It does not seem like 18 months since we meet at the World Maritime Rescue Congress  and Quadrennial General Meeting in Vancouver, where we were able to hear some excellent presentations, share our experiences and enjoy socialising with each other.

It was also the occasion where we elected your Board of Trustee for the next 4 years. We have a good spread of representation, with Trustees elected from Europe, Scandinavia, UK, Africa, China, South America and South Pacific. The Trustees also represent a good cross section of organisations with Government, NGO, and Charitable entities of varying sizes, with many having a volunteer personnel base.

The last 12 months have been challenging for us all. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted us all, providing many challenges which no one could have foreseen.

I am pleased to say that the IMRF has managed and adapted to those challenges well. As we look forward, we do so with some positivity in being able to deliver on our objectives though various initiatives.

I do want to focus on the future (there is little point looking backwards), especially on the next 3 to 5 years and what the focus will be for the IMRF during that time.

The Trustees are clear that one of the key and critical strategic focuses will be on our membership. 

Without a strong and robust membership, there is no effective IMRF and nothing to support the other strategic focus of improving the global SAR capability and saving lives on the world’s waters.

I am pleased to report that despite the pandemic, the core IMRF membership base has been maintained. Furthermore, the major member donors have continued their financial support. This is a testament to their commitment of the IMRF and its key objectives.

For the IMRF to continue to assist the development of  global SAR capability, we need to build and expand our membership base. There are many regions where we have little or no membership representation, often reflective of there being no structured SAR framework and few organisations that would undertake this work.

Where there is a lack of identified SAR structure, the IMRF would look to use a similar model to that used so successfully in parts of Africa to help develop that SAR capability which would help reduce the loss of life - and potentially expand our membership base.

Where there are already SAR organisations in operation, we would encourage them to join the IMRF to take advantage of the benefits this brings. For developing organisations this can often be using the experience and knowledge of our more mature member organisations.

After all, our by-line is “Members Supporting Members”.

The IMRF has a strong history of using the knowledge and expertise of its member organisations to assist and aid in the development of the SAR capability. It is this support that we feel gives the greatest value to being an IMRF member.

If COVID 19 has done one thing, it has moved a lot of what we are doing by way of that support into the digital space. This has allowed us to reach a truly wider global audience and while time zones maybe a challenge, it nonetheless gives us real time connectivity with people and organisations around the world.

We have a good list of proposed online engagements for the year ahead and, while we continue to hope that face to face engagement may also be possible, if it isn’t, we would look to make these digital where possible.

We are mindful that the full impact of COVID-19 may not yet be felt by our member organisations, especially around the impact on funding and the people (especially the volunteers).

The concern is that many of our organisations rely heavily on donations, bequests and legacies and other philanthropic income. There is a potential for this to be impacted on. Many members will be actively looking at ways to minimise this impact and the ideas and plans used by one organisation may also be of interest and benefit to other organisations.

The impact on your personnel will vary considerably within your own country. Often your personnel will - from a sense of community spirit - volunteer their time to your organisation, helping to deliver the service.

However, we may find that they are unable to give that commitment due to health issues, employment challenges and other family and financial demands flowing from the COVID 19 pandemic.

The replacement of experienced personal is not something that can be quickly or easily achieved, not to mention the cost of doing so.

Many organisations are already looking at initiatives and ideas on how best to manage their volunteer work force, something the IMRF is also supporting, through its Women in SAR programme.

Again this is an area were the collective and collaborative strength of the IMRF membership could help assist. A strong, diverse membership base, well connected and sharing the lessons learnt and challenges faced will benefit all and move us a lot closer to a truly globally connected SAR network able to save lives in or on the water.

Some organisation, somewhere, has probably already faced the problem you are facing and their outcomes may well present you with a solution to yours. 

In the meantime, stay safe and we look forward to a more promising and productive 2021 and beyond.