In order of priority:
- Recognition - Recognize the problem. Is it immediate onset or delayed onset?
- Inventory - Take inventory of the situation. How severe is the problem?
- Shelter - Is your vessel sound or at risk of loss? What are your alternatives? Do you have a life raft or dinghy?
- Signals - What do you have for communications? Reflecting mirror, whistle, VHF radio, EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), AIS (Automatic Identification System), flares, smoke, bright colors.
- Water - You can go three days without water.
- Food - You can go three weeks without food.
- Play - You can go three months without personal interaction.
In today's world of technology, the "search" in "search and rescue" is considerably reduced and the emphasis is on executing a rescue, provided you have successfully deployed some kind of satellite transponder, AIS, VHF, or some combination of these. If you have, then items 5-7 become potentially less critical.
However, if you have not been successful signaling, then the likelihood of being found quickly is dramatically reduced, even if you are near a coast line, and you will surely be faced with a survival situation.
Summoning rescue services should not be done casually. You should make every effort to be self sufficient and prepared to meet any challenge.