The IMRF’s European Lifeboat Crew Exchange took place in late September, the ninth time since its inception and the first one to take place in-person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The experience proved invaluable for participants across various countries and search and rescue (SAR) operations, including the Finnish Lifeboat Institution (FLBI), the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM), the UK and Ireland's Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (RS), France’s Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM) and the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS). 

You can check out our full gallery of images from the event here.

The exchange’s main focus was for participants to broaden their skills and knowledge in SAR operations by engaging with international peers. They enhanced their abilities, acquired new techniques, understood different operational structures, and brought back valuable insights to improve their local stations.

There was a strong emphasis on collaboration, with many participants eager to build networks, share experiences, and forge friendships with like-minded professionals. 

"This year’s Lifeboat Crew Exchange was an ideal experience for those looking to develop their understanding of and skills in SAR services, and meet and learn from colleagues in an intense, stimulative, international context", said Maria Montefusco from the SSRS. 

Participants also underwent an immersive experience that challenged them, expanded their ‘toolkits’, and provided opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

“The IMRF’s Lifeboat Crew Exchange programme was an excellent opportunity to increase one's knowledge, make new friends, and contribute to further participation in this important work", added Espen Wessel from the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue.  

Participants in the exchange also gained valuable insights into various international rescue methods, communication strategies and standard operating procedures. They also had the opportunity to practice with and learn about new equipment, technologies, and survival training techniques, such as helicopter drills and hypothermia treatment.

Joan Grinwis from the KNRM agreed this is a "great way to exchange knowledge, experience and make SAR friends worldwide".  

Forming solid international relationships was another key takeaway of the event, enriched by shared experiences and discovering common goals despite diverse backgrounds. Hands-on sessions with unique equipment and varied environmental conditions provided invaluable learning opportunities, underscoring the universality of their mission to save lives at sea. 

Cultural exchanges and mutual understanding were central to this year’s exchange, solidifying a global community connected by shared values and commitments.

Participants also had the chance to suggest ideas for future improvement, including facilitating more interaction between participants from different nations to share and discuss learnings internationally and within their own countries. There was also a shared desire to balance the schedule in order to reduce time spent on passive activities like observing boats and increase active participation in training and exercises. They also suggested involving volunteers in planning and executing exercises and implementing a more structured timetable with allotted time for rest, reflection, and cultural experiences like sightseeing.

“We received fantastic feedback from this year’s participants that will help to shape future Lifeboat Crew Exchange events. Most importantly, September’s event facilitated the critical exchange of skills and knowledge and fostered a number of interpersonal connections and mutual respect between those that share a passion for saving lives at sea,” said Jaakko Heikkilä, International Programme Manager at the IMRF.

The European Lifeboat Crew Exchange will be organised next time from 21 to 28 September 2024.

If you have any questions or would like further information on the Lifeboat Crew Exchange, please contact Jaakko Heikkilä at [email protected].