Women are helping to save lives at sea every day all around the world

“There are women in lifeboat crews, women leading national and international search and rescue organisations and women developing innovative technologies to help save lives at sea – on International Women’s Day, just like any other day – women are making a real difference to maritime search and rescue (SAR) all around the world”, says Theresa Crossley, CEOInternational Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF).

It’s fifty years since a woman first qualified as a RNLI lifeboat crew member and Rebecca Sweeney, Executive Officer with IMRF, knows what it’s like to be on a lifeboat in all weathers. She supports the IMRF’s work with governments and SAR organisations worldwide and is a member of Stonehaven RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crew in the North East of Scotland.

“Lifeboat crews do such an important job – quite simply they are saving lives.  There really shouldn’t be any barriers for women in this area anymore. There have been women launching lifeboats for over a hundred years and for fifty years as qualified Lifeboat Crew… it’s no longer a novelty” says Rebecca Sweeney.

“All lifeboat crew members experience times when they need to be strong, brave and fearless. You should not, however, have to be any of those things just to ‘compensate’ for being a woman. The only thing that should warrant bravery is the SAR itself”.

Rikke Lind is one of the IMRF’s Trustees, she is also the Secretary General of Redningsselskapet, the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue.  Before this she served five years as vice minister of Trade and Industry, handling maritime issues and policies across the whole country and European Union.

She comments that: “There is no doubt that diversity in organisations improves results. We need people with different backgrounds, ages and cultures – and we need both men and women. At Redningsselskapet we have worked determinedly towards recruiting more women in maritime positions and in SAR particularly, both as employees and volunteers. We have recently recruited two experienced, female leaders in key positions, and will continue our focus towards increasing the rate of women in the maritime sector.”

Cia Sjöstedt is the CEO of Sjöräddningssällskapet, the Swedish Sea Rescue Society.  She leads 2,300 volunteer crew members, and the society is responsible for 80 percent of all the sea rescues in Sweden.

Cia adds; “Making room for more women in maritime SAR is, for me, part of a larger question: How can we create diversity in every working group? If we think inclusively from different perspectives, the end result will always be better, and this is important in SAR, where we, by tradition, have had a male dominant culture for many years. Changing this is all about leadership, in our organisations as well as at rescue stations and on board our vessels.”

To celebrate and highlight the opportunities available to women in maritime SAR, the IMRF will be hosting a Women in SAR networking lunch at the IMRF World Maritime Rescue Congress 2019, which will be held in Vancouver, Canada in June this year.

The event will showcase just some of the inspiring women across the sector who are changing perceptions, making a valuable contribution to maritime SAR and most importantly, furthering the shared aim of preventing loss of life in the world’s waters. It will also mark the launch of a new Women in SAR network, an IMRF initiative to provide women involved in maritime SAR around the world with the opportunity to share their experiences and challenges.

As part of its work to build global maritime SAR capability, the IMRF is also planning to hold training sessions to teach and help women involved in maritime SAR increase their expertise and qualifications, enabling them to then share their knowledge and skills with others.  “We want to support the International Maritime Organization in empowering women in the maritime community,” explained Theresa Crossley, CEO, IMRF.

“Women’s roles can be limited by a public perception of what’s appropriate or not, but the IMRF, working with our members all around the world – can see that over and over again women can change perceptions and be incredible, amazing and really make a difference – wherever and whenever they are given a chance. 

“Male or female, everyone in the SAR community is united in our common aim of preventing loss of life in the world’s waters and women are proving that they bring special qualities and skills to this important sector.”

Dave Jardine Smith, the IMRF’s expert on SAR operations, sums it up: “In SAR we speak of ‘casualties’, ‘persons in the water’, ‘survivors’. We are not gender-specific about the people we save: it doesn’t matter if they are men or women. Nor should it matter if the rescuers are men or women. It’s what they do that matters, not who they are.”

Image caption:
On the left: Rikke Lind, Secretary General for Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue, middle: Rebecca Sweeney, Executive Officer, IMRF and right: Theresa Crossley, CEO IMRF