has the role of making statements to the media on behalf of BSAR. If the media approaches you for comment, refer them to the FO or Police. In some instances the FO may ask a member to be interviewed. If so, restrict your comments to the FO’s parameters, think carefully before speaking, and give facts rather than speculation or opinions. If in any doubt, refer the question back to the FO or Police.

Take note of Chapter 9, describing the key skills of an effective searcher: observation, navigation, calling, listening, marking, recording and coverage. Once in the field, follow best bushwalking practice and the directions of your Group Leader to ensure that your search group operates as a team to effectively complete the search task. Take every precaution to ensure that you do not become separated from your search group.

Maintaining search concentration is a big challenge, given the fact that most searchers usually find nothing. Invariably BSAR work in very difficult terrain and usually poor weather, so searching is very tedious and exhausting. While it can be tempting to “let your hair down” at times, refrain from frivolous behaviour, particularly after the search and at search base.

If you are issued with a radio or GPS unit, take great care of them. Avoid getting them soaking wet. Return items promptly at the end of each day. You will probably be issued with a BSAR pack cover and armband. Make sure these items are well secured, as they are easily lost. Return them at the end of the search.

At the conclusion of the search, there is often an assembly of search¬ers from all organisations, usually conducted by the Police Operations Commander. The purpose of this meeting is to formally conclude and sum up the search and to thank all concerned. Friends or family of the missing person and the media are usually present. The FO will make any comments on behalf of BSAR. This is not the forum for question or comment on the conduct of the search.

Members have a good opportunity to comment during the dc-brief on the bus on the way home. Further, at its next meeting the BSAR Committee will review the search. Comments, questions and suggestions are most welcome and should be directed through your Club Search and Rescue Delegate. After all major searches, the Police conduct a formal debriefing, usually a couple of weeks latet BSAR will be involved, again providing the opportunity for comments to be passed on and points of view to be exchanged.

2003 Edition






First Aiders

Every attempt is made by the FO to ensure that there is at least one group member qualified in first aid (e.g. current St John or Red Cross First Aid Certificate or equivalent). While this member is responsible for all first aid administered by the group, each group member should carry a first aid kit as specified in Chapter 11.

Bush Search and Rescue offers subsidies to members for completing appropriate first aid courses.

Patient care, VNRS practice 2002

Patient care, VNRS practice 2002


2003 Edition



Composite and Reserve Groups

Composite Search Groups

BSAR groups are sometimes augmented by Police, park rangers or similarly skilled people, such as when a BSAR group has only three members. Welcome these additional searchers to the group.

Reserve Group

On some searches one or even two search groups may be kept at or near base so they can deal with unexpected circumstances that arise during the search. These circumstances may include a sighting from the air, a clue noticed by a vehicle patrol or the need to back up a group that has found the missing person.

On rare occasions it has been necessary to assist an injured searcher. Reserve groups are especially valuable when the search groups are a long way from the search base and cannot be readily re-deployed. Members usually want to be out searching and sometimes resent being kept in reserve, but they often act as a “flying squad” and have frequently been very central to the success of a search.

2003 Edition 



Prior to the commencement of each day’s searching, a briefing will be held and each group allocated a search area. The whole group will probably be briefed in a general way by the FO. Then each group will be briefed by its leader on such matters as general arrangements (if this has not already been done), basic radio arrangements, call sign, transport, re-grouping (if the group is split), the type of search technique to be used, collaboration with adjacent groups and arrangements for excess equipment left at search base.

In addition, the radio operator of each team will be:

  • issued with a radio and spare battery
  • allocated a call sign
  • allocated the channel to be used
  • instructed on the scheduled reporting times (often half hourly or hourly)
  • informed of the call sign of the base station and any other control stations that may be used as an alternative base for relaying messages
  • be familiar with the geographically adjacent groups’ call signs

Ask any questions prior to leaving the briefing - not over the radio later.

 Police briefing for all searchers, Tawonga Gap 2001

 Police briefing for all searchers, Tawonga Gap 2001


2003 Edition


Victoria Police is the agency responsible for managing search and rescue incidents in this State. Initially local Police and resources will respond to these incidents. The Search and Rescue Squad will also be alerted to provide advice and assessment of the incident. If necessary a qualified Police Search Coordinator (Incident Controller) and a team from the Squad will be sent to the incident. The Police Search Coordi¬nator will decide when BSAR are to be called out.

The overall command and control responsibility for the search lies with the Operations Commander, usually the most Senior Police Officer from the region. The search coordination and management of search teams is the responsibility of the Police Search Coordinator (Incident Controller). This will be either a local Police Officer or Search and Rescue Squad member when they attend.

You must act on all reasonable instructions given by a Police Officer or any other person to whom the officer delegates authority. Actual instructions to BSAR members will, however, normally come from the FO, often via the Group Leadet

Occasionally, groups are formed using members from a variety of organisations, including Police. Police Forward Command will nominate a group leader for such a group. In such circumstances, the BSAR Group Leader would continue to be responsible for the BSAR members within that group.

Extremely strong ties of respect, trust and friendship have been built up in the past between BSAR and the Police, in particular, members of the Search and Rescue Squad. You are asked always to bear this in mind and to endeavour to foster this relationship.

2003 Edition

The News Media

We welcome media representatives at searches, but at the same time we exercise considerable caution. The public have a legitimate right to accurate information and it is in BSAR’s interest that we have good public relations. However, there are some elements of the media who appear to feel that the drama of people’s lives and welfare is dull stuff and that only acrimony and criticism sell newspapers and televi¬sion time. These reporters have pressed BSAR members to make comments critical of other organisations and to generally stir up trouble.

The Police are responsible for the conduct of a search, so only they can issue accurate, complete and official statements concerning the search. BSAR members should not speak to reporters, either formally or informally. A simple question can be followed by a more contentious one. Members need to be very discrete, particularly in the vicinity of the search base, when discussing theories, future plans, particular events and criticisms.

The media may ask a search group to stage a shot, for example as they head off from search base. There is no problem with this occurring, provided it does not overly delay things, or change what the group was going to do anyway.

Under certain circumstances the Police may invite the Field Organiser or another member of BSAR to speak to the media. When this occurs, the Police will brief the member on specifically what is to be covered. In general, comments should be restricted to an account of BSAR’s involvement and search conditions.

2003 Edition

Peer Support Program

From time to time, BSAR members may be involved in incidents that put a strain on their normal ability to cope. The Peer Support Program has been established to assist searchers who may be affected by a particular event. The trained Peer Supporters also have a sound understanding of the operations of BSAR.

A Peer Supporter provides support to searchers, either as groups or individuals, following an event that may be traumatic or significant to that individual or group. This support may occur immediately after the event or within a few days. The process allows sharing of emotions in strict confidentiality. Peer Supporters are able to refer members to professional counselling if required via the Peer Support Coordinators.

A PLO will contact a Peer Support Team Leader after the initial call-out of searchers has been completed. The PS Team Leader then has the responsibility to assemble and activate a Peer Support team as required. This happens in the same way as a search call-out to find out who is available. However, any trained Peer Supporters who have participated in the search are ineligible to act as part of the Peer Support team for that search. The PLO keeps the PS Team Leader appraised of the situation during the search to enable the PS Team Leader to pro¬vide a meaningful briefing to the Peer Support team assisting the search.

2003 Edition



Chapter 9 - Searching

Search Skills

When out in the bush it is important that you remain focussed on the task of trying to find the missing person. Effective searching requires you to fully utilise your skills as a bushwalker and actively seek information from your surroundings. The key skills you need are listed in the following table.

Observation Be on the lookout for the missing person. Also, be alert for clues that may indicate the passage of the missing person such as tracks, discarded items and sleeping sites.
Navigation Be able to find and search your group’s designated area and know your location at all times. You will be required to report your location if you find something.
Calling Try to attract the attention of the lost person. Calling also notifies other searchers of your presence.
Listening Stop and listen for calls from the lost person, or other search groups.
Marking Key points along the boundary of your search area should be marked with toilet paper to indicate to other search groups that you have passed through the area. If you find anything of interest to the search surround the area with toilet paper to mark its location.
Recording Be able to fully and accurately report on areas that you have searched. At significant locations, write down your grid reference and the time you were there. Ensure you have your g~d reference on paper before communicating via radio. You may be required to transmit your locat ion several times.
Coverage Ensure that you have fully covered the area your group has been allocated in the manner requested by the FO. Ensure that you cover the area between you and the next searcher. Some intensive search techniques require you to be extremely thorough in covering this area so keep the spacing appropriate to the density of vegetation.

Table: Key search skills


Regular calling followed by a period of listening is the routine of a search group. The group must stop regularly to listen for calls. Use the lost person’s name when calling, or alternatively use a number system within the group. For example, if you are in group five, each member in your group can call out five-one, five-two, five-three and five-four respectively. This system attracts the attention of the missing person and at the same time lets each group member monitor the position of other group members. Nearby searchers can also tell that the calls they hear are from other searchers and not the missing person. The effectiveness of calling is reduced when there is wind, running water, large numbers of birds or helicopters nearby.

It need hardly be said that searchers should always be alert for signs of the lost person, but it is hard to remain vigilant for extended periods of time. Nevertheless it is very important to do so. Be observant of clues that indicate the presence or passage of the lost person. On the ground look for clues such as footprints in mud and creek beds, trodden grass, ski tracks and discarded items like food wrappers and matches. Above ground be aware of broken branches, scrape marks on logs and torn clothing. Be particularly observant at key locations where someone walking in the area is forced to follow a particular passage. This includes the centre of a steep gully, a gap in thick scrub or the crossing point over a large log or stream.

Search group checking and notifying its position

Search group checking and notifying its position

Try to put yourself in the position of the lost person. What track would you take through this bit of bush? Would you crash through that thick part or would you pass through that obvious gap? Or perhaps you would seek shelter under an overhanging rock.
Look closely for small things near to you, but do not neglect to also look around on both sides and also back the way you have come. Many things are hidden to a particular line of sight but can be plainly seen from another angle.
BSAR searchers in the field
Search groups are highly visible with BSAR pack covers
Footprints can be very valuable clues, but it can often be very frus¬trating trying to determine whether or not they were made by the missing person. Prints are usually indistinct or incomplete. Tread details are often unknown. This is not to denigrate the value of footprints, merely to point out some of the problems.
There are lots of natural and unnatural materials in the bush that can confuse and mislead a search. Animals can also create unwanted clues. If unsure, look for other clues nearby to support or disprove your suspicions. Good judgement is vital.
If you do find a significant clue report it to search base. The Police may want to bring dogs in to attempt to track the person from that point.
Its location should be marked, both around the site with a line of toilet paper markers, and on the map. Avoid damage to the clue and minimise handling of items such as clothing. An isolated sighting may not seem too significant in itself, but may fit into a pattern when added to reports from other groups. Good observation and reporting of clues has been very important in focusing a search in the correct area and the eventual finding of the lost person.

2003 Edition

Search Techniques

No two searches are ever the same, but the following notes give a general outline of some of the search techniques that have proved effective in the past. Because lost people will eventually succumb to exposure unless they are unusually well equipped, search plans will be a balance between thoroughness and speed. This balance will be different in winter, when the survival time is much shorter than in summet

But one thing is certain: neither thoroughness nor speed will be enhanced by charging into the field without a proper plan. Time spent in initial planning is time when no searching takes place, but it is essential that systematic plans are made. Subsequent planning sessions seldom delay the search because they can take place while the search is in progress or at night.

Search coordination

Search coordination


When making the initial search plans, certain assumptions are often made:

  • The lost person is alive and able to reply to shouts or other sound signals. Working on this assumption allows a much greater coverage, with individual searchers and search groups spaced much ftirther apart than if all the intervening country had to be coveted by eye. This assumption may have to be modified later if the passage of time and the weather suggests that exposure may be reducing the mobility of the lost person.
  • Lost people will seldom cross a road or defined track. This means that roads and tracks are often used to set bounds to a search area. It is essential that they be patrolled and, because there is no telling when a person might stumble on a road, the patrol must be maintained throughout the search.
  • Lost people eventually need water and they also usually take lines of least effort. Both these factors often mean that they eventually make their way down to creeks. It is thus very important to thoroughly search the creeks.
  • Lost people often wander, seldom selecting a single direction and walking in a purposeful way. This means that one cannot assume that, because an area has been searched, there is no need to cover it again. It also means that it is better to commence searching at the last known location of the lost person.

The above assumptions are very general, and will not always be correct, especially when dealing with children or people with a medical condition. They can, however, often help to guide a search, particularly in its early stages and in the absence of clues.

There are no absolutes in search situations and a vivid imagination can conjure up unlimited possibilities, many of them improbable. Search strategy is a matter of assessing probabilities based on the information available and previous experience.

One should not infer from these notes that searches grind inexorably along, slavishly following some master plan. In fact search planners need to remain very flexible, appraising information as it becomes available and responding appropriately. One way of building flexibility into the plan is the use of reserve groups, as noted in the previous chaptet These groups can often be used to quickly back up other groups, investigate reported clues or follow up new information.

From the above comments itis possible to discern three main types of searching:

  • Reconnaissance
  • Feature
  • Line

These are detailed on the following pages.

Early Stages of a search showing road patrols, search of main features and a line search in the area of highest probability
Early Stages of a search showing road patrols, search of main features and a line search in the area of highest probability

 2003 Edition

Reconnaissance Search

This is usually the first search technique to be initiated and it is often maintained throughout the duration of the search. Reconnaissance search¬ing can be done by vehicle (four-wheel-drive or motorcycle), by aircraft (usually helicopter), on foot or on skis. Its main aims are to:

  • find the lost person quickly and easily by searching the areas of highest probability.
  • familiarise search planners with the terrain to help their plans for more intensive searching.
  • attempt to establish the boundary of the search area, for example searching the perimeter of a ski resort to check for tracks leaving the resort.

Reconnaissance searching covers roads, tracks and clear areas and needs to be maintained because vehicle noise often attracts the lost person, who is then found on a later pass. Later in a search, reconnaissance searching is often combined with putting out and picking up search groups.

2003 Edition 


Feature Search

Feature or general searching aims to cover lines and areas of high probability. It is usually performed by groups of four moving along well-defined terrain features such as ridges and creeks or resort boundaries.

The members of the group are usually spread across the feature to maximise coverage. The distance between group members is detennined by the density of vegetation and the characteristics of the terrain. Group mem¬bers must maintain visual contact with each other and ensure reasonable coverage of the ground in between.

At regular intervals the group should stop, call and listen. There are two reasons for calling: to help maintain contact between team members and to attract the attention of the lost person. For the latter reason, it is vital that searchers stop frequently and listen for a reply.

2003 Edition

Line Search

Line or contact searching aims to achieve complete coverage of every square metre of the terrain searched. Unfortunately, achieving this complete coverage is extremely slow and tedious. As its name implies, line searching is usually performed by forming a line of searchers at such a distance that no item between them (person on the ground, article of clothing, footprint) will be missed. In thick scrub the distance may be as little as one metre.

Line searches are very difficult to control if the number in each line exceeds about twelve. It is usually best to make multiple sweeps with a line of twelve searchers (three search groups) within a naturally bounded area (Figure 9.2).

Line search - multiple sweeps

Figure 9.2 Line search - multiple sweeps

Alternatively the line can be started from a linear feature, such as a track or a creek, and then subsequent teams can be started at intervals of a few minutes to work from the boundary marked by the previous group (Figure 9.3).

Line searching between linear features

Figure 9.3 Line searching between linear features

When no natural starting line exists, it is possible to work outwards on a spiral path from a marked central square, marking the outer flank for the next rotation (Figure 9.4).

Spiral search from an isolated object

Figure 9.4 Spiral search from an isolated object


With a long line it is best if the person coordinating the line drops behind and directs the process from this position as the searchers move forward.

2003 Edition

Probe Search

 This variation on the line search is suitable for use alongside tracks and roads where there is very dense bush. The theory behind the technique is that if a searcher cannot penetrate the bush beyond a certain point then neither can a lost person, hence the area beyond can assumed to be searched.

  1. A group of searchers is lined up along the side of a track or road.
  2. Each searcher attempts to line search into the bush until they are stopped by the bush. Note that some searchers will penetrate further into the bush than others depending on the bush density.
  3. Each searcher returns to the track double-checking for the lost person.
  4. The search team moves further along the road or track to repeat the process.
  5. Once completed it can then be reasonably assumed that the lost person cannot be in that section of bush. This technique allows elimination of large tracts of bush without the need to line search the entire area.

Probe search

Probe search


See also: Probe searching technique | Bush Search and Rescue Victoria


2003 Edition



Marking Boundaries

The most practical material for marking boundaries is toilet papet When speared on twigs or wrapped around trees near eye-level it is very visible in the bush. At times it is an advantage to mark the paper with a felt pen to distinguish the group putting in the markers or the day on which the trail was laid. Toilet paper is ecologically sound for this purpose.

Although it will easily last for the duration of a search, it quickly shrivels to an inconspicuous ball and then drops as individual wood fibres to the ground.

Day Searching

Heavy packs make any group slower. Many search areas are near roads or tracks and it is faster to send groups into the bush and bring them back to base for the night, often by vehicle. The requirement to bear in mind when packing for a day search is that the group may have to support themselves and an injured person overnight.

The sensible level of equipment will vary with the season, but will usually include extra clothing and food for each person plus one sleeping bag, mat and tent or fly between the group. This should enable the group to spend a safe night under all but extreme conditions and still benefit from light day packs while searching.

2003 Edition



Searching in Snow

The approach to searching outlined above applies almost equally when the search is in snow country, but a number of special factors also need consideration. The days will be shortet Cold and probably wet conditions mean a shorter time before lost people succumb to hypothermia, so there will often be an added urgency and BSAR will probably be involved earlier in the search.

This adds to the likelihood of the search being called off if the lost person is found quickly by local searchers. However, this is vastly preferable to being called too late and then being unable to reach the lost people in time to save them.

Snow shows tracks well, at least for a time, and this can be of great advantage on a search. Open areas can quickly be covered, or scanned by eye in clear weather, and then the tree line searched, looking for tracks leading into the shelter of the bush. This often works around ski resorts. Pole marks usually reveal the direction of travel of the cross-country skier (see Figure 9.6). 

Direction of skier from pole tracks

Figure 9.6 Direction of skier from pole tracks

Skiers in trouble often mark their location, or the point at which they left a run or trail to seek shelter, by planting their skis in the snow in the form of a cross. It is worth looking for such indicators.

Searches often take place after heavy snowfalls and adverse weather conditions where a skier or snowboarder has ventured beyond the resort boundary or patrolled area.

A long climb up from South Buller Creek 2001

A long climb up from South Buller Creek 2001


2003 Edition



Alpine Search and Rescue

Bush Search and Rescue has members with specialist skills in alpine rescues on steep snow and ice terrain.  This is a specialist function within Bush Search and Rescue for members who have mountaineering experience using ice axes, crampons and ropes. 

Bush Search and Rescue avalanche rescue training


Mandatory Personal Protection Equipment

The following personal protection equipment is compulsory for steep snow and ice callouts:

  • Climbing harness (UIAA-certified) 
  • Climbing helmet (UIAA-certified )
  • Rope (UIAA-certified) - one per team of 2 or 3
  • Belay plate with locking karabiner
  • 4 locking karabiners
  • 3 prusik loops (one waist, one foot, one other – waist or a bit shorter)1
  • 1 sewn sling (120cm )
  • Crampons (with appropriate boots)
  • Ice axe
  • Snow stake 

Optional Personal Protection Equipment

  • 2 additional locking karabiners
  • Ice hammer or ski pole with self-arrest grip
  • Lightweight ascender, such as Petzl Tibloc – in lieu of a prusik loop for ascending or rigging a pulley system
  • 1 pulley
  • Webbing (2 lengths) for makeshift sit and chest harnesses (for extricating lost person)
  • Avalanche transceiver
  • Avalanche probe
  • Snow shovel


1Prusik slings should be “navel to floor” for foot loop and “nose to navel” for waist loop. For 9-10mm climbing rope, 6-7mm prusik cord works best – as a guide 150cm for waist loop and 250cm for foot loop are about right after tying for an average height person. Too long is better than too short.

Updated 12 Feb 2011

Search Dogs

There is no doubt that properly trained dogs can perform impressive feats, using scenting and tracking skills, to discover missing people. It can be more difficult for a dog to follow the trail when too much time elapses between the passage of a lost person, or the dropping and subsequent discovery of an object bearing their scent. Nevertheless, their skills should not be discounted. Dogs are a valuable resource for human searchers, but not a substitute for them.

Occasionally a dog and handler from the Police Dog Squad is sent with a BSAR group

Occasionally a Bush Search and Rescue member will accompany a dog and handler from the Police Dog Squad


2003 Edition



The 24-hour time system is used for search operations, as it dispenses with the use of a.m. or p.m. and thus reduces the risk of error. It is always used in radio communication.

a) The time is written as four figures.

b) The first two figures of the group represent the hours past the previous midnight from 00 to 23 inclusive.

c) The second two figures of the group represent the number of minutes past the hour from 00 to 59 inclusive.

d) The group is always followed by the word “hours”.


Time 24-Hour representation Spoken form
12 midnight 0000 hours zero hundred hours
12:07 am 0007 hours triple zero seven hours
1:00 am 0100 hours zero one hundred hours
10:00 am 1000 hours ten hundred hours
5:14 pm 1714 hours seventeen fourteen hours
11:59 pm 2359 hours twenty-three fifty-nine hours

Table 9.2 24-Hour Time

2003 Edition


Technology in Searching

Mention has already been made of the use of radio communications to help coordinate searches and the use of specialist vehicles to transport searchers, but these uses of technology are merely aids, although very valuable ones, to searching. The actual searching relies on the senses, mostly sight and sound, of the searchers.

Several technologies are available as aids to human searchers. Infrared scanning equipment mounted in a helicopter is available. It virtually forms a “heat picture” on a computer screen in the aircraft. This technique has been successful in other forms of searching, such as finding people in water, but has so far proved of limited value in the bush due in part to the shielding effect of the tree canopy.

Radio beacons and EPIRBs have proved to be of great value for finding crashed aircraft and boats in distress. The radio signal, when detected by an aircraft (or possibly a satellite) can alert authorities to the fact that a crisis exists and can then guide search aircraft equipped with direction-finding receivers to the site. While the system has worked well for aircraft and boats, early experience is that there are problems with false or frivolous alarms from ground parties.

GPS units are effective tools for determining present location and are useful in confirming map and compass navigation. They rely on receiving signals from several satellites at different angles for accuracy. However, dense vegetation, wet conditions and steep gully sides may impede satellite signals.

GPS units can also record the route taken by search groups and this helps confirm that the search area has been covered. Data can be downloaded from the units onto a computer and overlayed onto a map of the search area.

Bush Search and Rescue owns a number of GPS units for issue to search groups to aid accurate navigation. Members should make every effort through practice weekends to become familiar with their use. A GPS unit is a useful tool, but it does not replace map and compass and the knowledge of how to use them.

Another useful adjunct to map and compass is an altimeter. They provide a reasonably accurate estimation of altitude. This information can be combined with information from your map to improve the accuracy of defining your location. Some outdoor watches include this feature.

Searchers confirm location using a GPS, Noojee 2002

Searchers confirm location using a GPS, Noojee 2002, the first time GPS units were used

Mobile phones are a common accessory to the modern bushwalket Mobile coverage is generally restricted in areas BSAR are called to search and you may experience poor reception. Inform your Group Leader if you have one. Avoid personal calls while searching. During the course of the search do not discuss operational matters with people not involved in the search.

Increasingly, missing people use their mobile phones to assist in their rescue.

See also: Technical notes and details on searching | Bush Search and Rescue Victoria


2003 Edition

Chapter 10 - Rescue

On Finding the Lost Person

Providing the person is found in good condition, this must surely be one of the high points of many a bushwalking career!

Make an immediate call to base (out of earshot of the person) even though this will be followed by a more detailed report after the situation has been appraised. This will allow the search organisers to begin making evacuation plans and may prevent further groups being sent to other areas unnecessarily.

The leader of the group finding the lost person will assume local control and coordinate the activities of other groups sent in to assist, either throughout the evacuation or until a more senior person (such as a Police Officer or FO) arrives at the scene.

Person in Good Condition

No matter how fit the lost person seems, do not neglect to make a thorough examination before the person is allowed to walk. Many people keep going strongly through a crisis but suffer a sudden collapse when they no longer need to continue.

The possibility of hypothermia, exhaustion or shock needs to be considered and other medical conditions may be known. The first step is to find out how the person feels. While the first aider is busy, the Group Leader should inform base of the situation and the exact location of the group. As soon as the casualty’s condition has been assessed, the Group Leader will request whatever back up they consider necessary.

Patient management, Mt Stirling practice 2001

Patient management, Mt Stirling practice 2001

Person Injured

If the lost person is found to be injured, the above steps will still need to be taken and then some careful thought given to casualty support and evacuation. If the casualty is to be carried out, support groups will be needed, in which case it may be necessary to guide them to the scene. If evacuation is to be by helicopter, a clearing large enough for the aircraft to land will be ideal. Failing that, a large enough clearing from which to winch the casualty may be required.

The Group Leader will also need to consider the needs of their group. Sometimes the casualty cannot be moved until the next morning, either because of the lateness of the hour or because the casualty’s condition needs to be stabilised before being fit to travel. In this case, the group may be facing a night with limited tents, sleeping bags and food. It may be possible to arrange for extra gear to be brought in with support groups. If not, the group will need to use the time available to improvise shelter and to collect an abundant supply of firewood to last them through the night.

Person Dead

Do not assume that the person is dead unless it is obvious (massive injuries, decomposition). Carry out an exhaustive search for signs of life, particularly in cold conditions. The body may be very cold and the heart beat and respiration very difficult or impossible to detect but the casualty may still be alive. If any doubt whatever exists, the casualty must be assumed to be alive and every effort made to begin appropriate treatment. Again, while treatment is proceeding, the Group Leader should inform Base of the exact situation and request whatever support they feel is appropriate.

If it is apparent that the casualty is dead, try to avoid moving the body until clearance is obtained from Police. Police are official agents of the Coroner and will almost certainly want to visit the site. Indeed, the Coroner may wish to attend if there are lessons to be learned from the incident. Exceptions to this rule occur when the body is at risk, for example if it is likely to be washed away by a rising creek or damaged by animals.

Many people worry that they could not cope with examining or moving a dead body. While this is a very natural concern, experience suggests that most people, while saddened by the death of a fellow human, are not unduly affected by the body itself If you feel you cannot help, tell your Group Leader and do not feel guilty about it. After all, dead people no longer need our help.
Group Leaders should limit the number of people going to the site of the body and should allow those people a few minutes to collect their thoughts and reconcile them as much as possible. Few of us are faced with the reality of death often enough to have a well-developed philosophy to fall back on.

Be aware that radio traffic is often heard by others, including the media. Police are progressively introducing secure channels, but until they are available for searches, assume others are listening.


2003 Edition


By Foot

Many lost people, after a proper evaluation of their condition, when they are warmed and have had some food and drink are perfectly capable of walking out. Lost people are often tired after their ordeal, so it is prudent to divide their belongings among the rescue group and to station a rescuer on either side in case they should be unsteady on their feet. Continue to monitor their condition, usually by engaging them in conversation. Exhaustion and also hypothermia are often indicated by unusual quietness and a slurring of speech.

By Helicopter

If the lost person is unable to walk out, evacuation will usually become a much larger operation. A helicopter can prove very valuable here, greatly reducing the time, effort and number of people needed. The benefits of helicopter evacuation are; immediate retrieval (either by rescue hoist or landing) allowing for urgent medical attention to be given at the earliest opportunity.

Obviously helicopters cannot be used in every situation due to varying factors such as; weather conditions, visibility, terrain (cliffs, dense forested areas, high voltage transmission lines etc). An important factor to consider is the flight time that it may take for the helicopter to attend the location and the time it can remain overhead due to available fuel.

As with all aircraft there is an element of danger but with common sense, knowledge and awareness, the risks are minimal. Helicopters can operate in very strong winds, providing the wind is steady. Powerful gusts may make flying near the ground unsafe.

If it is safe to do so, the helicopter will land in a clearing to take the casualty on board. A searcher should be stationed in an upwind corner of the clearing with a jacket or groundsheet held firmly above the head to indicate wind direction to the pilot. Keep all other people clear.


Helicopter evacuation Baw Baw

Evacuation from Baw Baw Plateau


If the aircraft is unable to land it may be possible to rest it briefly on one wheel or skid, but, failing that, winching will be necessary. A crew member will first be lowered on the winch line, followed by a special stretcher. The crew member will instruct the Group Leader on the requirements for the lift and will supervise the securing of the casualty in the stretchet It would not be possible to accommodate a bush stretcher in the helicopter, nor safe to lift it. Refer also to the notes on operating with helicopters in Chapter 11.

Be aware of the dangers of falling debris caused by the rotor wash. A helicopter hovering just above the trees can easily dislodge dead branches onto the ground below. Keep all unnecessary people clear of the immediate area. Take care to protect the casualty. Pack away loose items that could be blown away by the rotor wash.


By Stretcher

Failing the use of a helicopter to evacuate the missing person, the sometimes long, hard grind of a carry will be necessary. Given the likelihood of bad weather during a search, carrying may be regarded as the norm.

A number of stretcher types are typically used in bush evacuations. Skeds are compact, lightweight versatile units owned by BSAR and Police Search and Rescue, which can be used in the bush or towed as a sled. The bush stretcher has the advantage of being able to be constructed on the spot. Other types may be used, depending upon the resources at hand.

The first consideration when a carry is planned is the number of people required. A carry of any length, especially in rough terrain, requires eight stretcher bearers at any one time and two relief crews. Many newcomers to search and rescue are inclined to regard this number of twenty four carriers per casualty as excessive until they have first-hand experience of a long carry, after which they will probably feel (along with all the others) that they did most of the carrying personally.

After organising sufficient carriers, a stretcher will need to be assembled. The addition of carrying poles to one of the BSAR’s Skeds (see Chapter 11) could be considered as a quick solution, but only for a short carry because of the lack of rigidity and the difficulties of carrying.

In spite of its crude and rustic appearance, it is difficult to improve on the bush stretcher (see Chapter 11) for a long carry. It is reasonably rigid for a comfortable ride, but not so rigid as to put a large stress on any part. It can be quickly made from readily available material and so does not have to be carried around in case it is needed. Most important of all, it allows eight people to share the load. Its building does, however, require a suitable cutting tool (a saw is most convenient, but see below) and a good supply of cord and light rope.

Stretcher carrying benefits from a high level of organisation. There must be one person in charge of the carry to synchronise lifting and lowering, to organise relief teams and to generally conduct the carry.

Scouts should go ahead to pick the best route, marking it if necessary. Next should come a group equipped with machete, cutting only as required to allow the passage of the stretchet Note that a saw, although the ideal tool for building the stretcher, is useless for this job. The stretcher will be carried by eight people on the bearers’ shoulders unless traversing, when it is usually best to carry on shoulders on one side and hands on the other.

The casualty should always be comfortably but securely attached to the stretcher, usually with rope over ample padding. One designated person, with first aid skills, should monitor and record the casualty’s condition. This typically includes arranging for toilet stops, checking their thermal comfort and making sure that branches do not scratch the face. The casualty can wear sunglasses, even at night, to protect the eyes from debris.

Motion sickness, which is generally worse when the casualty cannot see the horizon, can be a problem during long carries or sled trips. Turning the casualty on the side or tilting the head to see the horizon can sometimes ease the problem.

If the bush is reasonably open and not too steep, the stretcher can be carried continuously at about two kilometres per hour. If the going is hard the pace will be much less.

When obstacles such as rocks or large logs are encountered, it will usually be best to position people over and beyond them and to pass the stretcher across hand to hand without the carriers moving their positions. This is usually faster and much more secure than trying to clamber over with the stretchet

When ascending or descending steep slopes, particularly if the ground is loose or slippery, it is wise to belay the stretcher to a tree or rock. It may then be possible for the carrying group to move down with the stretcher, using the rope to check them if they slip. Moving directly up or down the fall-line may be easier and safer than traversing.


Stretcher on belay 

Stretcher on belay


By Sled

Casualty evacuation in snow country may have to be performed by stretcher in exactly the way outlined above, but the use of sleds is usually much easier if the terrain allows.

A ski sled (see Chapter 11) can be constructed as quickly as a stretcher and is a perfectly practical arrangement, although a Shed or, preferably, a more rigid sled, provides much better comfort for the casualty.

A sled is pulled and controlled by means of a rope attached to each corner. In suitable terrain, the pulling may be done most quickly on skis.

In steeper country, rope climbers (see Chapter 11) should be attached to the skis and in awkward, scrubby country snow-shoes are probably best, although short Bushwhacker skis will be more versatile. S/eds have little lateral stability (Skeds almost none) so they must be steered by the ropes. The remarks above about belaying stretchers apply equally to sleds.


2003 Edition


Chapter 11 - Additional Skills and Rescue Equipment

A competent and experienced bushwalker already has the most important skills required of a searcher. Search and rescue, however, sometimes needs additional skills that are unlikely to be acquired in normal bush and mountain recreation. Some of these specific skills are discussed in this chapter.

First Aid

With the major exception of coping with hypothermia casualties, first aid treatment has very seldom been essential to the survival of people lost in Victoria. There are probably many reasons for this, including Victoria’s relatively gentle terrain and rarity of dangerous animals, but the main reasons have to do with the nature of search and rescue.

The unavoidable delay between an injury or illness occurring and the casualty being found means that, if the injury or illness was critical, the person would probably have died before help arrived. First aid training for searchers, nevertheless, is very important and is encouraged (sometimes by way of subsidy) by the Search and Rescue Committee. As a searcher, however, you are far more likely to render first aid to another group member than to a lost person.

First aid is best learned by attending one of the many courses run by the Red Cross, St John Ambulance Brigade or similarly accredited organisation. Sometimes a course can be found with an outdoor bias and this is worth investigating. The problem with most basic courses, from the viewpoint of the searcher, is that they assume that only a short time will elapse between the injury or illness and access to professional care. (“Make the casualty comfortable, give reassurance and call the doctor.”)

They do, however, provide the important basic principles. For graduates of one of these basic courses the Bushwalking and Mountaincraft Training Advisory Board’s book titled “Bushwalking and Ski Touring Leadership” has a very useful section on bush first aid. This book is sold in most outdoor equipment stores.

2003 Edition

Hypothermia Management

It is important to understand the nature and treatment of hypothermia, because in severe conditions searchers as well as lost people will be at risk. Hypothermia is a lowering of the body’s core temperature. It can result in death and can occur as a result of:

  • Inadequate protection from a cold environment, especially when combined with altitude, wind, wetness, lack of food and physical exhaustion
  • Immobilisation and exposure to cold, especially in the unconscious, the elderly, young children and the injured
  • Immersion in cold water.


  • Adequate protection from cold, wind and wet
  • Regular intake of food and drink (NON- alcoholic)
  • Sound planning, training, and experienced leadership.


The initial signs and symptoms may be vague, and the casualty will refuse to recognise the danger of the situation. As body temperature falls, mental and physical performance also fall. One or more of the following signs should alert others to the onset of hypothermia:

  • stumbling
  • lagging behind
  • shivering
  • careless about protecting from cold
  • unusual or irrational behaviour
  • poor judgement
  • lack of coordination
  • apathy
  • exhaustion
  • slurred speech
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness in whole or part

The person will feel cold to touch and usually look pale.


Prevention of further body cooling, plus the basic principles of first aid and resuscitation:

  • STOP immediately.
  • Protect the casualty from wind and water
  • Make or take shelter.
  • Put on extra clothing including waterproofs, cover the head.
  • Insulate from the cold ground, especially the head.
  • Place the casualty in large plastic rubbish bag or similar up to the armpits - arms and face uncovered, mouth/nose/eyes visible. A second bag can then be placed over the head and shoulders with an opening for the face.
  • Cover the casualty with warm and waterproof material.
  • Huddle together, never leave the casualty alone.
  • Provided the casualty is conscious, offer easily digestible food and drink, preferably warmed, but not hot.
  • Ensure all group members put on extra clothing for warmth.
  • Send for medical assistance if possible.
  • Treat the casualty very gently at all times.
  • The natural tendency to “press on to shelter” must be avoided. Regrouping on the spot and immediate commencement of treatment is more important than rapid evacuation from the area.

Important precautions:

  • No removal of wet clothing - leave it on and use plastic bag method.
  • No alcohol, cigarettes, hot drinks, strong coffee
  • No massaging or rubbing
  • No exercise
  • No fire nearby (no radiant heat)
  • It is important to avoid stimulating the casualty’s peripheral blood circulation. This can lower core temperature by allowing warm core blood to flow through cold peripheral tissue.

In conditions where one group member succumbs to hypothermia, it is likely that others are at risk too. All members should take precautions and monitor each other while treating the casualty.

2003 Edition




First Aid Kits

All searchers should carry a first aid kit capable of dealing with most first aid problems. Your kit should be more comprehensive than you may otherwise personally carry on a bushwalk. All items in the list below are mandatory for all searchers.

Table 11.1 Mandatory Personal Search and Rescue First Aid Kit
Item Quantity Use
Disposable gloves Two pair For casualty and self-protection
Triangular bandages Two, safety pins attached Use as a sling, broad or narrow bandage to support injured part or to retain a dressing.
Elasticised roller bandage (heavyweight - pink) One 8 cm or 10 cm - safety pin attached Elasticised bandages for support and/or to control swelling of knee or ankle. With folded triangular bandage as a pad, used in treatment of snake bite.
Crepe roller bandages (lightweight- white) One 2.5 cm and one 5cm, each with safety pin Crepe bandages to retain dressings, bandage and support hand, arm or thumb.
Assorted adhesive dressing strips and tape eg ‘Band-aids’ and ‘Handipore’ For minor lacerations (cut to size). Include some tape that is hypoallergenic (i.e. does not cause skin irritations).
Prepared wound dressing One medium size Absorbent pad for large lacerations. Effectively controls haemorrhage when applied with an additional firm pad.
Semi permeable film dressing One small packet Hypoallergenic, breathable, sterile membrane for wounds, abrasions.
Non-stick sterile dressings One 8x10 cm, eg ‘Melolin’ Useful on burns or other areas where skin is broken. Place the shiny surface towards the wound.
Scissors One fine pointed, good quality, sharp, small Cutting gauze, dead skin, etc
Thermometer   Used to monitor the condition of the casualty.
Tweezers One fine pointed, good quality, small  For removing ticks, splinters, etc
Sewing needles Two For pricking blisters, removing splinters, etc. Sterilise before use.
Disposable cloth towel One small (‘Chux’ or similar) Use as washer and towel to clean around wound (adhesive tape will not slick to dirty or greasy skin). Washable.
Note-book and pencil    To record items used and the condition of the casualty. 
Rubbish bin liner bag One large bag For use with hypothermic casualties.
Iodine based antiseptic One 25 ml container e.g. ‘Betadine’ Bacteriocidal/fungicidal gel for cuts, abrasions, Tinea. Use as a gargle when diluted.
Eyewash - ‘saline’ sachets  2 x 10 ml   To clean a dirty wound or wash out small foreign bodies trapped under eyelids e.g. grit or insects. Single use ampoules.
Paracetamol tablets  24 foil packed eg Panadol soluble One or two tablets dissolved in half a cup of water every three to four hours for pain. Maximum 8 tablets per 24 hours - casualty to self administer with plenty of fluids.
Oral rehydration solution Five sachets eg 'Gastrolyte'. Use according to sachet directions. For replacement of fluid and electrolytes in treatment of diarrhoea, bad burns or heat stress. Diabetics should obtain prior medical advice regarding emergency use of such products.

2003 Edition

Bush Stretcher

The rustic bush stretcher comes into its own when helicopters are unable to fly and vehicles unable to reach a remotFigure 11.1 Bush stretchere location. It can be built on the spot, provided saplings of suitable length are found and an appropriate cutting tool is available. Note that the saplings need to be very long so as to allow sufficient room for eight stretcher-bearers to line up along it for the arduous carry out.

Despite its appearance, the bush stretcher provides a reasonably comfortable ride for the casualty and is sufficiently rigid to enable it to be passed safely over obstacles.


  1. Obtain two firm, straight saplings, 5 to 6 metres long when trimmed and 8-10cm in diameter, and four shorter pieces, approximately 4 cm diameter and 1.2 m long. Assemble all available cord and light rope in the group.
  2. Place long saplings on the ground, with their butts at opposite ends and about 60 cm apart. Lash cross-pieces as shown in Figure 11.1, using square lashings (Figure 11.2) to the poles and a diagonal lashing (Figure 11.3) where the cross-pieces intersect. All cross-pieces must be placed on top of the stretcher poles and sprung down into position as required.
  3. Trim the ends of the cross-pieces as close as possible to the poles, leaving no sharp edges. The bottom sides of stretcher poles must be trimmed as clean and smooth as possible for comfort on bearers’ shoulders.
  4. Lace evenly, but loosely, across the stretcher with cords. Make sure the cross lacings are not too far apart and secure each turn with a half hitch. At least 15 metres of cord is required.
  5. Carefully pad the stretcher with groundsheets, sleeping mat, spare clothing etc., or, if unavailable, sheets ofbark covered with bracken make a very good substitute.
  6. If the going is likely to be at all rough, secure the casualty to the stretcher with more rope, placing spare clothing under the rope to prevent chafing.

Assemble a team of at least eight bearers, plus two relief teams of eight persons each. Note that in any group of people some will be too tall and some too short to be fully effective as stretcher-bearers.  Further people are necessary for route marking, trail clearing and casualty monitoring.

Figure 11.1 Bush stretcher (right)

Square Lashing

Square lashings are used to fasten cross-pieces to the poles. Begin by forming a clove hitch around one of the pieces. The lashing is then bound as shown in steps 2 to 4 completing at least four turns. Binding turns should then be applied around the knot so as to tighten the lashing (step 5). Fin¬ish with a clove hitch or a round turn and two half hitches.

Figure 11.2 Square lashing

Diagonal lashing

Use this lashing where the cross-pieces intersect. Begin with a timber hitch around both pieces. Tighten it to draw the two pieces together. Three or four binding turns are made around one fork, four more around the other fork. The turns should be beside each other not on top of each othet A number of binding turns should be made between the pieces to tighten up the lashing. Finish with a clove hitch or a round turn and two half hitches.

Diagonal lashing


Figure 11.3 Diagonal lashing

Ski Sled

If no other type of oversnow transport or Sked type stretcher is avail¬able, making a ski sled is a practical alternative. It can be constructed from group equipment, while generally still maintaining the ski capability of the group as a whole.

There are limitations for the use of this type of stretcher. It is not recommended for long distance hauling as it does not provide a very com¬fortable ride for the casualty. It is also not very stable when traversing across steep slopes and becomes diffIcult to pull in very soft or deep snow. However, for short distances across fairly flat terrain it serves the purpose well enough.

Ski sled

Figure 11.4 Ski sled



  • One set of skis - use the largest and heaviest available.
  • Two sets of stocks.
  • Five or six pieces of wood, 3-5 cm diameter, 60 cm long for cross-pieces (snow shovel handles could be used).
  • Large quantities of cord.
  • 15-20 m of rope.


Method of Construction

Refer to Figure 11.4 as a guide to construction. Try to keep the lashings at the ski tips as high as possible in order to keep the running surfaces free of drag. It is difficult to achieve this whilst at the same time making sure that the lashings are secure. Adhesive tape, if available, is useful here. A pre-drilled hole in each ski tip, sealed with epoxy, solves this problem. The third cross-piece should be lashed as tightly as possible to the toe bindings on the skis. All the others should be lashed to the ski poles only -if this is practicable - thus leaving the running surfaces of the skis free of drag.

The front and rear ends of the skis are passed through the pole baskets if these are large enough. If not, the rear (last) cross-piece at least will need to be lashed to the skis as well as the poles. Note that the points of the front poles may constitute a danger to the sled haulers and should be covered with cloth or tape.

The stretcher is pulled and controlled by ropes passing down the length of both skis, threaded through the pole baskets, but not fixed to them. The ropes are fixed at the toe-bindings so that the pulling load comes on these.

The advantage of this type of sled is that only one pair of skis is used, thus none of the fit members of the group, if all are skiers, is left without skis, although two would have only one ski pole each. This sled, if carefully constructed, is light, strong and very easy to pull.

2003 Edition



Sked Stretcher

BSAR owns three Skeds. A Sked is a lightweight, portable and versatile stretcher that can also function as a sled. It consists of a semi-rigid plastic sheet, which is rolled up and stored for transport in a cylindrical pack. When unrolled and assembled, the sides and ends of the plastic slab are curled up to form the stretcher configuration.

Various accessories enable the Sked to serve in a wide range of situations. These include towing harnesses, belay ropes, karabiners, vertical and horizontal lifting slings and a pruning saw.


Sked stretcher

Sked and accessories


Summary of Instructions

Detailed instructions are provided in each Sked pack, and the Skeds are available on practices for first hand experience.

  1. Remove the rolled Sked from the pack. It will need to be re-rolled from the outer side as the plastic has a memory. Then lay it out flat on the ground making sure it is the correct way up.
  2. Place, slide or roll the casualty, with appropriate padding and protection onto the Sked. The head end has the provision for the chest strap.
  3. Secure the spare strap around the casualty’s chest and through the appropriate grommets if the circumstances warrant.
  4. Secure the four cross straps across the top of the casualty to the buckles on the opposite side.
  5. Secure the straps which curl up the head and foot of the Sked by passing them through the appropriate grommets.


For Carrying Over Short Distances

Hand loops are provided along the sides of the Sked and some extra ones are in the pack.

For Carrying Over Longer Distances

Long poles are easily attached to each side of the Sked similar to the bush stretchet But, unlike the bush stretcher, it is difficult for bearers to operate next to the Sked as it hangs below the poles. Very long poles are required.

For Horizontal Lift or Descent

Pass the two heavy-duty nylon slings through the slots in the body of the Sked and secure with the large steel karabiner supplied.

For Vertical Lift

For hauling the Sked vertically (ie. the casualty is vertical),one length of kernmantle rope is passed through all the grommets around the perimeter of the Shed, with a figure of eight knot forming an eye in the centre of the rope at the head of the Sked. Refer to the instruction sheet in the Sked pack.

For Operating as a Sled

Two lengths of kernmantle rope are supplied. These are passed through several of the grommets around the Sked so that the four ends form a towing line at each comet Note that the rope must pass through several grommets in such a way that towing and belaying forces are well distributed. A single grommet must not be used as a belay or tow point.

Four towing harnesses with plastic buckles are supplied. These are for use on flat snow-covered terrain by skiers or walkers, where there is no risk of the Sked breaking free. The buckles should never be used in steeper terrain, where proper belaying equipment and techniques would be required. The towing belts are long enough to secure with a tape knot, which may provide added security in some circumstances.

When being towed on snow the smooth base of the Sked gives it no directional stability at all and a hauler at each corner is essential. Itis virtually impossible to tow across a slope.

Packing up the Sked

This is just the reverse of the assembly procedure. The Sked needs to be rolled very tightly to fit into the pack. The head or foot end straps are used around the roll to secure it.

Care of the Sked

During and after use check that all the accessories are secured in the Sked pack. A check list is supplied to help this. Please use it. Report any damaged or missing items to the Field Organiser.

Ensure that all equipment is returned to the Field Organiser, who will ensure it is cleaned, dried and returned to its nominated storage.

2003 Edition


Rope Climbers

The rope climber and ski combination can often be used instead of snowshoes, particularly in soft snow conditions. Rope climbers make skis much more versatile and at the same time save carrying the added weight of snowshoes. When heavily timbered areas are encountered or sled hauling is required the rope climbers can be fitted and the skier is as effective as a snowshoet

Rope climbers are best made at home and adapted to properly fit your skis. All that is required is suitable rope.

Construction Details

For each ski use approximately 2.5 m of 0.5 cm hawser laid rope. Polypropylene rope is recommended.

Lay the mid-point of the rope over the front of the binding and spiral both ends down the ski, making crossover points symetrically down the tail section of the ski.

Be sure to keep cleat of the point where the boot touches the ski. For permanent crossovers, untwist a little of one rope at crossover point and raise one strand, making an opening through which the other rope is passed.

Rope climbers

Figure 11.5 Rope climbers

Repeat the procedure with the ropes reversed. When the crossovers are completed, pass the rope around the tail of the ski and fasten on the top side, as indicated in the diagram. This makes diamonds on the ski base -one under the foot, and two between the foot and the ski heel.

Alternatively, full-length rope climbers can be constructed, reaching from tip to tail, with a small loop in the middle of the rope fitting over the ski tip. Allow at least six metres of rope per ski.

The use of knots instead of the “strand-through-strand” technique can cause problems when the knots tighten with use.

2003 Edition



Helicopters are ideal aircraft for use on searches. Their ability to fly slowly or to hover allows them to conduct aerial searches, to carry search coordinators wishing to reconnoitre areas, to ferry searchers and to evacuate casualties.


Never approach a helicopter until the pilot or other crew member is aware of your location and gives you a signal to approach - usually a ‘thumbs up’ signal, or a wave. Your approach should be made from the 9 or 3 o’clock postion, due to the height of the main rotor blades - they can dip significantly towards the nose of the aircraft. Never approach the tail rotor section as some rotors cannot be easily seen when spinning and some have the potential to draw you into them like a jet intake.

Helicopter danger areas side view

Side entry


Helicopter entry on slope

Entering on a slope

Helicopter safety top view

Figure 11.6 Helicopter safety diagrams 

First attract the pilot’s attention and approach when given an appropriate signal, usually a “thumbs up”. If the ground slopes, approach from the lower side within the pilot’s arc of visibility to ensure maximum clearance under the main rotot When blades are rotating slowly they droop downwards the most. High-speed rotors can be very difficult to see.


Remove or secure loose clothing and equipment, because the powerful air blast from the rotors can easily blow items like hats or caps away and they could even be sucked into engine air intakes.

When working on the ground under a low- flying helicopter, bear in the mind the potentially hazardous effects of the downdraft. It can easily blow medium-sized limbs from trees, flatten tents and scatter fires. If the air is cold hypothermia could well be aggravated in a poorly protected casualty.

Even if a helicopter attends, it may not be safe to conduct a rescue, and may be a danger to the helicopter crew or persons on the ground. In all situations the crew of the helicopter will make a decision to conduct the rescue or not, taking all factors into consideration including unnecessarily placing themselves or others in danger

Landing Requirements

The pilot will obviously make the decision on when and where it is safe to land, but search groups can help with information. A level clearing at least 40 metres in diameter will usually be ideal, but it may be possible to make do with less if the air is still. A landing area where the aircraft can descend while flying forwards into the wind is easier than one in which it is necessary to hover and then descend vertically. Temperature, wind direction and speed and whether the wind is gusty are important factors for the pilot and this information should be sent by radio if possible. If radio contact with the pilot is not possible, a searcher should be stationed at the upwind end of the clearing, firmly holding up a brightly- coloured jacket to act as a wind indicator.


When it is not possible to land, the winch can be used to raise or lower a casualty or searchers. A crew member will be sent down first and will instruct groups on what is required. Searchers should be prepared to act quickly, because hovering uses a lot of fuel and requires great concentration from the pilot. The crew member will always accompany a stretcher and will probably be winched with a searcher if only one or two lifts or descents are to be made. It is always preferable to conduct all winching of personnel with a crew membet However, if the situation warrants, it may be that a person is winched alone, in a single strop harness. This is risky in that the person is not secure other than by his or her own body weight. A fireman’s type harness is placed over the person’s head and sits up under the armpits. The arms are then lowered and kept in this position. During lifting it is imperative that the arms remain down or you will simply slide out and fall to the ground. Likewise, when at the helicopter, do not attempt to climb in or assist the operator in any way as your arms may become dislodged.

Using a smoke flare to attract the helicopter on the 2010 Combienbar search


Directing a Helicopter

Situations may arise during the course of a search where you may be required to provide directions to a helicopter over the radio. Where possible, provide an accurate grid reference. If you spot an object in the distance and wish to direct the helicopter towards the object, provide your grid reference, a bearing and estimated distance. If you are directing the helicopter in close proximity then steer the pilot using the time on a clockface relative to the nose of the aircraft - e.g. “We are at your 11 o’clock, 500 metres ahead”.

Helicopter winching

Sometimes helicopters are used to winch searchers


2003 Edition with additional images


Radios form the principal means of electronic communications on a search. The portable radios used on a search are provided by the Police and operate on some of their radio channels. They are usually reliable and very easy to operate.

Communications will be enhanced if the user has some understanding of the equipment and its operation. All members should feel competent to operate a radio and be confident in its use. Search practices are ideal times to learn.

Portable radios and spare batteries are usually issued to search groups on a daily basis and are returned each night to enable the batteries to be recharged or replaced. Before leaving the search base conduct a short test transmission with the base radio to confirm your radio is operating correctly.

Radio Operation

Portable radios are designed to provide search groups with the security of reliable communications and must be treated with great care. Police radios are robust, but they should not be abused. A little jolting or a few drops of rain will not hurt them, but harsh treatment or total immersion may cause them to fail.

The controls are few and usually fairly obvious. If in doubt, ask the person issuing the radio. Some radios come with a remote microphone! speaker. A typical radio is shown below.

The key steps for transmitting a message are:

  1. Prepare in advance what you want to say
  2. Wait until the radio channel is clear of all other traffic
  3. Press the transmit button (push-to-talk)
  4. Speak the message clearly into the microphone
  5. Release the transmit button
  6. Listen for a reply

 Radio schematic

Figure 11.7 Typical radio

Keeping to this order of operation is important. It is surprising how many users begin to speak before pressing the transmit button and lose the start of the message or release the button before finishing and lose the end of the message. The radio will perform best with the microphone about 5cm and slightly off to one side of your mouth.

An even more common fault is starting to transmit before thinking what you will say. You should write down the key points of the message before sending it. In fact, a small pad and pencil are essential equipment for a radio operator. You should keep a simple radio log so that vital information can be referred to later.

Keep messages short, accurate and to the point. This assists the efficiency of the network and greatly extends radio battery life. Transmitting requires many times the power needed for receiving. Note that all transmitters have a timer that switches them off after one minute. Hence, if a long message must be sent, break it into segments with an acknowledgment between each segment. This will also allow time for the recipient to write down the message.

Radio traffic is normally co-ordinated through a nominated base station that can normally hear all radios on the channel. This ensures orderly traffic with only one station transmitting at a time. If you need to speak to another group ask the base operator to pass on the message for you. Sometimes the base operator may give permission to speak directly to another radio or may authorise the two users to change to another channel. In this latter case, be sure to return to the main network channel as soon as the conversation is finished.

Do not attempt to transmit when another group is communicating with the base station unless the call is urgent. The procedure then is to call at the first available break in transmission and say “Urgent Traffic” followed by your call sign.

Do not attempt to call immediately after a message has been tansmitted to another group as you may not be able to hear their reply. Allow sufficient time for the other groups to acknowledge the message.

Code Words

There is little need for technical “radio talk”. Most information can be exchanged in clear and concise English. In marginal conditions there are advantages in using some standard, easily understood words and phrases.

Over My transmission is finished and I am expecling a reply
Affirmafive Yes
Negative No
Received Your message was heard and understood
Say again Please say again your last message.
Standby Please wait and continue listening until I get back to you
Out Finished transmission. No further response expected.


Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet is used when it is necessary to spell a word, or group of letters. Any group of phonetics must be preceded by the code words “I Spell”.

A Alpha J Juliet (JEW lee ETT) S Sierra
B Bravo (BRAHvo) K Kilo (KEEl0) I Tango
C Charlie I Lima (LEEma) U Uniform
D Delta M Mike V Victor
E Echo N N November W Whiskey
F Foxirot 0 Oscar X X-ray
G Golf P Papa (pah PAH) Y Yankee
H Hotel (hoh  TEL) Q Quebec (ke BEK) Z Zulu
I India R Romeo    

As an example if transmission conditions are poor it may be necessary to spell a word for clarification: “We have found a HAT I spell: Hotel Alpha Tango”.

Pronunciation of Numerals

The code word “Figures” is used to prefix the sending of figures.

2 TOO 7 SEV-en
3 THUH-ree 8 AlT
4 FOW-er 9 NIN-er

Remember time is indicated using the 24 hour clock.

Call Signs

The call sign identifies each unit or group on the radio network. The call sign will usually be issued with the radio or at the initial briefing. Simple, easily remembered call signs are best. BSAR are often allocated “BSAR” together with the Group number, for example BSAR 2 for BSAR Group 2.

Typical call signs that may be used on a search include:

  • Base” for the search base
  • VKC” if a large radio van is being used
  • SES 1, SES 2 etc” for SES search groups

When calling another unit or group use their call sign first then the words “this is” followed by your own call sign, for example: “VKC this is BSAR 2”.

Active Listening

Radios play an important part in keeping search groups aware of the progress of a search. The individual in a search group responsible for handling radio communications must maintain an active role in listening to radio traffic.

The radio operator should take note of the progress of surrounding search groups and any reports that relate to the missing party. Relate the passage of nearby groups and significant findings to your location and consider their impact on your group’s task. Keep a notebook and pencil handy to record important details, locations and times.

Radio Systems

A number of different types of radio systems and modes of operation can be used on searches and practices depending on the search location and what systems are available. Each has various strengths and weaknesses.

You are likely to encounter at least one of the following on a search:

  • Simplex Operation is the traditional method of communication. Simplex uses a single frequency channel for both transmission and reception. The signal travels directly from one radio to anothet Sometimes a simplex radio base station set up at the search base is able to provide adequate communications with all search groups.

 Radio simplex operation

Figure 11.8 Simplex operation

  • Remote Base Operation is a simplex base station set up on a hill or other high location that is radio linked on a separate channel back to the search headquarters. Secondary remote bases are sometimes used to increase the range beyond the reach of a single remote base.
  • A Radio Repeater is commonly used during searches. Communication is via a repeater base radio using a channel with different transmit and receive frequencies. The repeater is normally located on a nearby hill or other high point. It receives the transmissions from all radios on one frequency and re-broadcasts them to other radios on another frequency. Use of a repeater increases the effective coverage of all radios so long as they are in range of the repeater.
  • Radio Trunking provides communication with a pool of channels at a series of base sites using a number of separate transmit and receive frequencies. A channel from the pool is allocated by the network system controller for the duration of the conversation and then returned to the pool to be available for other users. In the Victorian State Mobile Radio trunking system a large number of base sites are interconnected to provide coverage across almost the entire state. Trunking provides one-to-one communication that is normally not heard by other users unless the broadcast facility is enabled. Each radio has a unique ID and can be dialled in a manner similar to a mobile phone. Though not typically used on searches, trunked communications may be used where a radio is outside the range of the repeater in use on the search.
  • Victoria Police District Radio Networks are a series of Police district-wide radio channels that are linked using the same infrastructure as the State Mobile Radio trunking system. Each channel is controlled from the District Communication Centre and is used for normal Police activities. Sometimes a search will also be managed sharing one of these channels.

 Radio repeater operation

Figure 11.9 Radio repeater

 Radio trunking operation

Figure 11.10 Radio trunking

Portable and mobile radios can only be configured to operate in one mode at any given time. The mode is set by the operator at the time of issue and remains in place until another mode is selected. You may need to change modes where reception is difficult or when requested by the search base.

Signal Propagation and Radio Relays

The signal propagation of very high frequency (VHF) and ultra high frequency (UHF) channels used by Police radios is virtually line-of-sight as shown on the simplex operation diagram. The signals will penetrate light foliage but will not from one valley to another without the use of a suitably located repeatet Signal strength may be affected by heavy rain, snow or wet foliage. It can be an advantage to face the station you are calling as this avoids the need for the signal to propagate through your head in the desired direction.

If your group is experiencing radio communication problems attempt to gain a line-of-sight path to the base station or repeater by moving up hill or around obstacles. You may sometimes find that moving only a small distance (10- 50 cm) can make a difference. If you are out of base range and using simplex operation you may be able to relay a message via a nearby search group that still has communication with the search base.

Prior to leaving the search base always have an agreed search plan in place in case your communications fail completely.

Using your map, you can anticipate when your radio reception may become poot Report your position and intentions before moving out of range.

 Radio briefing

Radio briefing and distribution 

Radio Safety

Radio frequency energy is radiated at a level equal to or higher than a mobile phone. When transmitting do not hold the radio so that the antenna is very close to or touching exposed parts of your body, especially your eyes. Avoid unnecessary transmissions.

Portable Radio Batteries

Portable radio batteries have a limited life that is dependent on the amount of radio traffic and your transmission time. A battery will normally last most of the day. Carry a spare when available. A warm battery has a greater capacity than a very cold battery so keep them warm.

Sound and Visual Signals

In the field the following signals will be made by any noise -making or visual medium available, eg. gelignite, shotgun, horns, sirens, whistles, torch etc.

  • Distress: Three calls together, regularly spaced.
  • Recall: Four calls close together, liable to be given any time but especially on the hour.

Group Leaders should leave notes in prominent positions, especially camp sites, creek junctions, drop-off points identifying the group and giving the date and time. This is useful when follow-up searchers are in the area.

When search aircraft are about and appear to have any doubt as to your identity, place your hands on your head. Do not wave or otherwise attempt to attract the attention of aircraft without good reason. Do not light smoky fires when aircraft are around.

Sound and Visual Signals

In the field the following signals will be made by any noise -making or visual medium available, eg. gelignite, shotgun, horns, sirens, whistles, torch etc.

  • Distress: Three calls together, regularly spaced.
  • Recall: Four calls close together, liable to be given any time but especially on the hour.

Group Leaders should leave notes in prominent positions, especially camp sites, creek junctions, drop-off points identifying the group and giving the date and time. This is useful when follow-up searchers are in the area.

When search aircraft are about and appear to have any doubt as to your identity, place your hands on your head. Do not wave or otherwise attempt to attract the attention of aircraft without good reason. Do not light smoky fires when aircraft are around.

2003 Edition

Steep snow and ice rescues

Bush Search and Rescue paricipates in alpine rescues on steep snow and ice terrain.  This is a specialist function for members who have mountaineering experience using ice axes, crampons and ropes.   Specific steep snow and ice training events are held each year.  



See also: Steep snow and ice search and rescue information

Updated 24 May 2010

Chapter 12 - Administration

Bush Search and Rescue Committee

Bushwalkers Search and Rescue is administered by a Committee comprising a Convenor endorsed by the Bushwalking Victoria Board, at least ten Field Organisers (FOs), six Police Liaison Officers (PLOs), Club Delegates from clubs which provide searchers and representatives of the Police Search and Rescue Squad.

Other roles on the Committee include Minutes Secretary, Membership Secretary, Equipment Officer, Peer Support Coordinator and Behind the Log Editor.

The Committee meets at least six times annually to:

Members are kept informed of the activities of the Committee through their Club Delegate and via Behind the Log.

Interested persons from any club are welcome to attend meetings as observers, but do not have voting rights.

Details about other roles within Bush Search and Rescue are provided on the following pages.


Updated 23 May 2012


Club Delegates


Experience over many years has shown that those clubs who have made significant contributions to search and rescue are those with an effective Club Delegate. The Club Delegate has a key role to play in ensuring the continued effective operation of the Bush Search and Rescue Committee.

Each member club of Bushwalking Victoria is entitled to appoint one Club Delegate to the BSAR Committee. The Club Delegate should be a person with appropriate experience and interest in search and rescue and the ability to manage the search and rescue contribution of that club.

The Club Delegate’s role is divided into two areas:

  1. The BSAR Committee. Club Delegates from Melbourne-based clubs are expected to attend the bimonthly meetings of the committee. Club Delegates from country clubs are always welcome to attend meetings or need to keep in touch through the Convenor
  2. At the Club level. The Club Delegate is expected to maintain and develop the search and rescue group within their club to:
  • ensure that the members are kept informed of developments and changes in the procedures and practices of BSAR
  • organise the attendance of suitably experienced and interested members at the practice days or weekends
  • encourage suitably experienced club members to apply to join BSAR after approval by their club committee, and completion of the Membership Application Form
  • arrange reliable club members to perform the role of Club Contacts, whose task is to call out members in the event of a search
  • immediately inform the BSAR Membership Secretary of any changes of Club Contact details
  • ensure that those Club Contacts are provided with accurate  and up-to-date listings of the details of members to call out
  • annually provide to the BSAR Membership Secretary accurate and confirmed lists of members for call-outs and Club Contacts
  • designate members with skills in skiing, first aid and snow and ice climbing
  • designate members with appropriate experience and expertise as Group Leaders
  • ensure that members listed for call-out continue to meet the requirements for membership and delete from the lists those who cease to do so
  • discuss each call-out with the Club’s Contacts and searchers to ensure all went well, and identify and resolve any problems
  • highlight the participation of the Club in a search through the Club newsletter and meetings


Updated 16 Feb 2011


Police Liaison Officers


When help from the BSAR is required, the Victoria Police (usually the Search and Rescue Squad) telephone the PLOs in list order until contact is made with a PLO who is available for the search. That individual becomes the PLO and initiates the call-out.

The PLO will arrange an FO and a deputy PLO. A call-out of members is then initiated by the PLO and deputy telephoning the Club Contacts of the BSAR member Clubs. The Club Contacts telephone their individual members. Details of members responding to the call are fed back to the PLO for the information of the FO and the Police.

The PLO also activates Peer Support by obtaining the services of a Peer Support Team Leader and keeping them informed of events.

Throughout the search, the PLO remains the Melbourne contact for the BSAR operation and monitors its progress. The PLO may be required to call up additional searchers in the event of a further request from Police.

The PLO may initiate a call to members’ homes through the Club Contacts if they feel that it is appropriate to pass on a message from the FO concerning the searchers. Perhaps the most common reason for a message would be to pass information about the searchers’ homecoming.

After the search, the PLO prepares a report, with any recommendations, for discussion at the next BSAR Committee meeting.

Qualifications and Appointment

PLOs are appointed and reviewed annually, by the BSAR Committee. People considered for appointment are expected to have:

  1. An extensive background in both Search and Rescue operations and the administration of the BSAR Committee over a period of many years.
  2. Been an FO, or have equivalent experience.
  3. A very thorough knowledge, based on experience, of all bushwalking areas in Victoria.
  4. A good working knowledge of Police search operations.
  5. A good working knowledge of BSAR member Clubs.
  6. A demonstrated capacity to liaise effectively.

Once appointed, PLOs become officers of the BSAR Committee. They are expected to be actively involved in the affairs of the Committee and to maintain up-to-date lists of Club Contacts, FOs and BSARmembers. They will liaise with the other PLOs regarding periods of unavailability.

Further details about the duties of a PLO are documented in "Field Organiser and Police Liaison Officer Notes and Checklist".


Updated 16 Feb 2011

Field Organisers


When called by Police, the PLO telephones the FOs in list order until contact is made with an FO who is available to attend the search. That person becomes the FO for the search and as such is responsible for the management of BSAR’s contribution, under the direction of the Police. The FO directs BSAR searchers throughout the search.

Qualifications and Appointment

FOs are appointed and reviewed annually by the BSAR Committee. People considered for appointment are expected to:

  1. Continue to satisfy the Entry Standard Guide-lines for Membership.
  2. Have about ten years experience in BSAR, including several as an active Group Leadet
  3. Have been a Club Delegate to the BSAR Committee or have attended six committee meetings as an observer, acquiring a detailed understanding of the operation of the organisation including participation in debriefings after searches and practices.
  4. Have acted as FO or Assistant FO on a search practice.
  5. Have shown a high level of leadership, initiative and organisational and management skills.
  6. Have shown ability to interact well with other groups involved with search operations.
  7. Once appointed, FOs become officers of the BSAR Committee. They are expected to be actively involved in the affairs of that Committee, including the organisation and conduct of search practices.

Further details about the duties of an FO are documented in "Field Organiser and Police liaison Officer Notes and Checklist".

Updated 16 Feb 2011

Club Contacts

Each club involved in Bush Search and Rescue is required to maintain three telephone contact people known as Club Contacts. They are the link between BSAR PLOs and their club BSAR members during the call-out stage of a search.

Club Contacts are listed in order of call priority. During a call-out a PLO will call a club’s number 1 Contact first. If no answer, the PLO will call the number 2 Club Contact, and so on. If no Club Contacts answer that club's members may miss the opportunity to participate in the search.

Once a search is in progress Club Contacts may be asked to call for more volunteers from within their club BSAR group, or they may be asked to relay information back to the families of members who are in the field regarding search progress and return times.

People selected for this role should:

  1. Not be searchers. If Club Contacts go into the field during a search then their club cannot be contacted again for additional searchers or to relay messages. (Club Contacts are often former BSAR members or spouses of current members.)
  2. Have good telephone access and skills.
  3. Be familiar with the operation of BSAR.

Once selected Club Contacts should:

  1. Maintain regular liaison with the club’s designated BSAR Club Delegate.
  2. Have a copy of the BSAR manual and be familiar with its contents.
  3. Keep a current list of the club’s BSAR members by the phone at home and at work together with a pen and paper


When called by a PLO, the Club Contact should note the following:

  1. Name and telephone number of PLO.
  2. If any specialists are required (ie XC Skiers).
  3. General search area (if known).
  4. Any details ofmissing person(s) (usually very sketchy at this stage).
  5. Departure points and times for searchers.
  6. When to call the PLO to inform names of searchers obtained, and their departure points. Club Contacts should not ask searchers to contact the PLO directly to indicate availability.

A standard form is available from your Club Delegate to assist in making this task easier.

After noting the above information, the Club Contact should then quickly and efficiently:

  1. Call all the club’s listed BSAR members, except where specialists are required. Member lists are provided to Club Contacts by the club’s BSAR Club Delegate, and must be kept up to date at all times. The distance from the pick up point a member lives may influence call sequence to give members maximum time to prepare and reach the pick up point.
  2. Give the member a summary of the situation, and determine their availability. Note that participation in a search is totally voluntary, and a member is free to decline a call-out for any reason.
  3. Remind the member that the commitment is for a two-day period, and that they are required to report with adequate food and equipment for three days searching if required in an emergency. Refer to Chapter 7.
  4. Continue to make repeated attempts to contact every listed member up until the time nominated by the PLO.

If a member is available ensure they clearly understand the departure point and time.

Once all eligible members have been contacted (noting that in the short time available it is likely that some members may be unable to be reached), the Club Contact then calls the PLO at the pre-arranged time and informs the PLO of names obtained and their departure points.

Some members may not be available immediately, but may be available for a second call-out (usually once a search has been in progress for at least one day). This information should be noted, as it can speed up a second call-out.

The Police provide transport to search areas. For metropolitan members, the BSAR Committee and the Police do not allow members to use private transport to reach search HQ. The location of search HQ can change during the transit period, and BSAR organisation tasks occur on the bus.

For Melbourne metropolitan members, the departure points are as follows:

  1. Green Street Northcote. Off-street car parking is available.
  2. A nominated 24-hour manned Police station en-route to the search area. Arranged by the PLO, this may not occur depending upon the locale of the search. Usually applies when the bus can pass through the eastern suburbs on its way to the search (ie Mt. Buller, Baw Baws, etc.).
  3. Country members may make arrangements to meet the bus on its journey at a pre-arranged point (ie. Violet Town, Myrtleford etc). This information will need to be passed back to the PLO immediately via the Club Contact.

Once a search is in progress, the Club Contact should:

  1. Inform the other Club Contacts about who has gone on the search, and who is available for a second call-out.
  2. If the Club Contact will be out of touch for a significant time, inform the PLO which other Club Contact to call if more searchers are required or if information regarding the search has to be passed back to relatives or employers.
  3. Enquiries about the search from searcher’s family members should be directed to the PLO via the Club Contact.

At the end of a search it can often take up to a day for search groups to return to search HQ, and then be transported back to Melbourne. This needs to be kept in mind when hearing media reports about the end of a search. Where possible, the PLO will keep Club Contacts informed, but communications between search HQ and PLO’s can be limited, so Club Contacts need to be patient.

After all searchers have returned, Club Contacts should discuss with their club’s BSAR Club Delegate any problems they may have had, such as incorrect telephone numbers, etc.


Updated 16 Feb 2011



Club Committees

Club committees play an important role in encouraging and supporting their club members’ involvement in Bush Search and Rescue. They confirm that applicants meet the entry requirements described in Chapter 4 and approve applications. The Club Committee is required to appoint a Club Delegate to manage the Club’s BSAR members and Club Contacts and give the club a voice in the running of BSAR.


Updated 16 Feb 2011


Peer Support Coordination

Details of the Peer Support program are outlined in Chapter 8. A formal structure is in place to ensure that a number of Peer Support personnel are available to contact members after a search.

Peer Supporters are in contact with the nominated Peer Support Team Leader for a search who in turn liaise with a Peer Support Coordinator. This provides a mechanism for general issues to be brought to the BSAR Committee through the Peer Support Coordinator.

2003 Edition


Bush Search and Rescue receives funding from various sources, including government grants and private donations, which are used to cover its administration, training, equipment and operational expenses. As members provide their own bushwalking equipment, equipment purchases are mainly for specialist items, such as stretchers, highly visible pack covers, “Bushwhacker” skis and, most recently, GPS units.

The majority of funds come from the Victorian Government department, Sport and Recreation Victoria (SRV), in the form of an annual grant to Bushwalking Victoria. Special purpose grants are also received from SRV from time to time for items, such as the publication of BSAR manuals. In 2001, a grant from the Federal Government to acknowledge the role of volunteers enabled the purchase of 12 GPS units.

The families, friends and colleagues of missing persons for whom we have helped search, have from time to time made very generous and unsolicited donations. Corporate donations have also been received. These donations have been used for the purchase of specialist equipment, such as pack covers and Skeds.

BSAR is grateful to the individuals and organisations that have made donations.


Bushwhacker skis and Skeds were purchased through a generous donation from BP Australia

Bushwhacker skis and Skeds were purchased through a generous donation from BP Australia


Updated 16 Feb 2011

Information for Employers


Bush Search and Rescue Victoria provides a pool of experienced bushwalkers and cross-country skiers for use in searches for lost people in the bush areas and snow-fields of Victoria.  Our objective is to make available to the Victoria Police searchers who have the experience, fitness and personal equipment to safely participate in prolonged searching in adverse conditions and in the more remote parts of the state.
Bush Search and Rescue (BSAR) is a part of Bushwalking Victoria, the peak body for bushwalkers and bushwalking clubs in Victoria.
BSAR members are called out to a search only in response to an official request for assistance from the Victoria Police, as a part of DISPLAN (the State Disaster Plan). Our members work under Police direction at all times, and are registered as emergency workers as required by the Emergency Management Act 1986.  References: Emergency Management Manual Victoria: Part 7, page 7-100, and Part 8, Appendix 7, pages 8-26, 27.   (www.emv.vic.gov.au/policies/emmv)
Members responding to a search call-out are understood to be committed for two days. Return transport to Melbourne in less than two days is not assured unless the search concludes or is called off.
A member can decline any particular search call-out for any reason.
Employers are encouraged to give a Bush Search and Rescue member special paid leave (e.g. community service leave) to cover their attendance on a search. Bush Search and Rescue has been in operation since 1949 and such leave has routinely been provided by many government and private employers during that time.
Of course any employer can ask a member to decline search call-outs if absences are excessive or when work requirements make it undesirable. It should be noted that most call-outs occur in the evening or early hours of the morning and it is rarely practical for a member to contact their employer when a call-out is received.
Victorian Public Service regulations specifically allow for attendance by employees at emergencies when they can be spared by their manager and Commonwealth Public Service employees have been granted paid leave for many years.
A Victoria Police Certificate of Attendance is issued to members attending a search confirming the dates and nature of the emergency.
Updated 23 November 2016