The Off Road Rescue Unit (ORRU) is a highly-trained crew of volunteer 4x4 owners in South Africa with regional teams based in 5 of the 9 provinces.

The Unit works closely with local, regional and national Emergency Management Services, Disaster Management, the South African Air Force, Civil Aviation (Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre), South African Police Service, K9 Search and Rescue Association, the Mountain Club of South Africa Search and Rescue, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre(MRCC) and other official and civilian volunteer organisations.

The Unit provides wilderness and urban search and rescue services, transport, logistical support and radio communications, in rough terrain and urban areas in times of need including civil, national or international emergencies.

Each year, the Unit receives more than fifty calls for assistance and in more than half of these instances, the Unit’s comprehensive emergency-assistance capabilities are required with members being mobilised and deployed.


Members of the Unit take part in systematic theoretical and practical training exercises at regular intervals. Training is often held in conjunction with official emergency services and other volunteer organisations which includes activities such as:

First-aid/medical training Search and rescue procedure
Patient extrication Radio communications (VHF / UHF / Satellite)
Helicopter-borne insertion and extraction Crime scene management
Navigation by GPS Map and compass work
Rope rescue techniques Mountain rescue training
Off-road driving Vehicle recovery
Vehicle maintenance Fire fighting
Search management

Once a member has attained the necessary level of competence he/she becomes Rescue Qualified and becomes an asset to any search and rescue mission or emergency task.

Great satisfaction is derived by members of the Unit from serving their fellow citizens. However, this comes at a high cost in terms of intrusion into family, social and business time and also the cost of financing the required equipment. Each member’s 4x4 vehicle and the extensive range of equipment it contains, is funded by the member.

Participants from all regions attend an annual training camp, held over a few days towards the end of each year. During the camp their theoretical and practical skills are put to the test with a mock call-out and rescue exercises that can proceed non-stop through the night no matter what the weather- often stretching over hundreds of kilometers. During this training camp the members’ equipment and preparedness is put to the test to ensure that they are capable of delivering the level of professionalism required. Members share ideas and technical skills during this such camps, thereby honing their individual and collective skills.

Administrative structure

The Unit’s administrative structure is such that one telephone call is all that is required to put the whole call-out system into action. This results in trained volunteer members in fully-equipped 4x4 vehicles ready to leave on a search and rescue or disaster management mission, anywhere in the country within the hour.

The regional units are run independently, having their own constitutions and committees that could consist of the following members:

  • Chairman
  • Treasurer
  • Operations officer
  • Quartermaster
  • Training officer


The Off Road Rescue Unit has regional teams located in the following areas with in South Africa:

  • Gauteng
  • Nelspruit
  • Middelburg
  • Western Cape
  • Eastern Cape

Emergency Contact Points

The Off Road Rescue Unit is a volunteer search and rescue organisation which responds to people whose lives may be in danger, this does not normally include the recovery of vehicles which have become stuck as a result of recreational activities.

If you need to make use of the Rescue Unit’s services, either in an Emergency or by prior arrangement for a particular event, please refer to this.


The Off Road Rescue Unit works closely with the following organisations:

Local Emergency Management Services Regional Emergency Management Services
National Emergency Management Services Private Emergency Management Services
Disaster Management National Sea Rescue Institute
Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre South African Air Force
Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre South African Police Services
K9 Search and Rescue Mountain Club of South Africa Search & Rescue

And other official and civilian volunteer organisations


The Off Road Rescue Unit can trace its origins to the late 1980’s as the Four Wheel Drive Club (4WDC) of South Africa.

In the late 1980’s when a prospective member joined the 4WDC he/she filled in a form; on the form one of the questions that was asked was “Will you be willing to assist in times of national or civil emergency?”. As a result of this question the Club had an indication of who amongst the membership was prepared to assist in an emergency situation.

During mid 1990 an aircraft went missing in the Black Umfolozi River valley of Northern Kwazulu Natal (KZN). After an extended search for the aircraft turned up nothing, the official search was called off. However, the family of the missing people decided to continue the search and put out the word for private assistance. The local parachute club, the local hiking club and the local police force made themselves available. One of the family members was also a member of the KZN chapter of the 4WDC and asked the club if they could assist. This request ended up at the 4WDC in Johannesburg and members willing to assist were called up, based on what they had filled in on their application forms.

From this, a group of 6 vehicles under the leadership of the then 4WDC Chairman Neville Marsh, left Johannesburg on a Thursday morning and drove down to assist in the search activities in KZN. Using only 29 mHz CB radios as communications (there were only 3 hams in the convoy so VHF was not an option) the party’s search was unsuccessful and they returned to Johannesburg on the Monday evening. Unfortunately the aircraft was not found (in fact the wreckage was discovered in the Southern Drakensberg area hundreds of kilometers away a number of years later by some backpackers).

The organisation of that search, the logistics behind it, and the processes and procedures were all rather haphazard and very disorganised. It became apparent to Neville and some other members of the team that this could be done much more efficiently and professionally if people were correctly trained, correct search management techniques were practised and a structured command process was in place. A decision was made to call a meeting in Johannesburg to see who would be interest in forming a volunteer rescue organisation.

The first meeting was held at Sturrock Park close to Wits and the organisation was formed with an interim committee to get it off the ground. A number of those founding members are still active in ORRU today and one of them still serves on the committee. In the weeks and months that followed a constitution was drafted and the Off Road Rescue Unit was formed as a division of the 4WDC of SA. In later years the unit would also start accepting members from other 4x4 clubs, in some regions ORRU functions independently from the 4WDC.

Initial training was based on map reading and navigation (this was 1991 – before cell phones and GPS’s were around), radio procedures, off road driving, convoy driving, vehicle maintenance, camping self-sufficiency and basic first aid. Training was initiated on one Saturday and one Wednesday per month, much as we still do today.

In addition, the Unit makes a further contribution to the community at large by offering communications, management and medical infrastructure to organisers of outdoor sporting events such as road-running marathons, cycle races, mountain bike challenges and off-road motor racing events. These events generate income for the Unit which is used to maintain our Mobile Command Post trailers and the wide range of expensive communications and medical equipment they contain.