While the award ceremony for the IMRF Awards 2020 have been postponed until 2021 because of  COVID-19, it’s still a good time to submit a nomination while the details are fresh in your mind…

The IMRF Awards recognise the achievements of individuals, teams, organisations and companies from the global maritime SAR community who have demonstrated outstanding professionalism and exceptional dedication to saving lives, through their actions or through innovative new SAR products and technologies.

Michael Vlasto was an IMRF Trustee for 13 years and Chairman for the last eight years of them, standing down in 2015.  His career has spanned ten years as a Deck Officer with the Merchant Navy and then 38 years with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), with the final 16 years as the organisation’s operations director.  During his time with IMRF, he helped to establish the IMRF Asia Pacific Regional Centre (APRC) in Shanghai and still remains Vice-Chairman of the APRC Board. 

He is also the Chairman of the IMRF Awards Judging Panel.

We’ve spoken to Michael Vlasto, to ask him what the judges look for and what makes a nomination stand out?

Why Were the IMRF Awards Set Up?

Over the years I have been involved with various maritime award schemes including the International Maritime Organization’s International Bravery Awards and could see the value; what an award can do for morale and how an awards scheme can really help raise international awareness.

Most military and many individual SAR organisations have awards, but there was nothing that spanned the whole sector.  The IMO Bravery Awards celebrate one-off exceptional actions in commercial shipping.

But the IMRF Awards is the only international award scheme that recognises and applauds the skills and expertise of maritime SAR in totality - the skills that our people demonstrate day in day out.

The IMRF Awards also recognise that every single action relies on the teamwork of the organisation whether that’s your crew members or the back-office support – the IMRF Awards are the epicentre for maritime SAR, there really is nothing else like them.

What Would You Like to See in an Award Nomination?

The nominations are fascinating because they span such a variety of SAR situations, in a wide range of circumstances – weathers, temperatures, sea conditions, locations and they come from all around the world, that variety makes it both an interesting and challenging task to judge.  

In general, the judges have had extensive maritime careers, including in SAR, so we understand about the operational circumstances and can interpret the varied challenges of different scenarios. But, one of our challenges is getting a standard approach to the submission of nominations; some of which can be just three lines long, whilst others have almost written a novel about the nomination.

One point I would make to anyone submitting a nomination is don’t be too humble! I think it’s a trait of many SAR volunteers and professionals, who always understate what they have done, and just get on and do it. 

But for an award nomination, we do need you to tell us the story with clarity and factual correctness! 

Don’t overstate, but also don’t undersell what makes the nomination so special. Don’t tone it down too much -  we really need that information to judge how it compares with the other nominations.

The IMRF Awards Are in Their 5th Year Now – How Have They Changed?

There’s been a significant growth in the geographical spread and the different types of SAR activities, from maritime to aviation to water rescue – it’s not just about boat rescues anymore. 

The award nominations span all roles from operators to coordinators to equipment developers, so there’s a much wider mix of disciplines and scenarios. They are also more widely known and recognised across the industry, which is good to see.

What Do You Look For in the Different Categories?

For the Lifetime Achievement award, it’s not just length of service, it’s more about consistency of service over a period of time.  For example a nominee might be in their 40s, so comparatively young but it’s about what they’ve done so far. 

It recognises exceptional commitment to maritime SAR and a unique contribution to the sector.

The team award is just that.  Everything we do in maritime SAR relies on teamwork, whether that’s onshore, at sea or in the air.  Maritime SAR is like a jigsaw puzzle and every single piece is hugely important.

Having said that, there are times where an individual contribution really is exceptional.

Sometimes the success of a mission really is down to the incredible drive and leadership of one person.  That person is the one with the amazing skills -  they are the glue that often holds it all together.

The innovation and technology award is interesting. 

Over the course of my career technology has changed beyond all recognition. 

In many ways, with GPS and our advanced navigation systems the ‘search’ component of maritime search and rescue has been significantly reduced.

Thanks to massive advances in vessel and aircraft design, rescuers are now better protected and, in general, operating more reliable equipment at greater speed and with improved levels of safety.

This in turn leads to rescues being dealt with more effectively and efficiently, with better outcomes as this all impacts on survival times for those in the water.

These are all very welcome developments that deserve recognition and wider use across the globe, where there are still far too many lives being lost in and on the waters of the world.

I was delighted to see the #WomenInSAR Award introduced last year.

I look forward to reading the nominations for this year. When I started my career with the RNLI over 45 years ago, there were only one or two female lifeboat crew, but by the time I left there were over 600 female lifesavers. 

In my experience, cultural issues are often the biggest barrier to women becoming more involved.  I have found that gender is irrelevant under most circumstances, more often than not. 

It’s about using your head and hands, not muscle. Why exclude half the population when you are struggling to recruit crew? Female skills add value.  There are many different ways to deal with a situation, but it’s the end result that counts. 

I think it’s vitally important to recognise exceptional women as an inspiration to all of us.

Why Enter?

Because awards do matter.

The IMRF Awards recognise a unit, a group within an organisation, in a country, in the global SAR community. 

They shine a spotlight on the very best of what we do. 

It’s also interesting for the rest of the world, sharing some good inspiring stories which often leads to the further sharing of ideas, experiences and technologies and more new developments. 

Now more than ever we all need positive stories and that sharing of experience and best practice will help save more lives - how can you argue with that?

Just click here to read more about the categories and submit your nomination now.