In June this year one of the world’s premier maritime search and rescue (SAR) events will be held in Vancouver. SAR people from around the globe will be gathering in the city for the World Maritime Rescue Congress, which promises a full and varied program of events, presentations and discussions, as well as an important exhibition – literally something for everyone involved in saving lives at sea.

The event’s theme is Learning from the Past; Looking to the Future – Maritime Search and Rescue in a Dynamic Operational Environment.

Attendees will hear about a wide range of contemporary SAR operations, procedures and equipment and, in another very important strand of the conference, will be able to consider the exciting – and challenging – future of search and rescue.

Key to the Congress is the concept of sharing SAR information. Here at the IMRF we are advocates for SAR on the global stage and facilitate the sharing of SAR experience, ideas and developments between their member organizations – large and small, long-established or start-up, and governmental and non-governmental – as well as among the wider worldwide rescue community.

And the Congress is very much open to the wider maritime community too. SAR service providers help keep the seaways safe, but anyone working at sea or engaging in leisure activities on the water can become involved in a SAR operation – as lifesavers as well as potential recipients of help.

Professional seafarers, fishermen, offshore industry workers, port authority personnel and pleasure boaters: all can be ‘SAR people’; and most are required to be if they can, under the terms of the United Nations Law of the Sea, the SOLAS Convention and other global agreements. All will be very welcome to come and share at the World Maritime Rescue Congress in June.

As the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, the Honourable Janet Austin OBC, says:This Congress provides an outstanding opportunity to network and learn with SAR practitioners, industry, and governments interested in maritime safety from around the globe. On behalf of all British Columbians” – and of Congress hosts, the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, of whom Her Honour is Honorary Patron – “we will be pleased to welcome you to this incredibly diverse city and Canada’s gateway to the Pacific.

The 2019 Congress will – among many other things – discuss global SAR development. The World Health Organization estimates that 400,000 people drown every year, especially in poorer parts of the world, and many at sea.

The IMRF’s member organisations do what they can to address this appalling toll, in the waters for which they have taken responsibility themselves but also by helping others to improve their own SAR capability.

The Congress presents an excellent opportunity to share, for global as well as local benefit.

Attendees will look forward too, with detailed discussion of future SAR technology ranging from remotely-piloted air- and water craft to sophisticated (and simple!) search, rescue and training aids.

The Congress will also discuss future challenges of other kinds; for example, the problems of ‘irregular migration’, often by sea and in unsuitable craft; and SAR in conflict situations.

Another major theme will be women in SAR. The IMRF has consultative status with the International Maritime Organization – and IMO’s theme this year is ‘Empowering women in the maritime community’.

The IMRF fully supports this initiative. Resources are always at a premium in SAR and the Congress will seek to address the under-use of this great potential human resource. Women (and men!) will be able to network in Vancouver, to address the issues and move things forward.

The state of the environment is another major global concern and the SAR community has its part to play here too, both in greening its own activities and in helping mitigate damage to the marine environment.

Climate change also entails more extreme weather events and sea-level rise: both will have increasing impacts on the global SAR community.

Other matters to be discussed during the Congress include ‘mass rescue operations’ – defined as being beyond everyday SAR capability – and SAR in remote areas such as the polar regions (now seeing increased maritime activity) and other areas where SAR resources are spread thinly.

These challenges are linked, and both present immense challenges to SAR responders of all kinds; challenges that need to be faced, with ideas, experience and expertise shared in the IMRF tradition. Working closely with industry is particularly important here, for the ongoing support of the various maritime industries is vital to successful SAR, especially in areas far from dedicated search and rescue resources.

SAR responders of all kinds will find subjects of interest to debate at the Congress. So too will those in the ‘back room’ roles – the managers, administrators and technicians who play an equally important, if usually less obvious, part in saving lives at sea.

The Congress will provide opportunities to discuss the development of local SAR capacity, and of equipment and good practice; the recruitment, training and retention of people; funding and fundraising; and ‘getting the message out’, whether the message is about improved water safety or SAR operations or SAR development, and whether traditional or rapidly developing social media are used for the messaging.

In Vancouver in June there will be something for everyone with an interest in saving lives at sea…The World Maritime Rescue Congress is held every four years, hosted by one of the IMRF’s member organisations. Previous Congresses have taken place in Sweden, China and Germany.

This year the hosts are the volunteer rescue service, the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue. RCMSAR saves lives and promotes public recreational boating safety throughout British Columbia’s coastal waters, and on some of its inland waters, and is associated with the national organisation of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The Canadian Coast Guard are also major supporters of this year’s Congress, along with the Royal Canadian Navy.

RCM-SAR’s CEO, Pat Quealey, says:Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue is thrilled to host the World Maritime Rescue Congress. The Congress is an ideal venue to learn alongside our global colleagues as well as showcase our partnerships in the service of public safety and as a member of the BC marine industry. Vancouver has proven itself a tremendous host city to the world, and WMRC 2019 will absolutely maintain that tradition.

And the IMRF’s Chair, Udo Helge Fox, adds: “The Congress is all about sharing SAR lessons and information. People come together from all over the world – to listen and to talk with each other. ‘Sharing’ is really what the IMRF is all about, and the opportunities our meeting in Vancouver affords are simply too good to be missed. We are very grateful indeed to RCMSAR for inviting us to this vibrant city, and to their partners in Canadian search and rescue who will help make this event a genuinely important one, and one to remember!

The World Maritime Rescue Congress, together with its SAR exhibition, will be held at the Vancouver Convention Centre on 15-17 June 2019.

The IMRF Members’ Quadrennial General Meeting will take place the following day, June 18th.

For information about attending, sponsoring and exhibiting please visit