Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) is a non-profit, non-government voluntary organisation dedicated to “Saving Lives at Sea”. It is the officially recognized search and rescue service in the British Virgin Islands, where it provides 24-hour cover every day of the year in close co-operation with the Royal British Virgin Islands police, fire and ambulance services. VISAR also has a close working relationship with the United States Coastguard and is internationally recognized by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) as a full member.
When it was founded in 1988, VISAR was modelled on the famous Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in the UK, the world’s oldest lifeboat service. Like the RNLI, and many other lifeboat services in Europe, it is an independent, volunteer-based organisation funded almost entirely by charitable donations.
Since its formation VISAR has carried out well over 1,600 search and rescue missions. Since 2014 we launched our rescue vessels 305 times and spent 494 hours responding to marine emergencies. Our fully trained volunteer crew, trainees and coordinators gave 18,285 hours of their personal time to train, attend meetings and dedicate themselves to VISAR’s mission of “Saving Lives at Sea.” With the significant growth in charter yachting and boating in the BVI, the demand for VISAR’s service is growing annually and the organisation is responding by working to upgrade its boats and equipment as well as raising levels of crew training.
VISAR’s volunteers come from all walks of life. They undergo rigorous training in seamanship and small boat-handling skills as well search and rescue techniques, Emergency First Responder training including CPR and AED, with some crew certified as Advanced Medics. They give up their own time to train and answer distress calls with nothing in return except the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing a vital job.
Saving lives costs money – over $230,000 per annum to maintain and operate VISAR’s two rescue boats. Every visitor to the BVI for a charter holiday afloat is asked to help through a dollar per person programme run by VISAR in partnership with charter operators.