In 1988, a team of advisors from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office was sent out to the British Virgin Islands to make development recommendations to the Government of the Virgin Islands. One recommendation was for the Government to invite the group of people running the informal search and rescue service to create an “autonomous, para-professional, dedicated volunteer maritime search and rescue.” At the request of the Government, VISAR became an official Non-Profit Organization (NPO) and was modelled on the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI),the world’s oldest lifeboat service.  Like the RNLI, and many other lifeboat services, it is an independent, volunteer-based organization funded by charitable donations and grants.

Today, VISAR is the official search and rescue service in the British Virgin Islands, providing 24 hour cover every day of the year, in close co-operation with the Royal British Virgin Islands police, fire, and ambulance services. VISAR works closely with the United States Coastguard and is internationally recognized by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) as a full member.

Since its formation, VISAR has carried out over 1,600 search and rescue missions.  Since 2014, we have launched our rescue vessels over 400 times and spent over 500 hours responding to marine emergencies.  Our fully trained volunteer crew, trainees and coordinators have given over 22,000 hours of their personal time to train, attend meetings and dedicate themselves to VISAR’s mission of “Saving Lives at Sea.” With the significant growth in charter yachting and boating in the BVI, the demand for VISAR’s service is growing annually and the organisation is keeping pace by working to upgrade its boats and equipment, as well as raising levels of crew training.