In the Navy, there are two types of Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers: Ship-based SAR and airborne SAR (usually in rescue helicopters). Both are side gigs.

Usually, a boat person (insert Navy ship job) will apply for SAR school and learn the ins and outs of operating off the boat as a search and rescue swimmer. Typical missions would be recovering a man overboard or refugees lost at sea.

Airborne operations are usually conducted with helicopters. Airborne SAR swimmers have very different and more extensive training operating around aircraft and rescuing pilots, which is their primary mission. An Aviation Rescue Swimmer, or AIRR, will attend boot camp and then Aircrewman Candidate School, their specialty “A” School, SAR school, and SERE school. They will also have to earn their gold aircrew wings and train to be a plane captain and later a crew chief.

I did this job and flew in the back of Rescue Helicopters before becoming a Navy SEAL. It’s a job and community I’m proud to belong to. My primary job was as an Aviation Warfare Systems Operator (AW). I operated the dipping sonar and flight systems in the back to track targets.

Below is an excerpt from my book, The Red Circle, which talks about my training.

After Aircrew Candidate School I headed down the block for four weeks of Search and Rescue school, and sure enough, here things kicked up a notch. Although it was just down the street, it might as well have been a thousand miles away. Search and Rescue school was a completely different world.

open water search and rescue exercise
Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter)1st Class Ricky Rosado assigned to the “Screamin’ Indians” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 6, is hoisted back into an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter after an open water search and rescue exercise. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyle Merritt/U.S. Navy)


If Aviators Bail Out, a Navy Rescue Helicopter Will Come for Them

At SAR school they ran a tight ship, and the atmosphere was serious and professional. We showed up early every morning for inspection, and our uniforms had to be perfect. From there we went to PT, followed by a 3-mile conditioning run, followed by some swims, then the classroom, and then we hit the pool for training.