In early June, members of the maritime SAR sector came together in Victoria, Canada, for the latest IMRF regional meeting and maritime SAR workshop. The event was the first time the IMRF had held a gathering like this in the Americas since the 2019 World Maritime Rescue Congress. 

As a result, representatives from far and wide took the opportunity to meet in person at the Victoria Coast Guard base of the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt. IMRF members from North America, Europe and Australia joined local partners to learn, engage and workshop with each other to improve their knowledge and capabilities of critical maritime SAR topics. More than 40 members of the IMRF came together in Canada, showcasing the global prowess and dedication of the IMRF’s membership.

The event kickstarted with a live maritime SAR demonstration event, organized by the CCG’s Western region maritime SAR team, with representatives from Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CNCGA), Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR), and Canadian Coast Guard SAR Station – Victoria taking part. The demonstration provided observers with the ability to understand more about interoperability between differing SAR services, promote safety cultures, exercise functional communication and demonstrate indigenous capabilities to an international audience.  

The live SAR demonstration was incredibly well-received by the audience, which included members of the public alongside local media to improve the visibility of major SAR events like these in order to raise awareness of safety at sea and the important role of maritime SAR organisations in Canada.

Following the demonstration and a well-deserved welcome reception for participants, allowing participants to network, delegates then enjoyed a series of presentations on behalf of the regional SAR organisations, including an understanding of the history and challenges faced on the western coast of Canada, as well as some of the campaigns and initiatives they are undertaking with local communities.

The first presentation looked came from Alec Dick, Chair of the indigenous Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CNCGA)  who emphasized the importance of collaboration at all levels to help develop relationships and that, by working closely together, the response to at-sea incidents can be faster and more effective. 

The next presentation from Alex Baildham, then provided an overview of the background and current organizational setup of CN CGA, Canada’s first-ever indigenous-led coast guard auxiliary, followed by a presentation by Kathy Nghiem, Director General of Response for the the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), which looked at the challenges involved with operating in the Canadian Arctic Region and how the local teams have expanded their size and scope in recent years.

Following a break and the first breakout session, the next presentation by Scott Simmons gave an overview of the Bermuda SAR system. Being such a small island that has a tremendous amount of marine activity, Bermuda often sees up to 300 SAR incidents per year. The local team provided an overview of how they are using technology to help find and respond to local incidents, as well as ensure personnel have local knowledge and training. 

The next presentation by Phil Bostock of HM Coast Guard, looked at the benefits of online training for SAR personnel, including ways to make online training more successful by making them more interactive, shorter and more frequent, and most importantly purposeful for the audience. The presentation also looked at some of the common challenges with online training and ways to mitigate those issues. 

The final presentation by Dylan Stephanian from the CCG showcased a case study of a SAR incident to provide a practical insight into the issues surrounding the provision of emergency medical care along the remote British Columbia coast, enabling delegates to put theoretical knowledge into action. While the case study covered a wide range of topics, it stressed the importance of collaboration and streamlining communication to make incident response as effective as possible. 

The IMRF also held two workshops/breakout sessions relating to indigenous and remote community maritime SAR as part of the day’s programme. 

The first looked at the challenges faced by global SAR organisations in their related maritime environment, including a reduced pool of mariners, developing an effective communications strategy with all locations and people within an organisation, and a lack of volunteer retention as volunteers tend to provide their time for a much shorter time than in the past. Crucially, the interactive workshop gave participants the chance to understand some ways to mitigate these challenges as participants shared insights and best practices from their organizations including building trust and organising regular opportunities to connect and improve collaboration, as well as getting SAR assets into the communities that need them the most.

The second workshop examined some of the critical challenges that you might foresee at remote and/or indigenous maritime SAR organisation in the future, including potential changes to the environment, higher costs, recruitment and retention, and changing SAR patterns of activities. The breakout session allowed members of SAR organisations to collaborate closely with other similar bodies to learn directly from one another, an activity the IMRF is proud to advocate. 

Events like this one in Canada are critical to improving the visibility and effectiveness of the maritime SAR community and showcasing the importance of the IMRF membership working collaboratively to improve their capabilities in live maritime SAR exercises. In addition, practical exercises and workshops allow participants to learn skills and best practices that they can bring back to their own organisations to improve their capabilities and enable further discussion at home.

The next major event to be held by the IMRF will be the Annual Meeting, which will be held in Thessaloniki in Greece, hosted by the Hellenic Rescue Team, in November. Click here to learn more about the Annual Meeting and how to join us in Greece: 

The Annual Meeting will also include a Maritime SAR Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Seminar, which will be the first event of its kind held by the IMRF. You can find out more about the EDI Seminar here: