00 33 2 98 39 62 25
Fax (by appointment) :
00 33 9 50 04 32 70
Contact Headquarters : 5 Hent Meneyer, 29 950 Gouesnac'h, France.
Postal address : 2 impasse de Kervégant, 29 350 Moëlan sur mer, France.

Rescue at sea

The SNSM (standing for Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer) is the national lifeboat association in France. Very well known in Brittany in particular, out of all the regions of mainland France and its overseas territories, it is dedicated to saving lives at sea. A not-for-profit organisation created in 1967 by Admiral Maurice Amman, it has been recognised as a public service since 1970. Its mission is to rescue people in danger at sea, along the coastline and on beaches, voluntarily and at no charge. It is also given public service assignments as directed by regional lifeguard and lifesaving operational centres (abbreviated to CROSS in French).

Port of Doëlan, southern Finsitère

photo by steve Roux, featured in our Partner pages

The organisation is mainly funded by public donations, and private partners, but around a quarter comes from the French state and local authorities. There are over 5,000 mobilisations in France each year, saving almost 10,000 people in difficulty, day and night. Even so, there are still about 400 deaths a year. Therefore the means are being put in place to develop technical innovations, in order to improve rescue services regardless of the conditions at sea.

Philip Plisson Rescue at sea

photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

The SNSM was actually born out of a merging of two organisations existing at the time (the Société Centrale de Sauvetage des Naufragés and the Hospitaliers Sauveteur Bretons) out of a desire to ensure rescue services for people using the coastline, in France and in its overseas territories. It was requested by public authorities, because the operations previously in existence, whilst having this objective, did not adequately cover the whole territory, notably due to the numerous nautical leisure pursuits which had appeared, and also due to the development of professions having a connection with the sea. First initiated in the 19th century, lifesaving at sea became more structured and professional as time went by, and has become more and more committed right up to the present day.

La SNSM le livre Ph. Plisson

a book by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

The SNSM has three main purposes these days: firstly, sea rescue missions, sometimes literally in life or death situations; training volunteers, principally swim lifeguards who are equipped and trained as rescuers; and the prevention of nautical dangers generally, especially in relation to the public. This last purpose is vital, given how many more people now use the sea for leisure activities. There are training programmes in schools as well as at children’s camps to teach young people about the dangers the sea can pose, and to instruct them about the rules that should be followed in the marine environment.

There are about 4,000 volunteers involved in sea rescue operations, often retired seafaring professionals or even amateur sailors, divers, water sport enthusiasts. Most of these lifesavers are relocated and spread around the 232 coastal stations across France and its overseas territories, with the stations being managed by 600 members of staff. They are operational every single day of the year, regardless of the sea conditions, and a quarter of call-outs are at night. The type of rescue varies, from saving stranded yachtsmen, to recovering fishermen with motor trouble (which can happen when they pull up the nets), from rescuing people with health issues, to keeping those taking part in water sports safe.

Training seasonal lifeguards, for example, is carried out at 32 training centres. Over the course of 8 months, 800 voluntary instructors give 400 hours of classes for the SNSM, in order to train up around 400 new lifeguards every year. These are then sent out to supervise beaches, in fact an area up to 300 metres from the shore, and they are remunerated by the local authorities. They are trained very thoroughly, for a job that sometimes only involves giving reassurance, but can mean saving a life.

sauvetage en mer

photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

Public events are also organised, with a view to raising awareness around good safety practices, how to enjoy the sea without putting oneself at risk, and also in order to raise the profile of the organisation and to encourage donations.

Volunteers also need to continually learn new skills. As lifeboats are very fast nowadays, with complex navigation and electronic communications systems, the volunteers have become true rescue professionals with increased knowledge in multiple areas of expertise: piloting, communications, first aid, rescue techniques, and use of safety gear, for example night vision equipment.

sauvetage en mer
Photo Allan Cnn / Shutterstock.com

The SNSM has the largest fleet in France with 40 all-weather lifeboats, 36 class 1 speedboats, 72 of class 2, four of class 3, 400 dinghies and a flotilla of jet-skis, as well as a few light launches for training. The association manages the maintenance of these craft, which usually remain in the water year round due to their size. It also develops their very sophisticated technical equipment, it has new boats built as replacements are required, and it continually looks into how it can improve the services it offers to sea users in distress. Every year, 5 million euros of expenditure is allocated for maintenance of the fleet.

les bouées
photo JVCStock / Shutterstock.com

The organisation offers an ongoing commitment to ensure the safety of those using the coast, which it pursues through innovation, prevention and training. This is necessary because life by the sea has changed significantly over the last few decades, with many more people participating in leisure activities along the coast, new water sports, some of which are quite hazardous, and also not forgetting external factors such as a higher level of litigation and legislation generally in society. The SNSM also invests in research and development of new equipment and information systems, so they can put the latest technological innovations to work in the service of saving lives. It is the authority in France for all aspects relating to rescue and safety at sea.

sauvetage en mer

photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

Without doubt, the SNSM contributes to making France a great nation, and the word ‘fraternity’ which features in the country’s motto particularly resonates with those who spend time at sea.