Geoffrey Denman, the recipient of the 2023 IMRF  Vladimir Maksimov Lifetime Achievement Award, did not accidentally find his career in the Canadian Coast Guard.

“I was encouraged by both of my parents to consider a career in the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). Growing up around family-owned power boats throughout my childhood and sailing in western Canada, I enjoyed my connection to the sea, which inspired me to pursue a career on the water,” Geoffrey said.

After graduating, he contacted his high school, which coordinated a work experience program with the CCG. They set up a three-month unpaid opportunity with the CCG Kitsilano SAR Motor Lifeboat Station, where he gained valuable experience and training. During that work experience program, he also trained in an off-duty cycle for entry-level courses required for positions as a lifeboat crewman.

“During this time, CCG opened a competition job process to hire 10 regional applicants. Six thousand applicants applied, and I placed 11th on that list. Eventually, I was hired as a casual employee. I worked aboard CCG SAR Motor Lifeboat Stations and the large fleet vessels on the British Columbia coast before eventually becoming permanent.”

Following an illustrious 38-year career with CCG, Geoffrey will be retiring in March 2024. His time in the maritime sector has been full of incredible highlights, with the most recent one being a part of a two-day Mass Rescue Operations (MRO) Workshop in coordination with the US Coast Guard in Seattle, Washington.

He  has also been involved in IMRF activities. In 2019,  he was the inter-agency Liaison Officer when the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) hosted the IMRF’s World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC) in Vancouver. He helped to coordinate live maritime and aeronautical assets for a demonstration in Vancouver Harbour. This live demonstration was organised for the benefit of local and international delegates, the City of Vancouver, and the 3,000 - 5,000 passenger cruise ships at the time.

“I would like to acknowledge the continuous support and inclusion I have received from the IMRF, which champions and advocates for the safety of life at sea and promotes the involvement of maritime organisations around the globe,” Geoffrey added.

“I also want to express my gratitude to all the mentors, supervisors, colleagues, and response partners who have encouraged, pushed and supported me throughout my career. I have been fortunate to have had many experiences in the SAR world and, as always, it is the people who make the difference,” he noted.

MROs at the forefront

Ahead of his retirement, Geoffrey shared some advice for newcomers to the maritime SAR sector, emphasising the importance of investing in people, teamwork, and collaboration. He explained that these values have been vital to his successful career.

“Relationships are the foundation for building trust and understanding with response partners in Indigenous communities, other levels of government, and other response partners,” he noted.

This is particularly vital for planning and launching an MRO, where Geoffrey remarked that to succeed, you must cultivate relationships before planning a maritime SAR exercise, MRO, or Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) framework. A notable illustration is the relationship-building undertaken by CCG personnel, including Geoffrey, with coastal First Nations on the British Columbia coast, as mutual trust had to be established. Through collaborative training and exercises, they successfully enhanced SAR capacity and broadened the SAR network of coverage, ultimately establishing the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CNCGA).

Geoffrey also noted other examples of successful engagement with Federal, Provincial, Municipal, and First Nation communities on the British Columbia coast in western Canada. These include interagency planning workshops and individual conversations that build upon previous successes.

Geoffrey revealed that he faced several challenges related to MROs during his career, including rebuilding relationships with partner agencies due to technological advancements, constantly shifting organisational priorities, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, it was the relationships built between organisations and personnel over a number of years that enabled Geoffrey to stand as a pillar of maritime SAR excellence. Although his nearly four-decade-long career is winding down, his impact will be felt by generations to come, owing to the legacy he has built and nurtured over the years.