In 2006, the government of the time announced controversial plans to effectively privatise provision of search and rescue helicopters in order to replace the aging Sea Kings currently in use, although they have suggested that crews may, at least partially, still be made up of military personnel.

In 2013 the Department for Transport announced that it had a signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services in the UK with operations will commencing progressively from 2015. The new service is expected to be fully operational across the United Kingdom by summer 2017 and will utilise AgustaWestland AW189 and Sikorsky S-92 based at ten locations around the UK.

In the early 1950s, helicopters began to replace fixed wing aircraft in the search and rescue role with their ability to hover giving them an ability to recover survivors that fixed wing aircraft did not have.

The three squadrons that perform the valiant role are 22, 202 and 203.

No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Sea King HAR.3 and HAR.3A at three stations in the southern United Kingdom. The squadron was originally formed in 1915 as an aerial reconnaissance unit of the Royal Flying Corps serving on the Western Front during First World War.

No. 202 Squadron was formed on 1 April 1918 by renumbering No. 2 Squadron RNAS. It was originally formed as one of the first aeroplane squadrons of the RNAS on 17 October 1914. It served on the Western Front during the First World War, carrying out reconnaissance and bombing missions from bases in Belgium and France.

No 203 Squadron was formed as No. 3 Squadron RNAS on 1 September 1914 at Saint-Pol-sur-Mer. In March 1915, the squadron, under the command of Commander Charles Samson, moved to the island of Tenedos, and began operating 18 aircraft in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. In the first weeks of the campaign they took over 700 photographs of the peninsula, and conducted other ground support tasks including spotting for naval gunfire, and reporting the movements of Ottoman troops.

Squadron leader 202 Squadron Iain Macfarlane said:

“Obviously it is tinged with sadness because we have come to the end of a very long career of looking after the people of the North East.

But also there is also an element of pride in there as well because we haven’t stumbled towards the finishing line today, we have marched proudly towards it as much as we possibly can, we have maintained our very high standards to the end and we have been there for the community right up until the very last minute.”

202’s final shift clocks off at 9.20am today.

The Sea Kings based at Boulmer, the period 1983 to last year had attended an incredible 4,856 call outs, helping 3,934 military personnel and civilians.

The Search and Rescue Forces will be remembered for their tireless provision of life saving assistance and professionalism, if you at any point were part of this, thank you on behalf of the citizens of this country.


  1. Why is this a ridiculous decision? SAR around the UK will now be performed by HM Coast Guard (with helicopters supplied by Bristow). Why do we need a military service to do this? The RNLI provide the boats to rescue people stranded at sea and they’re civilian. Makes perfect sense to me. In a combat environment the RAF has plenty of helicopters that can be used to rescue a downed pilot in a hostile area, it doesn’t need a bright Yellow Sea King to perform this task. Added to that, the Coast Guard will be flying brand new AW139’s and S-92’s not a 40 year old helicopter

      • The nature of how the RNLI enables the UK government to fulfil its obligations for search and rescue at sea actually ensures that it provides a service which is based upon identified need rather than cost. If this were in the hands of a government organisation, such as the MCA (HM Coastguard) it is highly likely that savings would be made by closing stations that only respond to a small number of emergencies each year, where actually this would risk loss of life because of response times from flank stations. Also, don’t forget that a large part of HM Coastguard is made up of volunteer CROs in coast rescue teams. RNLI crews and MR teams will miss the paraffin budgie / BYH but the new Bristow services are already flying rescue missions successfully rescuing those in distress.

  2. How sad. I hope if I ever god forbid have to ditch a light aircraft in the Channel or elsewhere the replacements for the brilliant RAF SAR are half as good as the “Yellow peril”. Can you imagine the RNLI not being about???

  3. To the naysayers… the HMCG / Bristow helicopters have done an amazing job so far, and are crewed with many ex RAF personnel. The main point is, surely, that the UK does not charge for SAR, and helicopters are deployed when required. The inside of a Sea King is pokey, noisy & cold. The inside of an S92 is palacial in comparison, and to quote a serving ex RAF now Bristows winchman “the new aircraft is great for casualty care”. I doubt you will ever hear of a rescued casualty complaining of the helicopter colour, type or employment status of those who put their lives at risk to rescue. Just saying.

  4. Yes the Royal Navy Seakings will be conducting SAR from Gannet and Culdrose until 31 Dec 2015. Of course the RN will continue to conduct helicopter SAR from its ships and bases when called on to do so.

    • Why is it shameful. They are not performing military duties so why use them? HM Coast Guard is more than capable of taking over from the military rescuing civilians. You should have more faith in the Coast Guard


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