28AHelicopter Evacuations Procedures by Canadian Forces Search and Rescue Helicopters

Helicopter medical evacuations are a serious matter. Since they can be hazardous to both the patient and the helicopter crew, they should be used only as a last resort to prevent death or permanent injury. If you are out on a fishing boat, for example, and one of the crew members suffers a slight injury, you should NOT request a helicopter medical evacuation so that you might continue fishing.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre/Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre (JRCC/MRSC), if it is to intelligently evaluate the need for evacuation, must be presented with a clear picture of the situation. You can speed the process by having the following information ready:

(a)Name of vessel, call sign, position, course and speed.

(b)Patient's name, age and sex.

(c)State of consciousness.

(d)Respiration rate and difficulty or pain associated with breathing.

(e)Pulse rate, strength and regularity; temperature of patient.

(f)Nature and specific location of pain. Is pain dull, sharp, continuous, intermittent, confined to a small area or widespread?

(g)When injury occurred and cause - blow, burn, fall - nature of wound, cuts or bruises. State if patient has been moved.

(h)Determine amount of bleeding.

(i)Describe any deformity or abnormal functioning on the part of the patient.

(j)What treatment has been given and how patient has responded.

(k)ETA destination/intentions.

(l)Agent's or owner's name, address.

(m)Frequency vessel standing by on and other back-up frequencies available.

(n)If helo is to be involved: position on the ship best suited for helo hoist - clear of obstructions - and frequency for helo to contact vessel on.

NOTE 1:The details on the patient's conditions are necessary because, based on this information, the Regional Surgeon will or will not approve the use of a helo.

NOTE 2:You should advise the Coast Guard immediately if any of this information changes.

NOTE 3:The Coast Guard should be advised immediately if the evacuation by helicopter is no longer required due to alternate arrangements or if the patient expires.

In addition to regular communication methods, Masters of ships may obtain medical advice by addressing a radio-telegram to "Radiomedical" and routing it via the nearest Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre which will refer to the appropriate regional medical authority and transmit the reply to the ship.


Most rescue helicopters can proceed less than 150 miles offshore, and then only if weather conditions permit. If an evacuation is necessary, you must be prepared to proceed within range of a helicopter. If you are beyond helicopter range, you must advise the Coast Guard of your intentions so that a rendez-vous point can be selected.

Once the decision has been made to evacuate your patient, you should make the following preparations:

1Provide continuous radio guard on 156.8 MHz (Channel 16 VHF-FM), 2182 kHz, Channel 70 VHF DSC or  other specified voice frequency.

2Select and clear the most suitable hoist area, preferably aft on the vessel, with a maximum radius of clear deck. (Ideally 16 metres or 50 feet radius). Secure loose gear, the headgear worn by the crew at the hoist area, awnings and antenna wires and trice up running rigging and booms. If hoist is aft, lower the flag staff. The foredeck should be prepared only when the stern and amidships area cannot possibly be used. Be sure to advise the helicopter before it arrives, so that the pilot can make his approach to aft, amidships, or

forward, as required. If the bow area is used for the hoist, then the speed should be brought close to 5 knots and alter the course to place the wind 015°-030° off the starboard quarter, (i.e., wind from North, the vessel heading would be between 195° to 210°). If the stern area is used for the hoist, then the speed should be 5-10 knots and alter the course to place the wind + 015° to 030° on port bow, (i.e., wind from North, the vessel heading would be 015°-030°)."

3Point search lights vertically to aid the helicopter crew in locating the ship. Turn them off when the helicopter is on scene.

4If the hoist is to take place at night, light the pickup area as well as possible. Be sure that you do not shine any lights on the helicopter because they will blind the pilot. Put lights on any obstructions in the vicinity, so the pilot will be aware of the position. A fixed wing aircraft may also illuminate the area with parachute flares during the hoisting operation.

5Remember that there will be a high noise level under the helicopter and that voice communications on deck will be virtually impossible. Arrange a set of hand signals to be used among the crew members who will assist.

6Leave the patient in a warm dry area. A SAR Tech that will be lowered to the vessel will evaluate the patient's condition and organize the hoisting of the patient to the helicopter.

7Make sure the patient's documentation is available - passport, visa, hospital insurance card, etc. as well as his medical record - should be in an envelope or package, ready for transfer with him.

8Have a life jacket available for the patient but do not put the life jacket on the patient until the SAR Tech has examined him.

Hoist operations

1Change course to permit the ship to ride as easily as possible, with the wind preferably as referred in paragraph 2 of Preparations. Try to choose a course to keep the stack gases clear of the hoist area.

2Reduce speed to ease ship's motion but maintain steerage-way.

3When you are ready for the hoist, signal the helicopter. If you do not have radio contact, signal "come on" with your hand or, at night, use flashlight signals.

4Allow the SAR Tech to touch the deck before assisting him, to avoid static electrical shock. DO NOT CONNECT ANY LINE LOWERED FROM THE HELICOPTER TO YOUR VESSEL; merely tend it by keeping a moderate tension on it by hand.

5The SAR Tech will coordinate all subsequent actions with the helicopter. The helicopter will provide all necessary equipment.

6Once the SAR Tech is on board, the helicopter will retract the hoist hook clear. When the litter and patient have been returned to the hoist area, the hoist hook will be lowered for attachment by the SAR Tech.


By following these procedures you can help ensure that a helicopter evacuation, if one is necessary, will be performed safely and as quickly as possible.

Ship to air distress signal

Paint must be fluorescent otherwise reflective properties seriously reduced.

Authority: Canadian Coast Guard (Search and Rescue)

Report a problem on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, please contact us.

Date modified: