We sit down with Frederike Bensch, a volunteer surf lifeguard and rescue boat driver for Germany’s DLRG, to talk about her career in SAR operations, the challenges of being a woman in this field and her investigations into improving SAR during future pandemics.

The Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft (DLRG)

The Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft (DLRG), also known as the German Life Saving Association, is a German non-profit, independent life-saving and relief organisation. It is the largest water rescue organisation in the world.

It was founded in 1913 after a pier in Rügen holding 1,000 people waiting for a cruise steamer collapsed, resulting in 16 people losing their lives despite the best efforts of the German Navy.

The main responsibilities of the organisation is to create and promote all activities that help to fight and prevent drowning. This includes teaching swimming and self-rescue, educating people about the dangers of swimming, teach rescue swimming techniques, teach basic and advance first aid, provide lifeguards at public places, and provide technical support for water and rescue-related activities.

DLRG also works with German civil defense to help aid flooding prevention efforts and promotes environmental protection at, on and in waters.

Today the DLRG has more than 1.7 million members and sponsors, and its volunteers provide more than six million hours of assistance to about 2,000 local organisations each year.

The DLRG is a member of a number of life saving organisations in Germany, in Europe, and around the world, including the IMRF, as well as German police, fire brigade and weather services. 

The DLRG has recently been organising relief efforts to help refugees fleeing Ukraine, with volunteers providing food and medical aid to local emergency services in Berlin.

Frederike Bensch

At the heart of the DLRG are its volunteers and there are none more enthusiastic than Frederike Bensch.

Frederike started volunteering for the DLRG in 2006 at the age of 10. She joined her local surf live saving club in order to learn how to swim, which eventually led to her competing in live-saving pool competitions.

She then gained her junior lifeguard qualification and volunteered at a junior guard station each summer at a very small and safe lake. At the age of 16, Frederike gained her full life saver license before working as a volunteer lifeguard on Travemünde beach.

Frederike Bensch - DLRG
Photo Gallery - Frederike Bench - Click on the following link to view the photos in Flickr.

It was at this point that she looked to broaden her horizons and challenge herself. Along with a group of friends, Frederike travelled throughout the North Sea to gain experience of working in more difficult environments.

At the same time, she started to participate in international inflatable rescue boat competitions, first as a patient and then as a crewperson. “This inspired me to become a rescue boat driver myself and I travelled to New Zealand – the birthplace of this vessel – after I graduated from high school to become a lifeguard there,” she said.

Frederike has since joined the University of Lübeck in Germany, just 30 minutes from the ocean, to study medicine. “I couldn’t imagine a life far from the sea so I applied to all four German medical schools near the coast.

My motivation to study medicine comes directly from my role models at my local surf life saving club and my time as a lifeguard in New Zealand. I’m continuing to engage with SAR personnel as part of my education. I feel as though I always have something to give the SAR community,” she said.

Today, Frederike is a team leader for the DLRG and she is acutely aware of the challenges that go along with this. “The biggest challenge I face is caring for my crew whilst concentrating on driving in new and difficult situations, especially if they become overwhelmed with the scope of a tragic event. Keeping check of their mental wellbeing is also of critical importance.

Despite this, she noted how she is constantly looking to gain new experiences, achieve new roles and responsibilities, and earn the respect of her peers, particularly as a woman in SAR.

As part of this drive, Frederike will be taking part in the IMRF’s #WomenInSAR seminar in August.

I hope this event will give me the chance to meet inspiring people and to discuss equality in SAR from different perspectives. I also want to learn about new ideas, hear from other people’s experiences, and discover exciting projects taking place in SAR. I want to take it all in,” she said.

She also noted how she feels women are represented in maritime SAR and what she could do to improve it.

More and more women are getting involved in maritime SAR but I would love to see more get involved still. It is improving but we have a long way to go still. I hope my position as a rescue vessel operator and team leader can inspire other women to pursue a career in maritime SAR.

On top of all these things, Frederike is also investigating how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected maritime SAR workers in a bid to improve water and crew safety worldwide in future pandemic situations.

She is looking for surf lifeguards, rescue divers and SAR vessel crew members, including many IMRF Members, to take part in a short survey to help her investigations

Female rescuers are underrepresented in my project, just as they are in a lot of sea rescue science in general. I would like to change that.

International #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar

The IMRF’s first-ever International #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar will take place on 26-28 August 2022. The events, which are both hosted by the Finnish Lifeboat Institution (FLBI), will be held in Finland.

The training is intended for women operating on maritime SAR vessels from IMRF Member organisations only. It will include several aspects of leadership on SAR vessels, including communication, mission handling, and different tools and procedures to assist in leading the unit, as well as both classroom discussions and practical exercises.

The training will be followed by the #WomenInSAR Seminar, open to all men and women, including organisations who are not IMRF members. At the Seminar, SAR organisations and individuals from around the world will share their insights, experiences and initiatives for increasing the representation of women in their respective organisations and regions.

To find out more about the events and how to register, visit the "International #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar – Finland – 26-29 August 2022" event page.