Your Call – Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) is a voluntary organization dedicated to saving lives at sea. It is the officially recognized Search and Rescue (SAR) 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. The local volunteers who serve in VISAR come from all walks of life and undergo rigorous training in seamanship and small boat-handling skills, search and rescue techniques and first aid.  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.

It’s a service the maritime community in the British Virgin Islands relies on heavily.  The volunteers, currently 35 active in Tortola and 20 in Virgin Gorda, in addition to the local services, train regularly with the international community including the US Coastguard and British Royal Navy, conducting sessions with their helicopter SAR units.

The BVIYG asked VISAR when they should be called, and what would happen on receipt of that call.  Helmsman Andrew Waters, VISAR’s current Vice President, remarked that over the years there have been some unusual calls.  “I remember a call from some charter guests that wanted us to deliver ice to their boat moored at Cooper Island in the middle of the night.  They thought it was an emergency!”  Albeit remembered as humorous, a coordinator was awoken in the middle of the night ready for an emergency call.  

Waters stressed the importance of using VISAR’s service only when it is really needed.  “We will always respond to the needs of the maritime community, whether it is for a medical emergency or a boating incident.  Past incidences have included a variety of situations, including bone fractures, respiratory complications and injuries sustained by a fall both on land and on board on the medical side; and groundings, overdue yachts, man overboard, water ingress and recently a dismasting on the boating front.”  These incidences clearly demonstrate the wide variety of situations the VISAR responders need to deal with, all whilst maintaining a normal working lifestyle.

By dialing 767 (which represents SOS) on a telephone key pad you will connect to one of VISAR’s on-duty co-coordinators.  The phones are manned 24/7, 365 days a year, by experienced coordinators who, should the call require VISAR’s assistance to any maritime danger whereby a soul is at risk, will order the launch of one or both of the dedicated rescue boats, day or night.

The responder crews are often first on scene and consist of a helm, navigator, crew and a medic if the emergency requires. Following the assessment of the scene and helping wherever they can, other services are linked in to provide the necessary assistance via the coordinators.

When asked about the limitations of VISAR and risk assessment, Waters commented, “We don’t go out in any named storm, but in that instance we would be monitoring a hurricane net via VHF radio talking to whoever needs us to help them through.”  He continued, “We are equipped to take care of almost all eventualities and we recently acquired a new 30ft SAR rigid inflatable boat (RIB) which will allow us to decrease our response time and increase our response range, too.”

If you spot the orange boat out in Francis Drake Channel, VISAR is either on a shout, training new volunteers, or on exercise. Regular training and exercise are absolutely essential if VISAR is to take that call and deal with medical emergencies, boats in danger or backup other local services with the speed, professionalism and efficiency for which it is renowned.

VISAR has established a dollar per person programme to encourage every charter guest in the BVI to contribute towards their efforts which, along with its own local fundraising ventures and welcome contributions, provide the back bone of its operating expenses.  To find out more about the men and women who so diligently assist both the local and visiting maritime community, visit for further details and ways to support this very important voluntary organisation.