VOMARE – cross-border collaboration for a volunteer maritime search and rescue service in Estonia

The project is developing new volunteer maritime rescue services in Estonia. These make the central Baltic Sea region safer for both the country’s own citizens and visitors from abroad while reducing dependency on nearby Finland in Estonian maritime rescue missions.

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Lifeboats at FLBI training Centre, Bågaskär  © The Finnish Lifeboat Institution Lifeboats at FLBI training Centre, Bågaskär © The Finnish Lifeboat Institution

" The project exceeded our expectations. Estonia is now much better prepared to provide rescue services in its waters to meet international standards and Finland has gained a valuable partner in the maritime safety work across the Baltic. "

Jori Nordström, Operations Manager, The Finnish Lifeboat Institution

The Baltic Sea has a high volume of shipping and leisure traffic, which inevitably leads to many accidents. While Finland, to the Sea’s north, has a well-established voluntary search and rescue service supporting rescue work by public bodies, neighbouring Estonia has no such recent tradition.  

In the “Voluntary Maritime Rescue” project, members of the Finnish Lifeboat Institution started to give training and equipment to Estonian volunteers to help them start a lifeboat service for their own waters. During the project, both sides participated in giving and receiving trainings. The cross-border collaboration has helped Estonia play a more active role in local maritime safety and better meet international obligations. Also, the Finnish side was able to learn and develop its work.

A need for training

Most of Estonia’s maritime rescue organisations disappeared during the Soviet era, when the Baltic Sea was in effect closed off to the country’s citizens. After independence, people started to go out to sea again and boating tourism from Finland increased, with some people getting into difficulties at sea. However, by now Estonia depended heavily on its coastguards and on Finland for rescues.

In the first part of VOMARE, the Finnish Lifeboat Institution and the Estonian project partners gave 10 joint 3-day training courses to future maritime search and rescue volunteers from each country. In total, 81 Estonian volunteers learned basic seamanship, navigation and rescue and first aid skills.

At the same time, support was provided to start up an Estonian voluntary maritime rescue system. Representatives from the Estonian Border Guard, Rescue Guard and Department of Migration and Border Policy developed its legal, financial and organisational framework, with input from the Finnish Lifeboat Institution and Finnish Border Guard.

Equipped for rescue

The second stage of the project provided four fully equipped rescue boats for lifeboat stations at Estonian harbours in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, where the volunteers could put their new skills into practice. Three boats were also purchased for the Finnish Lifeboat Institution.

Due to VOMARE, Estonia now has an operational maritime voluntary rescue service and is a member of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). Public awareness of voluntary maritime search and rescue operations has also increased.

Experiences on the creation and development of voluntary maritime rescue services from the project can now be shared elsewhere. As tourism and sea traffic continue to increase in Estonia, more training sessions are planned to expand the service and maintain safety standards.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “VOMARE (Voluntary maritime rescue)” is EUR 942 260, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 613 411 through the “Central Baltic” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Safe and Healthy Environment”.

Draft date