Annex 12 – Search and Rescue


Developed by ICAO, the International Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) contained in the nineteen Technical Annexes to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (also called Chicago Convention) are applied universally and produce a high degree of technical uniformity which has enabled international civil aviation to develop in a safe, orderly and efficient manner.


Annex 12 sets forth the provisions applicable to the establishment, maintenance and operation of search and rescue services by Contracting States in their territories and over the high seas.


When PICAO came into existence in 1945, Technical Divisions composed of specialists from Members States and of observers from organizations interested in international civil aviation, assisted by the Organization’s Secretariat, were directed and coordinated by the two committees of the PICAO Council, i.e. the Air Navigation Committee and the Air Transport Committee. The Search and Rescue Division (SAR) and the Accident Investigation Division (AIG) were responsible for the preparation of texts designed to replace the original Annex L to the Chicago Convention named: Search and rescue, and investigation of accidents.


The SAR Division held its first Session (8 meetings) from 19 to 23 November 1945. At the second Session of the SAR held from 26 November to 9 December 1946, the Recommendations and Practices for Search and Rescue prepared during the first Session and the procedures resulting from the Regional Meetings were reviewed; procedures of world-wide applicability were incorporated in the revised Recommendations for Standards, Practices and Procedures for Search and Rescue.


Annex 12 - Front Page

Resolution A1-28 of the First Session of the Assembly (held in May 1947) directed the work of the Secretariat towards helping the Contracting States to implement the existing SAR Recommendations and assist in securing the training of the personnel involved. The Search and Rescue Standards and Recommended Practices were rewritten in accordance with the Air Navigation Committee directive and Annex 12 Search and Rescue was first adopted by the ICAO Council on 25 May 1950. This Annex was based upon a draft prepared by the Secretariat, because the proposals made at the Second Session of the Division had been found generally unacceptable since they called for a search and rescue structure based on the wartime type of organization which was quite beyond the capacity of most countries in peacetime.


The  Third  Session  of  the  Search  and  Rescue  (SAR)  Division  was  convened from 4 to 24 September 1951. One of its principal tasks was the review of the Standards and Recommended Practices for Search and Rescue. It was interesting to note that the amendments proposed by the Third Session were relatively few and, being directed mainly towards simplification and economy in implementation, constituted a practical endorsement of the drastic scaling-down in the Annex of the system originally recommended. As a result, the second edition of Annex 12 was adopted by the ICAO Council on 31 March 1952.


An important meeting of the Rules of the Air, Air Traffic Services and Search and Rescue (RAC/SAR) Division was held in Montréal from 21 October to 14 November 1958. Its recommendations involved fairly extensive amendments to several Annexes, including Annex 12 which required the  addition of provisions designed to facilitate the passage of search and rescue units across national boundaries, the modification of the Recommended Practice on the delineation of the boundaries of Search and Rescue Areas to give efficiency priority over observance of the principle that the boundaries of these areas should coincide with the boundaries of Flight Information Regions, the revision of the procedures for initiating search and rescue action for an aircraft whose position is unknown, and the improvement of the procedures to be followed by Rescue Coordination Centers in terminating search and rescue operations. The 4th edition of Annex 12 was adopted by the Council on 8 December 1959.


On 25 November 1974, the Council adopted the 6th edition of Annex 12, in the form of a completely revised Annex by the Air Navigation Commission aimed at improving the presentation and updating the provisions. In addition to a comprehensive reorganization of the Annex, the following amendments were introduced: introduction of a new signal to surface craft and relocation of the search and rescue signals in a new Appendix to the Annex; introduction of requirements concerning provision of search and rescue service on a 24-hour basis, dissemination of information on position of merchant ships, and submission of appraisals of search and rescue operations; introduction of provisions aimed at improvement of co-operation in search and rescue between neighboring States; and introduction of provisions concerning equipment of rescue units, availability of information on air traffic services, location of droppable survival equipment, methods for assisting aircraft in distress and being compelled to ditch to rendezvous with surface craft, and methods for assisting SAR or other aircraft to rendezvous with aircraft in distress.


Ground-air visual signal code for use by survivors, as per Appendix to Annex 12.

Later, amendments were brought to Annex 12 on the basis of recommendations made by the Air Navigation Commission.


Annex 12 is complemented by guidance provided in the three-volume International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual (IAMSAR Manual; Vol.1: Organization and Management, Vol.2: Mission Co-Ordination, Vol.3: Mobile Facilities). The primary purpose of the IAMSAR Manual is to assist States in meeting their own search and rescue (SAR) needs, and the obligations they accepted under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). This Manual is published jointly by ICAO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


ICAO continuously worked with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on a wide variety of subjects of mutual concern. An ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group (JWG) on the Harmonization of Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue was established in 1993, with the objective of assisting ICAO and IMO with the task of harmonizing aeronautical and maritime search and rescue procedures. The JWG held its first meeting in London (at IMO’s Headquarters) from 11 to 15 October 1993.


Air-sea rescue (ASR) refers to the combined use of aircraft (such as flying boats, floatplanes, amphibious helicopters and non-amphibious helicopters equipped with hoists) and surface vessels to search for and recover survivors of aircraft downed at sea as well as sailors and passengers of sea vessels in distress. Helicopters were first introduced to the role of air-sea rescue in the 1940s. Helicopters became frequently used, due to a number of advantages; they could fly in rougher weather than fixed-wing aircraft and could deliver injured passengers directly to hospitals or other emergency facilities. Helicopters can hover above the scene of an accident while fixed-wing aircraft must circle, or for seaplanes, land and taxi toward the accident.


Italy - Agusta Bell AB 204-B of the Air Search and Rescue (SAR) with pilots.

Built under license by Agusta in more than 250 specimens, AB 204 is directly derived from the American Bell UH-1. In 1962, this helicopter started service with the Italian Air Force and was used for the air rescue, transport and connections.


Indonesia - 28 February 1982 - 10th Anniversary of the National Search & Rescue (SAR) Agency.

Sud Aviation SE 3160 Alouette III helicopter.



Hong Kong, China – 1 November 2004 – Together we Fly series.

Search, Rescue and Aviation Support Services.

The above first day cover, with the related illustrative page, is extracted from the 38-page commemorative album: Together We Fly, issued by the Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong on the occasion of the 41st Conference of the Directors General of Civil Aviation, Asia and Pacific Regions, held in Hong Kong, China, from 1 to 5 November 2004.