Women power in maritime search and rescueFor the first time, the majority of the crew of Humanity 1’s seventh rotation was female-. After five successful rescues we talked to the all-female RHIB crew on board the fast rescue boat “Bravo”. Viviana, search and rescue coordinator, Anne, cultural mediator, Olive, RHIB driver, and Sarah, RHIB support discuss working in an all-female crew, differences and similarities with male colleagues and the prejudices that still exist about women on board.
I see hands in the air and big smiles about the fact that you had an all-female team on “Bravo”. How was that experience for you?
Anne: This was my first search and rescue experience. But I felt super safe during the trainings and the rescues within this team.
Sarah: Already in the crewing interview I was told I would be in an all-female RHIB crew and I was super excited. But on the RHIB I didn’t feel the difference because it just all worked super smoothly, we worked together as a team.
Olive: Yeah, I agree. I did not feel a huge difference in terms of working environment, because we’re all professionals. But in terms of what we spoke about and how we supported each other – this was different. With male colleagues it is sometimes more of a competitive environment: Who can do the nicer manoeuvre or who can do it a bit better?
Why is an all-female RHIB crew still something unusual?
Viviana: All of us, we are human beings, and we have prejudices. In six years working for search and rescue NGOs, this was the first time I worked with only females and I have to admit, I was a bit sceptical. But I am very happy to have this possibility to work with women that are so dedicated, very high skilled – and very strong in terms of being physically strong, but mainly emotionally strong – with their brains and with their hearts. I think that all of us women we have this kind of strength, sometimes more than men.
Anne: A male crew member on Humanity 1 told me that he was a bit concerned about a crew in which most of the members are female. But after some time that we worked together he had to admit that it works pretty well.
Olive: We proved that we’re also capable of taking care of all the technical stuff on a RHIB. We are able to fuel up a RHIB, to pump it up, to take care of all the technical stuff on the RHIB.
Do you have any experiences regarding diversity in seafaring and search and rescue you want to share?
Olive: I’m coming from a commercial shipping background where I was usually the one and only woman on board every single time.
Anne: I see a trend in search and rescue organisations. More female engineers and more female captains are taking part in search and rescue rotations. And I think that’s a good sign in general.
Viviana: When I started on board the rescue ship Aquarius, I was the only woman in the search and rescue team for one year. That slowly changed and they realised that it is good to have female crew members in terms of communication and team building. Now I even have the possibility to lead a RHIB crew.
Olive: I was also leading a RHIB team before – not on Humanity 1. But I was the only women in the search and rescue team. That was hard. In a female-only crew you don’t have to prove that you’re actually able to do your job. You can focus on so many more things that are actually much more important. Like, focusing on training, learning and not proving that you’re strong enough to lift up a bag with life jackets inside.
Viviana: I am also a mom and I have two kids. And I think that is another prejudice still today. There are not a lot of women that work on board and have kids. I know it’s difficult and we need support, but it’s possible. And my kids are very proud of what I do.
What had to change that the world of seafaring, and also the crews of NGO vessels, become more female?
Sarah: I think one important thing to achieve change is to represent and raise awareness. We have to spread the word about our work and be kind of a role model for other women or young girls who don’t know what they want to do as a profession when they grow up.
Viviana: The aim is not to always have a RHIB full of women. We want a RHIB full of skilled people, doesn’t matter which gender.
Olive: I don’t always want to be recognised as a woman working at sea. I just want to be recognised as a seafarer. But at the same time, every time you make a mistake as a woman on board, it’s seen as a failure of all women working as seafarers. Whereas when you make a mistake as a man, it’s seen as a failure of this specific person. So, it’s really hard sometimes to keep your head up. But it’s such a great feeling to be on board a ship like this, where there are so many women on board.
Which changes would you wish for regarding the crew of SOS Humanity?
Olive: I think it’s not only important to have diversity in gender but also to have diversity in all the other aspects like age, colour of skin and so on.
Viviana: We have a lot of people on board Humanity 1 coming from a lot of places in the world and this is a great achievement. But what I really wish for the future is to have a female captain.