Underwater Search and Marine Unit

Police work does not just happen on land – the North West Regional Underwater Search and Marine Unit undertakes crucial work above and below the surface.

The unit can be called out to search anywhere between North Wales and the Scottish Border. They cover the force areas of Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire, North Wales and Cumbria.

Established in 1978, the unit is highly experienced in search and recovery operations - as well as all maritime matters. There are 14 people on the team: an Inspector, Sergeant, eleven constables and one technician.

Based in Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, the unit can handle incidents in any of the six force areas and covers the largest area of any police dive team in the UK.

They dive up to 50 metres deep searching for missing people, weapons, stolen goods and submerged vehicles, helping search the areas that other teams can’t reach, including:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Marshlands
  • Ponds
  • Canals
  • Sewage drains
  • Up to 12 miles offshore in the sea

Specialist Equipment

Divers can’t see much once underwater as there is usually little or no visibility. Because of this, the unit uses special searching techniques and items as small as .22 calibre ammunition have been recovered.

Diving at night is no problem as the unit is fully equipped with lighting and generators. The unit has also accessed difficult situations like weirs and tunnels.

The unit also has the equipment – gas detection, breathing apparatus and protective clothing – to enter very confined spaces. They also recover badly decomposed bodies.

The unit has two fully equipped specialist large goods vehicles, two 4x4 off road vehicles, a 42ft launch, two rigid inflatable boats, a survey vessel and several small inflatable boats.


Sonar technology helps the divers to see underwater. Sound waves hit objects in the water and get reflected back and interpreted as high-resolution computer images. The unit uses sonar to search for sunken vehicles, boats and human bodies.

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

The ROV is a small, unmanned submarine that is operated from the shore or a boat. It’s equipped with lights and video cameras and is operated using joysticks and monitors. It displays live video that can be recorded for evidence. What makes the ROV special is that it can dive to depths of 150m - recovering items from places too dangerous for divers to operate in.

Diver training

Each of our 12 divers takes an eight-week intensive dive course and is trained to the highest professional standards. The team is also qualified in marine operations using the unit’s launch and rigid inflatable boats, for example, the launch of HMS Astute and maritime security patrols.

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