The theme of the IMRF’s Annual Meeting 2023 was Acting Now to Prepare for the Future. Held in early November in Horten, Norway, the agenda was packed with insightful discussions, updates on ongoing projects, and workshops focusing on critical aspects of search and rescue (SAR) operations.

This year’s meeting was attended by more than 50 members of the IMRF community from over a dozen countries around the world.

The event commenced with opening remarks from Grete Herlofson, CEO of The Norwegian Sea Rescue Society (RS), Jori Nordström, IMRF Trustee and CEO of Finnish Lifeboat Institution (FLBI), and Caroline Jupe, CEO of the IMRF, setting the stage for two days of collaboration and knowledge sharing.


The first session provided updates on critical IMRF programmes. 

Matthew Fader from the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS) reviewed the Crew Exchange programme, outlining its objectives and operational details. Notably, 519 crew members have already participated in the programme, with 30 members in 2023, 27% of whom were female. The feedback survey highlighted positive responses, with participants rating the programme 9.8/10 overall. The next Crew Exchange will be from 21-28 September 2024.

Clay Evans, an IMRF Trustee, presented plans for updating the IMRF’s Mass Rescue Operations (MRO) Project. Over the past 15 years, the project has significantly contributed to maritime SAR operations, including detailed and summary guidance, an example MRO plan, and an online MRO library. Phase 1 of the project has also involved organising international conferences, developing workshop formats, launching an MRO Subject-Matter Expert course, and publishing a comprehensive 230-page guidance document.

Phase 2 will enhance existing work on the MRO Project by adding new content, reducing overlap, ensuring continued correlation with International SAR Conventions, IAMSAR references and IMO Circulars, and expanding sections on lessons learned and local authorities. The revision is expected to be completed by June 2025. Also, in 2024 the IMRF will host its fourth MRO Subject-Matter Expert Course. Further details and registration can be found here.

Phase 3 of the MRO project aims to develop an MRO curriculum, learning tools, model courses, and e-learning tools to increase global awareness and enhance MRO training delivery. However, progressing to this phase is contingent on securing significant funding. 

During the IMRF panels and working group discussions, Caroline Jupe, CEO of the IMRF, provided feedback on its #SARyouOK?, Basic Rescue Boat Model Course, the Global Maritime SAR Forum and Aeronautical Panel. 


The #SARyouOK? programme and the associated working group have played a vital role in defining the scope of mental health guidance for the maritime SAR community. The programme has also contributed to setting the agenda for workshops hosted by the IMRF.  The guidance will be published in early 2024. 

Basic Rescue Boat Model Course

A working group led by the IMRF's Roly McKie has been established to develop the Basic Rescue Boat Model Course. The working group's work has accelerated since the World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC). The course will be based on the IMRF’s Basic Rescue Boat Operator Manual.

The Global Maritime SAR Forum and Aeronautical Panel

The Global Maritime SAR Forum is a new initiative aimed at fostering inclusive information sharing within the global SAR community. It integrates the former Future Technology Panel and complements other IMRF events, webinars, and communication channels. The forum, chaired by Roly McKie and involving IMRF members, aspires to be the premier platform for discussing new technologies, processes, skills, and experiences in SAR. It will feature monthly virtual meetings with presentations followed by open discussions. The presentations will be recorded and made accessible for members on the IMRF website. 

Furthermore, in 2024, the IMRF will launch an aeronautical panel, focusing on growing IMRF's engagement with all parts of the SAR ecosystem. More information on this will be shared in the coming months. 

IMRF at the IMO

Caroline Jupe provided an update on the IMRF work at the IMO. The IMRF’s consultative status at the IMO focuses on advocacy and capacity building. In advocacy, efforts led by Roly McKie include developing model courses (especially the Basic Rescue Boat Operator and planning for an MRO course), addressing technological changes in SAR, and collaborating with the ICAO-IMO Joint Working Group on hosting valuable SAR materials. 

For capacity building, the IMRF has collaborated with the IMO TCD to enhance SAR capacity in Africa, featuring initiatives like #WomeninSAR training and online courses. The launch of the IMRF’s online SAR Academy, which offers the Basic Rescue Boat Operator Course globally, marks a significant step in IMRF’s training efforts.

Jaakko Heikkilä, the IMRF’s International Programme Manager, presented the #SaferSAR programme, addressing the lack of a global system for sharing SAR data on incidents and accidents to identify trends and safety concerns. The #SaferSAR initiative aims to assess the feasibility of developing such a system. Objectives include evaluating the SAR community’s sharing culture, identifying barriers, and understanding potential insights. The programme involves launching a baseline survey, setting up a working group to analyse results, and exploring design options and communication channels for the proposed system.


The Annual Meeting also included two workshops that focused on the #SARyouOK? The Mental Sheild: Mental Support and Care in the RS Operative Environment and #FutureSAR How Can and Should We as SAR Community Prepare and Adapt to Climatic Change 

Tomm Fredriksen Gran, the HSEQ Officer at RS, led a workshop on #SARyouOK?, presenting a Norwegian model for organisational care competence. The model emphasises professional and wise care in addressing mental stress and incidents, defining professional care as empathetic support and wise care as specialised knowledge applied appropriately. Key components include the role of leaders in exhibiting caring skills and the importance of wise care before, during, and after serious incidents. He also discussed the causes of care neglect, offering a checklist for organisations to assess and enhance their care practices. 

Jaakko Heikkilä, Katie Young from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), and Berit Letting from RS facilitated the second workshop, which focused on the IMRF’s #FutureSAR initiative, addressing the impact of climate transition on maritime SAR. 

The workshop explored technological, cultural, behavioural, and social adjustments within SAR organisations. Katie Young presented the RNLI’s work on climate change, introducing the “Climate Coin” concept to illustrate adaptation and mitigation aspects. She highlighted challenges like storms, heatwaves, and coastal erosion, emphasising the need for proactive measures. Berit Letting discussed the RS’s proactive approach, showcasing some of the organisation’s projects and systems that can improve search efficiency through advanced sensors and data analysis, maritime traffic, extreme weather and regulatory compliance. 

The meeting also included a touching moment as Anders Bagge from SSRS was posthumously presented with the IMRF People’s Choice Award for his contribution to the maritime SAR community. 

The closing session provided a roadmap for 2024. Key highlights include the launch of the #SARyouOK? guidance, the first report for #FutureSAR, the initiation of an aeronautical panel, and arranging a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion seminar. The IMRF will also be organising the second #WomeninSAR training in Finland in August 2024; details for applying can be found here. The IMRF will also focus on its Centenary celebration (1924 – 2024) and growing its membership.

“The IMRF Annual Meeting 2023 was a testament to the commitment of maritime SAR professionals worldwide. The exchange of ideas, updates on crucial programmes, and workshops addressing mental health and climate change readiness underscored the industry’s dedication to staying prepared for future challenges,” said Caroline Jupe, CEO of the IMRF.

The two-day event concluded with a demonstration of RS’s drowning prevention programme targeting youth, visiting lifeboats and testing their training facilities.