Jointly published by IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the three-volume IAMSAR Manual provides guidelines for a common aviation and maritime approach to organizing and providing search and rescue (SAR) services. Each volume can be used as a standalone document or, in conjunction with the other two volumes, as a means to attain a full view of the SAR system.

The IAMSAR manual is divided into three volumes:

  • Volume I, Organization and Management, discusses the global SAR system concept, establishment and improvement of national and regional SAR systems and co-operation with neighbouring States to provide effective and economical SAR services. 
  • Volume II, Mission Coordination, assists personnel who plan and co- ordinate SAR operations and exercises. 
  • Volume III, Mobile Facilities, is intended to be carried aboard rescue units, aircraft and vessels to help with performance of a search, rescue or on-scene co-ordinator function, and with aspects of SAR that pertain to their own emergencies. 

Amendments to the IAMSAR Manual are prepared by the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group on Harmonization of Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue and being endorsed by the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), and finally adopted at three-year intervals, in principle, by the Maritime Safety Committee, along with the adoption process in place at the ICAO.


The IAMSAR Manual, adopted in November 1999, revised and replaced the IMO Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual (MERSAR), first published in 1971, and the IMO Search and Rescue Manual (IMOSAR), first published in 1978.

The MERSAR Manual was the first step towards developing the 1979 SAR Convention and it provided guidance for those who, during emergencies at sea, may require assistance from others or who may be able to provide assistance themselves. In particular, it was designed to aid the master of any vessel who might be called upon to conduct SAR operations at sea for persons in distress. The manual was updated several times with the latest amendments being adopted in 1992 - they entered into force in 1993.

The second manual, the IMOSAR Manual, was adopted in l978. It was designed to help Governments to implement the SAR Convention and provided guidelines rather than requirements for a common maritime search and rescue policy, encouraging all coastal States to develop their organizations on similar lines and enabling adjacent States to co-operate and provide mutual assistance. It was also updated in 1992, with the amendments entering into force in 1993.

This manual was aligned as closely as possible with ICAO Search and Rescue Manual to ensure a common policy and to facilitate consultation of the two manuals for administrative or operational reasons. MERSAR was also aligned, where appropriate, with IMOSAR.