Last year’s winner of the IMRF’s #WomenInSAR Award, Amber Sheasgreen, Operations Manager at the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR), noted that there is already a number of remarkable women in the maritime SAR sector and that, by supporting each other and collaborating together effectively, they can inspire others to envision themselves in similar roles. 

Amber grew up around water and has always been interested in boats and the marine environment. As a young adult, she witnessed a couple of tragedies on the water in her community, which was a source of inspiration to join her local SAR station. 

“Since many of my friends and family are often on the water, I thought joining RCMSAR would be a great way to build my marine skills and knowledge while also giving back to my community,” she added. 

Her interest in SAR started almost 12 years ago when she volunteered as a new crew member. 

"I started as a volunteer and gradually developed my skills to become a Coxswain. At my local station, I took on various responsibilities, such as being a trainer, recruitment officer, and board member. Later, I joined the team at RCMSAR head office and now have the honour of working with, leading, and training members and supporting stations at a regional level. My duties also include liaising with partner agencies and organising large-scale SAR exercises in collaboration with the Canadian Coast Guard," she added.

Amber believes SAR operations and boat handling skills are not innate abilities and, therefore, can be learned by anyone, regardless of age, gender, or level of experience. Participating in SAR activities can be a fulfilling experience, and there is a suitable role for everyone, whether on the water or ashore.

She advocates for the active recruitment of female crew across RCMSAR and acknowledges that sometimes women face significant challenges when it comes to joining maritime SAR. 

“These challenges are often based on perception. Women may lack confidence in their skillset or knowledge and may not see enough representation in the typically male-dominated environment”, she added. 

Amber suggests that to tackle the challenges women face in SAR, it is vital to introduce mentoring programmes and offer more opportunities for women and girls to get involved in SAR from a younger age. Promoting teamwork and training and highlighting stories of female role models in every capacity of maritime SAR is crucial. Furthermore, it is essential to ensure that everyone, regardless of their gender or level of experience, has equal opportunities to learn and participate.

In her role as Operations Manager at RCMSAR, she oversees 31 stations on the west coast of British Columbia. Her responsibilities include ensuring operational readiness through training, reviewing equipment and vessel needs, and developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Amber is also involved in her organisation’s ’Look at Lifeboat Life’ programme, which offers women over the age of 15 an opportunity to experience what it is like to be a SAR member for a day. 

Participants will see SAR members, vessels, and missions of saving lives on the water up close and even get hands-on practice in basic SAR skills such as knot tying and Person In the Water drills. They will also have an opportunity to ride or drive the rescue vessels. 

“Our goal is to increase awareness of the maritime SAR industry and to help interested individuals explore whether they might enjoy pursuing a career in SAR. We hope this programme will encourage more people to consider SAR as a career choice and would like to expand it to other regions. We may even consider expanding internationally in the future,” Amber said.

A colleague recently told her about SAR operations happening in the Central Mediterranean. This inspired her to volunteer and work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) overseas. Thanks to the IMRF mentorship programme, she was able to make contacts in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, she spent the last two summer schools with Atlantic Pacific as an instructor, where she helped teach basic SAR skills to future humanitarians.

Amber expresses her gratitude to the IMRF for their dedication and effort in promoting and acknowledging the contribution of women in the maritime SAR field, in particular through their #WomenInSAR initiative. 

“I also want to thank all the women in the marine SAR industry for their hard work, commitment and support. These women play a vital role in this field, and SAR wouldn't be possible without them” she concluded.