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PHOTOS: Number of women on South Surrey marine-rescue team ‘a bit of anomaly’

More than one-fifth of active RCMSAR5 Crescent Beach crew members are women

When it comes to protecting the lives of those who take part in water-related activities, there’s a factor regarding the Semiahmoo Peninsula that stands out – the number of women who sign up for the task.

The RCMSAR5 Crescent Beach unit counts six women among its 28 active members; a percentage more than double the 10 per cent average seen across the organization as a whole.

Regional RCMSAR operations manager Amber Sheasgreen said the female contingent per unit varies depending on the size and location of each station – some have no women onboard, while others have more – and also on whether administrative and support roles are factored in.

There are “a couple” other stations that, like Crescent Beach, fall into the 20 per cent or higher category, however, those are typically smaller units, she said. Delta has two female crew members, while in Richmond, three of the unit’s 34 members are women.

“I would say the 20% at Crescent Beach is a bit of an anomaly compared across the board. And in fact, a goal I would like to see achieved/exceeded at every unit,” Sheasgreen said by email.

There are 33 of the volunteer marine-rescue stations across B.C., only two of which do not rely on community fundraising. Eleven stations watch over the province’s southern region.

In addition to the six active female crew members at Crescent Beach, there are three women on the board of the Semiahmoo Peninsula Marine Rescue Society, which supports the station. One of those three, Kristen Gribble, wears both hats.

For Gribble, who also has the longest tenure at the station amongst its female members, the effort is about continuing a journey of learning, while giving back to the community.

“I feel that all of the members of our station have that same passion to help others and feel it is a privilege to do so,” she said.

Gribble, a teacher, joined the unit initially to assist with fundraising and event planning, but said she always had her eye on becoming one of the crew.

She acknowledged being part of the team is a “huge commitment” – following extensive training, volunteers are on call 24/7, 365 days a year – that comes with no financial benefit.

“But this ‘work’ is something different entirely,” she said.

“With each training experience, mission or event I become more enthusiastic and driven to try more, give more and learn more.”

While women represent “an extremely low percentage in the maritime and search and rescue sector,” she said it’s heartening to see that more programs and initiatives aimed at encouraging girls and women to think about such careers are being put into play.

READ MORE: White Rock marine-rescue event aims to inspire women to enter the field

According to the Achieve Anything Foundation (AAF) – founded by Langley woman Kirsten Brazier – marine search-and-rescue is among a number of fields where the gender is “drastically under-represented.” Aviation is another such field.

RCMSAR5 station leader Rona Tepper said one of her proudest moments was orchestrating an AAF event aimed at inspiring future women leaders to consider roles long perceived as reserved for men.

It brought 40 women from all different backgrounds to the RCMSAR5 station for a full day of hands-on training.

“We covered everything from knot tying to boat handling, first aid scenarios and running the de-watering pumps used when a vessel is taking on water,” Tepper said.

“It was so fulfilling to see everyone’s confidence build over the course of the day, doing something completely different.”

Tepper, a mother of three who devotes an average of 40 hours per month to RCMSAR5, was quick to climb the ranks of the Crescent Beach station. Within her first year of joining, she was nominated for the role of deputy station leader. Two years later, she took the helm, and is now in her second term with the title.

The hours are on top of the busy schedule she maintains overseeing multi-family construction projects. Tepper said leadership skills she learned with RCMSAR5 have helped her at work, too, including a tactic that teaches a person to think things through before reacting.

Surprise was certainly one of Tepper’s reactions when she and other RCMSAR5 crew members were tasked out during the December 2018 storm that wreaked havoc on the White Rock Pier.

She was out taking pictures of the king tide and windstorm in Crescent Beach when the call to assist came through.

“Before I even answered I said to myself, who on earth would be out on the water right now?!” she said.

With the bay too dangerous for the crew to respond by water, they were given a police escort to White Rock, where the Coast Guard advised them there were people on the pier, and it was collapsing.

As part of the shore crew that day, Tepper said it was “unforgettable” watching the rescue efforts of the Cormorant helicopter and local first responders.

READ MORE: VIDEO: White Rock pier destroyed by storm, stranded man rescued

Susie Inkpen is another key member of the Crescent Beach crew. A member since 2018, Inkpen is the organization’s in-house mechanic, responsible for maintaining the engines of the team’s two vessels.

Currently a marine mechanic at Bridgeview Marine in Delta, she has worked in the field for more than 12 years.

Other women on the crew include Shelley-Ann Campbell (six years), Anna Threlfall (eight months) and Melissa Reynolds (2.5 years), while on the society, Gribble is joined by Melanie Gaboriault and Sharon Delmonte.

Delmonte said it was an “easy yes” when she was asked three years ago to join the society – her husband was involved with RCMSAR5 for 15 years. Bringing a wealth of financial knowledge to the group, Delmonte said she admires the “enormous commitment” the volunteers make “to keep this community safe on the water.”

Gribble said it’s never too late for anyone to learn something new, or step out of their comfort zone by dipping their toes into something different – they just might discover a whole new love.

To get involved – active boat crew members must live within 15 minutes of the Crescent Beach boathouse – or for more information, visit
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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