In June 2019 the IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR initiative with the simple goal of increasing the representation of women in the maritime sector and raising the profile of women in the maritime search and rescue (SAR) sector.

Just as is the case of other sectors of the maritime community, women are greatly under-represented across maritime SAR, both in terms of volunteers and full-time paid roles. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), women represent just 2% of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers.

To try and, address this, the IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR campaign to support the IMO’s ‘Empowering Women in Maritime’ initiative and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

With 18 May 2022 marking the IMO’s International Day for Women in Maritime, we’re taking a look back at everything we have achieved and learnt over the past three years, as well as what the IMRF has in store as this amazing initiative continues to grow.

The #WomenInSAR Report & Guidance

In October 2020 the IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR survey, which looked to understand what people thought about gender balance and equal opportunities across the entire SAR sector, as well as ways of improving things.

We received more than 1,600 submissions from individuals and organisations from 48 countries.

The answers from this survey formed the basis of the IMRF’s #WomenInSAR Report.  

Funded by Trinity House and launched on 8 March 2021 on International Women’s Day, the report noted that, although things are improving, there is still a perception that SAR jobs are more suitable for men.

The report also provided a number of recommendations for SAR organisations to improve equipment, facilities, working conditions and training materials for women.

Click on the following link to read the full #WomenInSAR Report.

The survey and report have also given the IMRF the impetus to try and improve gender balance in maritime SAR globally.

For instance, the majority of respondents to our survey came from Europe and North America, meaning we have more to do to reach out to SAR workers in Asia, Africa and South America.

The report also encouraged the IMRF to continue to develop resources and assist SAR organisations to improve the recruitment and retention of women, both as volunteers and paid staff, as well as share reported experiences and good practice among the wider SAR community.

Following the release of the report, the IMRF launched its official #WomenInSAR Guidance document in December 2021 that addressed the key themes and issues that stemmed from the report.

These included: Culture & Values of an Organisation, Recruitment, In-Post Support Schemes, Addressing Wider Societal Attitudes & Perceptions, and Be A Learning Organisation.

Click on the following link to read the full #WomenInSAR Guidance Document.

The #WomenInSAR Mentoring Scheme

Another recommendation of the report was the establishment of a mentoring scheme for women in maritime SAR.

In June 2021 the IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR Mentoring Scheme, which aimed to match women mentors and mentees, aged 18 and above, from across the maritime SAR sector.

One of the common themes the IMRF has found during its campaign is that women are inspired most by other women so this scheme is an ideal opportunity to inspire others or look for a role model currently in maritime SAR.

The impact of the first round of mentoring is currently being evaluated, but keep checking the IMRF  website for news of when the next round will open to new mentees.

The #WomenInSAR Award

One of the first moves the IMRF made when launching its #WomenInSAR Initiative was the establishment of the #WomenInSAR Award as part of the annual IMRF Awards ceremony.

The IMRF #WomenInSAR Award is designed to acknowledge those who have inspired, encouraged and supported greater participation of women in maritime.

This could include those who have engaged fearlessly as a volunteer member of their local SAR organisation, or inspired other women to join the maritime SAR community.

So far we have had three winners of this prestigious award: Isobel Tugwell from the RNLI, Anna Bertrandsson from the Swedish Sea Rescue Society and Krista Lynn Elvidge from the Canadian Coastguard.

Nominations for this year’s #WomenInSAR Award are now open. Click here to make your nomination for the IMRF's 2022 #WomenInSAR Award.

First All-Women SAR Training

In November 2019 the IMRF held its first ever all-women SAR training event in Morocco. The training covered basic knowledge and best practice, and included a practical exercise, all of which were designed to enable the participants to lead successful rescue missions at home.

Click on the following link to read more about the event.

Blogs and Podcasts

Over the past three years, the IMRF has had the chance to sit down and talk with several profile-worthy women in the maritime SAR sector. Each of them spoke about their history in SAR, what inspired them to join their local SAR organisation, and how they think things can be improved for women in SAR in general. You can read all our interviews and listen to our #WomenInSAR podcasts below:

IMRF #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar

As part of its ongoing promotion of women in maritime SAR, the IMRF are running the first ever International SAR IMRF #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar.

These events will take place at the end of August 2022, hosted by the Finnish Lifeboat Institution (FLBI).

The training course, which is exclusively for women, will promote leadership skills onboard SAR vessels and will include classroom and practical exercises for all participants.

The #WomenInSAR Seminar, which is open to all, will give an opportunity for SAR organisations and individuals to share their experiences, insights, and experiences for increasing the representation of women in maritime SAR.

There are only a limited number of places left at these events. If you’re interested in finding out more, click on the following link #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar.

Looking Forward

Despite so much being achieved over the past three years, the IMRF continues to play its role as an advocate for improving opportunities for women in maritime SAR.

Our journey is not yet over,” said IMRF CEO Theresa Crossley. “The IMRF will continue to play its part and push maritime SAR organisations around the world to promote better gender balance and equal opportunities,” she said.

Women have such a vital part to play in a maritime SAR organisation. They bring dedication, determination and passion to their roles, be they a volunteer or a full-time member of staff. What we, at the IMRF, have seen over the past three years is the tremendous variety of roles that women play in maritime SAR, the different expertise they bring and how well women are becoming integrated into SAR organisations globally.

I am proud of each and every woman who is involved in maritime SAR. We have made tremendous strides but there is still much work to do,” she added.

For the IMRF, we will continue to promote our work, as well as efforts made by women SAR members around the world to help boost the profile of women working in maritime SAR.

Getting Involved

We are always on the lookout for exciting news or initiatives that you, or your organisation, are undertaking to achieve a better gender balance.

If you have something you’d like to share, or would like to get involved with the #WomenInSAR Campaign, please contact Caroline Jupe at [email protected].