Public Search Advice

Physical searching can be a dangerous activity for untrained persons. The urge to find someone and make a difference can lead to increased risk-taking, so this advice is aimed at anyone taking part in a public search to help reduce that risk. We recommend that searching of any off-road terrain is left to professional teams.


Do not search any land without permission of the land owner, unless you are on a public right of way. Private gardens, sheds and buildings should only be searched by Police or the property owner.


In the UK, the majority of accidental drownings happen to people who did not intend to get in to the water. Slips, trips and slides in to water are life-threatening (even shallow water), so stay well away from any water course. We recommend at least 3-metres / 10ft from any bank.

Do not search above any cliff or steep bank, or on any slope. You can usually see all the way up a slope from the bottom, safely.

Farms present unique hazards with machinery, livestock, slurry pits and rough terrain, all being dangerous. Take extreme care on working farms and always seek advice from the farmer about hazards.


It is crucial to keep a record of who is searching, where they are going, and contact details. This is important if an incident develops or somebody needs to be contacted for information at a later date.

Search areas – once access has been granted – should use physical boundaries for ease of navigation, i.e. “the area between the lane and the fence”. This aids record keeping and getting help to the scene of any incident more quickly. Use plain-English to describe areas, not map references.


Missing person searchers must not include children, vulnerable adults or anyone who is likely to suffer greatly from discovering a dead body. Anyone searching must face the reality that there is a possibility of finding a corpse, and in a rural area that this may have been significantly damaged by animals.

Any dead body, and the area around it, becomes a crime-scene. DO NOT photograph the body or scene, and try to keep anyone away until Police arrive to take over.


Land owners or tenants can ask searchers to leave their property at any time. If asked, you must leave without complaint by an agreed route.

Respect the countryside, it is a working environment and the livelihood for many people. Leave any gates as you found them (open or closed), and do not trample through any crops.

No dogs should be used on a public search, and especially near livestock.


Stick together in small groups for safety, and keep in contact. Don’t let members of your group go out of sight.

Keep to your agreed area and let the organiser know if you discover anything relevant. Do not touch or collect anything unless asked to by Police.

Sturdy footwear with ankle-support and good grip is essential, and a walking aid such as a stick may be useful. Long trousers and arm protection is essential, and searchers should be aware of hazards to their eyes in woodland. Common-sense precautions include taking a drink, any medication, waterproofs, sunscreen and a charged mobile phone with you.