Matthew Schanck

Matthew Schanck

Matthew is a qualified and experienced Captain in the field of maritime search and rescue (SAR), having served in the sector for over 14 years and as Commander and instructor on search and rescue hovercrafts, inshore and offshore SAR vessels in the UK and across Europe in a variety of maritime SAR contexts. He has spent the last 6 years working as a maritime search and rescue consultant, working with government and non-government organisations around the world to drive forward and advance maritime search and rescue capabilities in areas such as crew and commander competence, search and rescue governance, SAR operation scoping and implementation, risk and legal compliance. He is an internationally recognised maritime search and rescue subject matter expert having been summoned to provide expert evidence and analysis at a number of high-profile international maritime search and rescue legal cases involving large loss of life, mass casualty rescue, implementation of maritime search and rescue operations at the operational, tactical and strategic level, interoperability in maritime SAR and interpretation of maritime search and rescue law and  regulation. He regularly appears on international media providing expert commentary and analysis on notable maritime SAR events, including the European migrant crisis and the loss of the Titan submersible in the North Atlantic. He is a recipient of Fellowships to both the Institute of Search and Technical Rescue and the Maritime Search and Rescue Council for his maritime SAR work, and is currently serving as Chairman of the Maritime Search and Rescue Council providing strategic direction and management of a number of maritime SAR projects across the globe. He is the co-founder of the Maritime Emergency and Coastguard Policy Institute, where he leads on providing evidenced based research and policy recommendations to governments and international bodies around the world on maritime emergency response and maritime search and rescue. More information on his background and work can be found at

Date unspecified
Location unspecified

This lecture will delve into the nuanced and often contentious issue of whether volunteer or government Search and Rescue (SAR) organisations should engage in operations focused on saving property, such as towing empty or broken-down vessels. We will critically examine whether international or national legislation imposes a duty on SAR organisations to conduct such interventions, or if these actions are driven by other motivations.

We will begin by exploring the core principles and obligations of maritime SAR operations, traditionally centred on saving lives. The lecture will question the appropriateness of extending these operations to include the salvage of property, evaluating both legal and ethical considerations. We will analyse relevant international conventions, such as the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention), and national regulations to understand if there is an explicit requirement or merely an implicit expectation for SAR organisations to save property.

The lecture will then draw comparisons with other emergency services, such as fire and rescue or police forces, to see if similar expectations exist in different contexts. Through this comparison, we will assess whether there is a place or need for property-focused interventions in maritime SAR and how these actions align with or diverge from the primary mission of saving lives.

Further, we will discuss the policies that SAR organisations would need to implement to carry out property-focused operations safely. This includes the necessity of dynamic risk assessments, which are crucial for understanding the risks versus benefits of these operations. Case studies where SAR operations aimed at salvaging property have gone wrong will be analysed to highlight the potential dangers and the lessons learned from these incidents.

Another critical aspect of the lecture will be the exploration of the conflict of interest between maritime SAR and salvage operations. We will investigate how the lines between these two can become blurred when SAR organisations are involved in saving maritime property and how this impacts their primary obligation to save lives. This part of the lecture will provide insights into the ethical dilemmas and operational challenges that arise from this conflict.

To enrich the discussion, the lecture will suggest examining several other areas, such as the economic implications of property-focused SAR operations, the potential for liability issues, and the perspectives of various stakeholders, including SAR personnel, maritime insurers, and vessel owners. We will also consider the training and resources required for SAR organisations to effectively and safely conduct these operations.

By the end of this lecture, participants will have a comprehensive understanding of the complexities involved in extending SAR operations to include the salvage of property. They will be equipped with the knowledge to critically assess the appropriateness and feasibility of such interventions within their own SAR organisations, balancing the duty to save lives with the desire (or potential obligation) to save property.