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Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (France)


Last modified: 2022-03-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: societe nationale de sauvetage en mer |
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Flag and burgee of the SNSM - Images by Željko Heimer, 30 January 2018

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Presentation of the SNSM

The SNSM (website) was founded in 1967 by the merging of the HSB and the SCSN.

The SNSM is a mutual aid association, composed of volunteer members. 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.

Ivan Sache, 26 October 2002

Flag and burgee of the SNSM

The flag of the SNSM 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.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 September 2001

The guidon, offered for sale on the SNSM online shop, is 25 cm x 45 cm, horizontally divided white-blue. In the upper canton, a French tricolor flag charged with letters "S" (white), "N" (red) and "S" white in the respective stripe, and the remaining "M" (red) in the white field. In the lower part, a white anchor at hoist, with vertical axis fitted to the separation of the blue and white stripes in the French flag.
The guidon is commonly seen hoisted on private boats (photo), as a sign of support to the SNSM, while the flag of the SNSM is used only by lifeboats operated by the society.

Ivan Sache, 13 December 2017

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

Société Centrale de Sauvetage des Naufragés


Flag of the SCSN - Image by Željko Heimer, 29 August 2017

Société Centrale de Sauvetage des Naufragés (SCSN) was established on 12 February 1865. The patron of the SCSN was Empress Eugénie de Montijo, who offered the first boat operated by the society.

The first President of the SCSN was Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly (1807-1873). Rigault fought during the conquest of Algeria (1830), the War of Crimea (Sebastopol, 1864) and in Far East. The admiral occupied Tourane / Da Nang (Annam) and Saigon (Cochinchina), initiating on 17 February 1859 the conquest of the Mekong delta.
Appointed Minister of the Navy in 1870, Rigault commanded in 1870 the group of ships sent to the Baltic Sea. After the fall of the Second Empire, he retired from public life. The Rigault de Genouilly advice-boat of the French Navy, launched in 1932 in Bordeaux, was sunk on 4 July 1940 by the British submarine HMS Pandora; the Admiralty claimed it was a mistake.
The first Vice President of the SCSN was Théodore Gaudin (d. 1880), aka "the Baron", an Official Painter of the Navy. Gaudin campaigned for the official organization of the sea rescue after his brother had died in a wreckage in 1854.

In 1866, the SCSN owned 20 rescue stations, while 15 were in building. In 1883, the society operated 70 stations each equipped with a boat and 150 stations able to ply between ships in hazard and the coast. Rescue motor boats appeared in the beginning of the 20th century. In 1967, when merging with the HSB to form the SNSM, the SCSN operated 58 insubmersible and uncapsizable motor boats.
[Jean-Claude Quideau, Les galériens du sauvetage en mer]

The flag of the SCSN (photo) is the French national flag with the letters "S" (white), "C" (red), and "S" (white) in the respective stripes.


Earlier flag of the SCSN - Image by Željko Heimer, 29 August 2017

Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des marines de guerre et de commerce (1889) shows an earlier flag of the SCS as square, white with the motto "Spes et Virtus". This rendition is probably erroneous, too, since the motto of the SCS, as inscribed on medals, is indeed "Virtus et Spes".

Günter Mattern [mar87] assigned this flag to the Société humaine et des naufrages de Boulogne (SHN).
A detailed report of the early years of the SNH, written by the Secretary of the society, is full of first-hand details but does not include anything on a flag used by the life boats operated by the SNH. Nothing is said, either, on any motto inscribed on the flag. The identification of the flag by Günter Mattern is indeed erroneous.
A postcard (photo) shows the lifeboat of the Bréhat island (Brittany) with the flag as reported by Mattern (square). The modern label of the image (website), "flag of the Société humaine et des naufrages de Boulogne, adopted by the SCS", does not make sense, since the SNH was never merged into the SCS.

Ivan Sache & Željko Heimer, 14 December 2017

Société des Hospitaliers Bretons

[Flag of HSB]         [Flag of HSB]

Flag of the HSB, first and second version - Images by Ivan Sache, 19 January 2014

The Société des Hospitaliers Sauveteurs Bretons (SHB) was founded in 1873 in Rennes by the prosecuting attorney Henri Nadault de Buffon (1831-1890). According to its founder, the HSB was "both a rescue and rescuer's institution and a charity, raising of moral standards, and an encouragement society".
[Jean-Claude Quideau, Les galériens du sauvetage en mer]

The first flag of HSB, as shown by Philippe Rault (Les drapeaux bretons de 1181 à nos jours [rau98]), is diagonally divided white-blue with a black ermine spot in the middle.
The second flag of the HSB (photo, drawing) is white over blue, the colours divided by the lines from mid-hoist to center and from center to lower fly. A black ermine spot is placed over the two fields. In canton are placed the French flag and the white letters "HSB" arranged vertically along the flag's hoist. The flag of the SNSM is modelled on this flag.

Ivan Sache, 19 January 2014