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National Society for Sea Rescue (France)

Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM)

Last modified: 2007-02-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: national society for sea rescue | societe nationale de sauvetage en mer | lifeboat | snsm | anchors: 2 (yellow) | anchor (white) | rubber ring (yellow) |
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[Flag of the SNSM]

Flag of the SNSM - Image by Željko Heimer, 23 September 2001

See also:

Presentation of the SNSM

The SNSM was founded in 1967 by the merging of the HSB and the SCS.

  • HSB were Hospitaliers sauveteurs bretons (Breton Rescuers Hospitallers), founded in 1873. They were active on the coasts of the Channel, Brittany, and Vendée.
  • SCS was Société Centrale de Sauvetage en Mer (Central Society for Sea Rescue), founded in 1865. SCS was active on the other coasts of France.

The SNSM is a mutual aid association and its members are volunteers. Rescue is free but cargo salvage must be paid by the ship owner. Money received by the SNSM members goes to the association.
In most ports of France, the SNSM has a boathouse, on which its flag is hoisted, and motor boats which are always prepared to sail. The SNSM volunteers saved a lot of human lifes and are highly respected by the seamen.

The SNSM has 255 stations, 100 of them being open only in summertime. Its fleet has 156 ships:

  • 39 tout temps (all kind of weather) boats, which can be used in the harshest sea conditions. They are unsinkable and self-rightable. The most recent of these boats are 17.60 m in length, weight 26 tons and can reach a speed of 23 knots.
  • 29 first class launches, the 7 most recent of them being unsinkable, 13.30 m in length and reaching a speed of 22 knots.
  • 48 second class launches (10.50 m, 24 knots).
  • 42 third class launches, for local operations by clement weather.
  • The SNSM also owns 425 inflatable dinghies, but does not operate aircrafts or helicopters. All ships shall be able to cast off within 15 minutes after an alert.

There are 3,500 members in the SNSM, all volunteers. Several them are seamen (fishers, members of the Navy and the Merchant Navy, yachtmen...) In summertime, 1,500 volunteers watch beaches. The SNSM has 27 education and training centers, with 300 volunteer instructors.

Funding of the SNSM is provided half by public funds (Ministeries, Regional and General Councils, Municipalities) and half by private funds (cash donations, legacies...)

In 1996, the SNSM rescued 8,731 people, including 1,166 windsurfers, and salvaged 2,543 ships. Of the 8,731 rescued people, 666 were in hazard of death. That number averaged 800 per year (more than 14,000 in 18 years).

The small island of Molène, located between Brest and the island of Ushant is famous for his rescuers, now members of the SNSM. The area, known as Sea of Iroise or Ushant track is one of the most crowded and dangerous in the world.
The islanders founded in 1866 the Société centrale de secours aux naufragés (Central Society for Ship-Wrecked Rescue) with a rowing boat named Saint-Renan. The alarm was given by two cannon shots and women pushed the boat into the sea. The boat was put on a heavy wagon and the way to sea was very long at lower tides. The women were paid half an euro for their hard work. According to the archives, the Saint-Renan rescued 98 people between 1865 and 1901. One of the followers of the Saint-Renan was the Amiral Roussin, commanded by Aimable Delarue, a.k.a. Tonton Aimable or le Grand Delarue. At the end of his carrier, Delarue was the most decorated man in France and received the unofficial title of 'World Champion of Rescue'. His records was 132 missions, 75 ships helped and 355 lifes saved. When the Swedish steamer Makinnen broke on rocks in 1917, Delarue dived and brought back 20 passengers.


  • SNSM website
  • P. Rault. Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98].
  • H. Hamon. L'Abeille d'Ouessant.

Ivan Sache, 26 October 2002

Flag of the SNSM

The flag of the SNSN is white over blue, the colours divided by the lines from mid-hoist to center and from center to lower fly. In the lower hoist are two yellow fouled anchors in saltire. In canton is the French flag with white and red initials SNS counterchanging.

Source: Album des Pavillons [pay00]

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 September 2001

Land flag of the SNSM

[Land flag of the SNSM]

Flag of the SNSM, used on land only - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 October 2002

The SNSM has a land flag, which is hoisted over the stations along with the flag shown above, but not used at sea. This flag has a square white field with the logotype of the SNSM in the middle.
The logotype of the SNSM is a blue square diamond, charged with a yellow rubber ring with blue ropes. A white anchor is placed in the center of the ring. LES SAUVETEURS EN MER is written in an arc pattern above the ring, S.N.S.M. below it. The logotype of the SNSM is very often seen on car stickers.

Ivan Sache, 26 October 2002