The IMRF’s World Maritime Rescue Congress is held every four years. It’s our flagship event, and among the biggest SAR conferences in the world – and, although this was only the fourth Congress under the IMRF’s flag, it has a long and proud history. We think that this year’s event lived up to that tradition.

The 2019 Congress was held at the Vancouver Convention Centre in British Columbia, Canada, from 15-17 June 2019, with our Quadrennial General Meeting following on the 18th June 2019.

This time we were very kindly hosted by Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR), and very ably supported by International Conference Services. From the feedback received we believe that those who were able to attend found it a very worthwhile few days.

Some 550 people attended the Congress, representing 180 organisations from over 40 countries.

There were more than 80 speakers and presenters, covering a very wide range of maritime search and rescue subjects. 43 organisations had stands in the International SAR Exhibition which accompanied the Congress.

The 2019 Congress was the fourth such event conducted by the IMRF, but it continued the long series of quadrennial international lifeboat conferences dating back to 1924.

Sharing SAR ideas and experience to the benefit of all is a longstanding tradition, originally of the International Lifeboat Federation and now of its successor, the IMRF.

This time we began in grand style, with local SAR services conducting a series of SAR demonstrations and visits in the vicinity of the Congress venue on the opening day.

Taking part were units from the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard, RCMSAR, Vancouver Fire Department, Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Port Authority.

The IMRF takes this opportunity to thank all the organisations and individuals involved in planning and presenting this excellent day of SAR activity, which gave the Congress such a fine start.

The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘learning from the past; looking to the future’. Assistant Commissioner Roger Girouard, Canadian Coast Guard Western Region, took this theme as the subject of his keynote address during the opening ceremony –  which also included welcomes from representatives of the Indigenous

Peoples of British Columbia and the Honourable Janet Austin OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and a video message from Mr Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The main conference segment of the Congress was divided into three work streams under main headings of ‘SAR Operations Today’, ‘Sharing SAR Lessons’ and ‘The Future of SAR’, each sub-divided into themed presentation and discussion sessions.

The three-stream format was designed to accommodate the large number of interesting subjects proposed, while enabling attendees to choose which sessions to attend.

The opportunity to discuss the subjects raised, and to network generally, was enhanced by a programme that included many breaks and social events.

Overall, the aim was to enable people from SAR services all around the world to meet, share, learn and talk about a wide range of subjects of importance to them and to the people they seek to save.

The programme therefore included sessions relating to:

SAR in the Pacific
Global SAR development
SAR pressure points
Improving survival rates
SAR case studies
The improvement cycle
Funding and messaging
Working with SAR data
Mass rescue operations
Technological developments
Future challenges; and
SAR people: training, assessment and support


A particularly important feature of the 2019 Congress, in a year when IMO’s theme for World Maritime Day has been ‘Empowering women in the maritime community’, was a networking lunch on 17 June 2019, open to all, on the subject of ‘Women in SAR’.

Attendees heard a number of inspiring addresses on the subject.Following on from this important inaugural event the IMRF has launched the #WomenInSAR campaign and mentoring/support network; the new #WomenInSAR Award was presented at the IMRF Awards on 10 September 2019; we are holding a women-only SAR training event in Africa later in the year; and plans are being prepared for subsequent events.

It was, as always, good to meet and talk about SAR, and we hope a good time was had by all who were able to come together in Vancouver.

But we know too that SAR can bring great sadness as well as joy. At its opening, Congress attendees stood for a minute’s silence in memory of the three crew of a rescue boat of the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer lost in storm conditions at Les Sables d'Olonne on the coast of France just eight days before, on 7 June 2019, having launched to assist a fishing boat in difficulty; and to honour all those lost at sea while trying to save others.

Such loss does not dissuade us from what we do; and of course it should not do so. If anything, in honour of those lost, it makes us the more determined to save lives at sea.

By continuing to share our experience and ideas, not just at the World Maritime Rescue Congress every four years but in every way we can, we can put that determination to the best possible effect.

The IMRF offers sincerest thanks to all the Congress speakers and presenters, their co-authors, the session chairs, the technicians and other ‘back-room’ staff who all worked hard to make the conference the success it was.

Special thanks are due to the SAR crews on day one, the team at International Conference Services, the RCMSAR volunteers who staffed the venue so cheerfully, and to all the exhibitors and sponsors for their vital support.

The full Congress report and a selection of presentations, papers and photos may be found on the IMRF website,, in the 'Members Only' section.