Deputy station commander Carmen Long shares insights from this year’s International Maritime Rescue Federation’s #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar in Finland.
“In South Africa we have a significantly higher percentage of women involved in SAR than in other countries,” says Carmen Long, deputy station commander at Station 8 in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Carmen recently attended the 2022 International Maritime Rescue Federation’s (IMRF) #WomenInSAR Training and Seminar in Finland in August.
“That said, while training and opportunities are pretty much the same, there are still differences. The fact that there is an event created specifically for women in SAR [search and rescue], reflects the gender separation that exists worldwide and this initiative acknowledges the women who are already involved in SAR organisations. It also helps to create awareness that women can be valuable team members, which increases representation.”
According to the IMRF, the current huge gender gap in the maritime sector is well documented, with women representing only two percent of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers. Although there is currently no hard data on maritime SAR, all available anecdotal evidence suggests that the position is no different: internationally, women are greatly under-represented across maritime SAR, in both volunteer and paid positions.
“I think attending an event of this nature reflects that women in the NSRI have the same opportunities for training and career growth,” says Carmen, who has the distinction of being the first woman in the history of the NSRI to become a Class 1 coxswain, after qualifying as a Class 3 coxswain.
“I would think that at this point in time an event like this, specifically for women, is focused on creating awareness that to be part of a SAR team, gender shouldn’t be an issue. Yes, men and women are not the same (physically, biologically, emotionally), but being different doesn’t mean being incapable. The responsibilities of a coxswain are the same whether you are a woman or a man. Being competent has more to do with the quality of training and skills development than gender.”
Sixteen participants attended from Germany, Italy, Norway, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and South Africa, and received training in the form of lectures and practical exercises on Class 1 and Class 3 boats, covering navigation, communication, and search and rescue scenarios.
“It was a great experience, and the facilities and the hosts were fantastic,” says Carmen. “Despite the language differences the local team and participants were professional, welcoming and friendly. Lectures and practical exercises were interesting and fun to participate in. I was very impressed with the technology and PPE used. I was, at times, out of my comfort zone and I like that. It put things into perspective and there’s always growth from it.
“The specifically female-focused aspects were more about informal sharing of our experiences and perspectives from our respective countries, bases and individuals.”
Her biggest takeaway from the experience? “Teamwork. We were split in groups right from the start and we had to navigate, helm, and so on; changing to different vessels from Helsinki to the training facility and working together for the rest of the weekend. Despite meeting for the first time and speaking different languages – I was in a team with ladies from Italy and Norway – we worked well and had fun together. No egos, no competition. A team will always work well together, when each member is committed to do their best to achieve the team’s goal.”
Carmen is currently working on some ideas gleaned from her training to implement at her station, so watch this space!
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