About two dozen women and girls got to experience the day in the life of marine search and rescue at Crescent Beach Marina on Saturday.
The Achieve Anything Foundation, along with Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue Station 5 Crescent Beach, hosted participants for “Operation: This IS You! Saving Lives at Sea.”
The event was aimed at inspiring women and girls to enter the marine-rescue field.
The foundation, according to its website, was formed “to develop and implement year-round projects and programs of lasting value toward inspiring female future leaders in STEM, and STEM-based fields such as aviation, aerospace, marine and defence.”
Throughout the day, participants got a chance to go out to in boats, save a “person” that went overboard, learn how to navigate and how to patch a boat that’s sinking, among other activities.
Kirsten Brazier, the president of the Achieve Anything Foundation, said women are “very under-represented” in the marine and search-and-rescue industries.
“Most girls and women don’t have someone in their network,” she said. “The number of women in marine industries, search and rescue, is very low. So if you don’t know someone that’s doing search and rescue, you don’t have someone in your family or someone that you work with, it’s not realistic to expect that it’s going to occur to you unless you have some kind of exposure.”
Brazier said she doesn’t expect all of Saturday’s participants to go into search and rescue, “but they will share this experience.”
“Where a guy has a network of experience already because of all the men that are doing these jobs, women don’t have that, so we’re building a network of experience essentially,” Brazier told the Now-Leader. “Some of these people will hopefully become inspired to do the job themselves, but if not, they will tell others that will also investigate.”
Dean Donnelly, with RCMSAR 5 Crescent Beach, said the goal of the day was to take the participants and “see if they were ready to be recruited into search and rescue.”
Asked if there was anyone that seemed interested, Donnelly said he “can see the ones gravitating to it, but some are still a bit shy.”
Donnelly, who is an active advanced crew member for the local station, said there are roles in the station for everybody, including for those who would rather be support than an active crew member.
“Then there’s many, they want to be active crew. You have to encourage that and let them train up. Our ideal candidate is someone who is at a stage in their life where they can commit the time to the training,” said Donnelly, adding that the first year of training includes 150 hours for crew level, and then year over year, 100 hours of training and 100 hours of volunteer time.
For search and rescue, Donnelly said, having more women in the field “changes the dynamic.”
“Girls are able to assess a problem faster and better, so who wouldn’t want a better person on your team for that,” he said. “For us, which in the olden days might have been a whole bunch of alpha males, it’s not effective. You have to have multiple styles of thinking when you’re on the boat, so as we start to balance our male and female, we get a much better cross section of the ways to manage the problem.”
Brazier said that when it comes to an event like Saturday’s, “a lot of times, women don’t know how cool it is.”
“If you had been here first thing this morning, you would’ve seen a lot of shy, sad faces, not sure what to expect,” she said. “It was raining, and it didn’t take very long before the event started and all of a sudden they were having the time of their life. They were out driving the boats, docking the boats, doing rescues, doing a de-watering exercise… and the smiles on their faces is just incredible.
“I think people sometimes need to maybe go out on a limb and try something different and they will be pleasantly surprised.”
As for Nadia Huchitt, she said she’s been interested in search and rescue since she was in Grade 10.
The now 17-year-old said she was told about the one-day event from her sister, and said it was “definitely worth it.”
“Because it was a man’s job before, doesn’t mean that it isn’t just as important as being a woman and having this type of job. Yes, they can be stronger in ways, but you work your way to the top. Keep getting better and keep excelling.”