Henk Spanjer, from the Netherlands, was the recent recipient of the IMRF’s Vladimir Maksimov Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Maritime SAR Sector in October 2022. He will also be the Keynote Speaker at World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC) hosted in Rotterdam in June 2023.  

He has made it his life's mission to assist in maritime SAR.

"I was amazed to be nominated and humbled to be given this prestigious award. It feels strange to be acknowledged for something that I do daily; for me, it is the norm to do what I do. However, it is an honour to be recognised, and I am grateful for the platform I was given.

“This would not have been possible without the support from my family, my team at lifeboat station Paal 8, the KNRM and MIWB," he added.

Henk has been involved in maritime SAR since 1997 and was nominated for the award because of his long-term commitment to improving maritime safety at sea and in maritime SAR.

As a lecturer at the Dutch maritime college Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz (MIWB), he has taught maritime radio communications and safety training for many years. Through his work at MIWB, he has also been actively involved in several EU projects to develop teaching materials on maritime safety and radio communications.

Born and raised on the mainland in the northern part of the Netherlands, his father was from the Island of Terschelling. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were first mates in the Merchant Navy, so, with roots well established in the maritime industry, a career in the industry was an almost foregone conclusion.

"I think those roots meant I was destined to join a maritime academy to become a dual-trained nautical officer and engineer,” he said.

After his training and four years at sea, he joined MIWB in 1993. He is currently working as a lecturer on Instructing Maritime Communication (Marcom), including distress communications. He has also been a member of the national examinations committee and is currently involved in Marcom’s (international) legal aspects with the Dutch government.

Furthermore, in his role as a lead instructor, he reorganised the basic safety training at the maritime academy, which consists of key elements of SAR operations such as survival, firefighting, emergency first aid and communication during an emergency.

One of the many highlights of his career as a lecturer at MIWB is the impact he made on the many cadets and other maritime professionals he trained, knowing that he empowered them to make people at sea safer and increase their rate of survival. 

Besides his professional job as a lecturer at the MIWB, Henk has, over the past 25 years, been active as a volunteer at the KNRM lifeboat station Paal 8 Terschelling in the Netherlands.

One of the reasons for his involvement at Paal 8 was born from a drive to help people in trouble and to contribute to prevention.

"My dad's stepbrother was also a crew member at lifeboat station Paal 8, so it was evident that I would also join – especially at this station,” he explained.

He is grateful and proud of his team's actions at Paal 8 and has many stories of challenging rescues they have endured.

"Going out in our half-open lifeboat (Valentijn 2000 Class) in very rough weather with significant wave height between seven and 11 meters to assist a vessel in distress with four persons on board calling Mayday is action-packed, and my team did not hesitate to undertake the rescue attempt. After a very rough trip, we arrived and stayed with the vessel until the coastguard could tow the ship to safe waters."

The team's efforts are constant in all-weather conditions year-round. He recalls a rescue during the winter with temperatures of -8°C and gale force winds of 8 BFT. BFT stands for Beaufort wind force scale, an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed sea or land conditions.

"We sailed for 30 nautical miles to rescue three fishermen. On return to our lifeboat station, the lifeboat was completely covered in ice and for this rescue we were awarded the 2018 IMRF team award for outstanding contribution in a maritime SAR action."

With training always at the forefront of his mind, he is responsible for training his crew within the KNRM and has been involved in On-Scene Coordinator courses. He also assists with relevant information about radio medical advice/assistance, especially on the radio communication procedures for the KNRM brochure.

Henk is also the chair of the International Association for Safety and Survival Training (IASST). He cannot sufficiently stress the importance of organisations such as the IASST and the IMRF.

"These organisations are essential to the SAR members as it brings people who work with the same challenges together to share knowledge and experiences that will improve their work to make the world safer for people at sea."