The World Maritime Rescue Congress is all about the global SAR community coming together – to network, share and learn – and the IMRF secretariat team are happy to say that the Congress programme has come together nicely too.

The Congress begins with a day of SAR demonstrations and experiences, organised by our hosts, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, together with their SAR partners. Saturday will close with a welcoming reception and the official opening of the Exhibit Hall.

Two full days of SAR conference follow. After welcomes, and a keynote address by Assistant Commissioner Roger Girouard of the Canadian Coast Guard, IMRF Chair Udo Helge Fox will introduce the conference proceedings.

As is traditional at our Congresses, most presentations will be given in three streams of work running simultaneously, with subjects loosely divided among ‘SAR operations today’, ‘Sharing SAR lessons’, and ‘The future of SAR’. Congress attendees will be able to choose the sessions of most interest to them.

Before the conference divides into its three streams, and in recognition of Vancouver’s situation on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, we will have a plenary session on ‘SAR in the Pacific’.

Speakers from that vast region will address SAR development issues, with a focus on how States with well-developed SAR systems can assist their less well-resourced neighbours.

There are eleven subject areas in the three streams that follow. Each work session will last one hour, with most subjects extending over several sessions.

Global SAR development’ will address one of the IMRF’s key functions, with presentations from Africa, South America, the Asia-Pacific region, the Aegean, the Caribbean and the Arctic.

Speakers will also discuss specific development themes, and there will be an update on the IMRF’s recent work at the International Maritime Organization.

The ‘Case studies’ sessions will focus on some particular SAR cases, with a clear aim of identifying lessons and learning those lessons – two different processes!

Technical developments’, in the ‘Future of SAR’ stream, includes presentations on a wide range of technological aids to SAR. Several speakers will address the increasing number and capability of unmanned and autonomous systems, both aircraft and surface vessels.

Other exciting technical innovations will also be presented and discussed during these sessions.

The Improvement Cycle’ will focus on consequence management and ensuring that lessons identified are reported and acted upon; and in ‘Funding and Messaging’ speakers will look at ways of finding the money needed for SAR, and on how to get the ‘message’ right, to attract that funding.

The ‘Pressure points’ sessions will take an honest look at some of the pressures being placed on SAR providers in today’s world – in particular the arguments over the rescue of migrants and asylum-seekers which have resulted from the Mediterranean crisis, and the always difficult question of what to do when SAR becomes body recovery.

Working the data’ picks up on a number of research themes; and ‘Future challenges’ will discuss a number of issues arising from global developments, both environmental and technical.

Mass rescue operations’ has been a major project for the IMRF in recent years – identifying common challenges and successful solutions in these rare but extremely difficult cases. These sessions will include a brief case study of the Viking Sky cruise ship emergency on the Norwegian coast in March; and a discussion of the question ‘why do we struggle with mass rescue planning?

The ‘SAR people’ sessions will look at the training of our crews and support teams; assessment of their performance; and the need to look after them, especially when they are exposed to traumatic incidents.

‘Improving survival rates’ focuses on systems and programmes designed to better enable people to stay alive until they can be rescued – or to avoid the need for rescue altogether – and on how we can measure the effectiveness of such accident prevention and mitigation strategies.

Finally, the theme of World Maritime Day this year is ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’ – and that, of course, includes the maritime SAR community. The Congress programme will therefore include an important networking session on ‘Women in SAR’, which we hope many of our colleagues attending the Congress (women and men) will take the opportunity to join in.

So – it’s all come together very nicely; and the IMRF hopes the global maritime SAR community coming together to discuss these many important matters will be of great benefit.

Which means the saving of more lives!