UK Search and Rescue

Imagery courtesy of HM Coastguard

Bristow Search and Rescue: UK Operations

At Bristow Search and Rescue, we take immense pride in our ongoing role providing the 999 helicopter SAR service to HM Coastguard, part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of HM Government in the United Kingdom.

In summer 2013, Bristow Helicopters began delivery of the UK Gap SAR contract for Northern Scotland on behalf of HM Coastguard, flying Sikorsky S-92 aircraft from bases at Sumburgh, in Shetland, and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. 

The Department for Transport awarded us the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s helicopter search and rescue contract, on behalf of HM Coastguard, which began in April 2015.

Today, we operate 10 strategically located helicopter bases around the UK, responding to incidents overland, around the coast and at sea. 

We operate a dual fleet of search and rescue-configured Sikorsky S-92A and Leonardo AW189 aircraft, specifically designed for maximum capability in the face of the operational challenges of the seas, dynamic coastline and mountains of the UK.

Throughout the delivery of this vital, life-saving service, Bristow’s pilots, winch paramedics, winch operators, engineers and support staff have devoted themselves to building upon our reputation as the international leader in rotary aviation.

Our Success is Measured Through Our Achievements


The UKSAR helicopter service has, since it commenced in 2015, exceeded the Department for Transport requirements for response and availability in all respects. 

Each of our 10 bases located around the UK is home to active duty and back-up aircraft, ensuring the resilience of the service in times of national crisis.

Onsite facilities in all base locations ensure the welfare of our teams, with modern living accommodation developed to give our responders a safe, comfortable space to standby, and recover in, while they are on duty.


Since commencing operational duty, each HM Coastguard SAR base has undertaken more than 1,000 rescue missions.

Our ability to consistently launch our aircraft well within 15 minutes of receiving an alert takes teamwork and professionalism, and enables the national SAR resource to arrive on scene quickly – in all weathers. Our crews respond to all forms of emergency – working closely with our SAR partners: HM Coastguard Rescue Teams, Police, RNLI, mountain rescue teams and other first responders.

Missions undertaken range from locating fishermen reported overboard at sea or injured while at work, to mountaineers who have sustained injuries around the UK’s highest peaks, and supporting those in remote locations in need of urgent medical care only available in locations which can only be reached by air.

The combination of our state-of-the-art aircraft and our highly trained professional crews allows the full exploitation of SAR capability to support those in distress during their time of need.


Continually developing the capability of SAR aircraft is vital to increasing the chances of survival for those in distress on land or at sea.

As the first SAR operator globally to introduce dual-hoist winching systems to reduce the potential for failure during lifesaving missions, we are committed to accelerating the delivery of new technology to enhance our capability in the delivery of helicopter search and rescue. 

All UKSAR aircraft carry paramedic-qualified crewmembers. We are at the forefront of emergency trauma medicine and have a highly developed Clinical Governance model which supports the continuous improvement in this field. 

As we work to develop new concepts and technologies for the next decade, we are leading the introduction of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to assist in the search, locate and identify phases of SAR missions, to augment the capabilities of our existing SAR helicopter fleet.

Search and Rescue Heritage

HM Coastguard

Search and Rescue Heritage

Our founder, Alan Bristow, pioneered the deployment of aircraft from the private sector to save lives half a century ago.

Awarded the United Kingdom’s first civilian search and rescue contract in 1971, Bristow provided HM Coastguard’s service for three years, before it returned to the public sector through the Royal Air Force.

As the North Sea oil and gas industry grew exponentially, Bristow was contracted from 1974 to 1989, to provide search and rescue support to Shell and BP’s operations in the basin, offering reassurance to workers in one of the world’s harshest industrial environments.

In 1983, Bristow established the UK’s first civilian SAR bases at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Sumburgh in Shetland, and at Lee-on-Solent and Portland on the south coast of England, again on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. This contract operated until 2007.