Celebrating importance and impact of women in HM Coastguard

Celebrating importance and impact of women in HM Coastguard

'We, as strong women, definitely have something to bring to the party'
A collage of female coastguard rescue officers, either taking part in training or call outs

From successful rescue missions to working with their “second family”, members of HM Coastguard, from all over the UK, are celebrating their roles and experiences within the maritime industry.

As part of International Day for Women in Maritime, they are also recognising the importance of more women joining the sector and its impact.

International Day for Women in Maritime (18 May), is an opportunity to highlight the achievements of women in maritime, as well as identifying areas of improvement for gender equality. 

Bex Owen, Karen Mackenzie, Olivia Letchford and Molly Luke have been part of HM Coastguard for a number of years, and all believe this is a day worth marking. Not only to recognise how far the Coastguard and wider Maritime and Coastguard Agency has come, but to encourage more women to follow suit. 

Bex has been the Senior Coastal Operations Officer across the coast of south Wales for three years and, off the northeast coast of England, Molly is Station Officer for the unique Holy Island Coastguard Rescue Team.

At opposite ends of the country, Karen, who started her coastguard journey in 2022, is a Coastguard Rescue Officer for Stornoway in the Western Isles of Scotland, and Olivia a Coastguard Rescue Officer for Hayling Island in the depths of Hampshire, follows in her father’s footsteps.  

Here are their insights into being part of HM Coastguard:

Senior Coastal Operations Officer Bex Owen, dangling over a cliff in Devils Cauldron, Wales, as part of a rope exercise

What made you want to join HM Coastguard?

Bex (pictured left): I have had a love of the coast from a young age. As a keen surfer and volunteer crew member for the RNLI, and ex HART Paramedic, when a fulltime position became available in HM Coastguard, it was a no brainer for me. The opportunity to spend my working day at the coast in a search and rescue capacity felt like the right decision.

Karen: Living in a coastal community I often saw Coastguard activity and training happening around the islands, and I was just really interested in the range of work the Coastguard does. It’s so much part of island life and I really wanted to get involved to support their work.

Molly: I wanted to join HM Coastguard specifically because Holy Island relies heavily on the team. Being a tidal island we are cut off from the mainland twice a day and the Coastguard is the only available emergency service for locals and visitors. We want to provide locals a peace of mind that in an emergency, we are not too far away.

Olivia: My dad has been in the Coastguard for almost 30 years both as a volunteer, as well as some time in the ops room at Lee-on-the-Solent. He’s been doing it longer than I have been alive so I grew up with it! When I was little I was fascinated by it and always wanted to know what he got up to on call outs. That passion stayed with me as I grew up and at 19-years-old I decided to join myself and work alongside dad in the team.

Is it important to mark International Day for Women in Maritime and the role of women in HM Coastguard?Coastguard Rescue Officer Karen Mackenzie crouched on the floor with team, holding rope equipment in place

Bex: International Day for Women in Maritime allows us to show how far we have come. I take pride in being a role model and paving the way for additional females to feel able to apply for roles, that were once very much thought of as a man’s job. I am a firm believer in the right person for the right job and we, as strong women, definitely have something to bring to the party.

Karen (pictured right)It’s important to showcase how much HM Coastguard has progressed in recognising the skills and experience that women can bring to Coastguard Rescue Teams across the country. It's an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the many women who serve in teams that were traditionally male-dominant.  

Molly: I think it's important to mark a day that celebrates women in any field. I'm in a lucky position that my team is led by women, my Deputy Station Officer is female and I have a great balance of women on my team. We love women supporting women and by marking International Day for Women in Maritime, we hope we can give other women the confidence to find out more about roles in the service. 

Olivia: Maritime used to be a male-dominated industry. In recent years, more and more women have been involved in maritime and I think it is important that we celebrate this. I am lucky to work alongside a number of great, inspiring women from local teams.

What’s the best thing about being a part of HM Coastguard? 

Bex: I enjoy being part of such an effective team, from us at area management, to all the volunteers we work with. I get job satisfaction from seeing the teams put their training into practice and saving lives on the coast. 

Karen: Despite the difficult incidents we encounter, it's fun being part of the team and being encouraged to develop your skills during training and on shouts. Nothing beats getting down to the station with the team when the pager goes, feeling like you're part of the Coastguard family, and being able to harness that team rapport to respond to operational incidents. 

Molly (pictured below with team): It doesn't matter what kind of shout you are sent to, but you know there will always be someone there that will have your back, someone you can have a good laugh with.

Olivia: I love the camaraderie you get in a Coastguard Rescue team. They are like a second family.

Coastguard Rescue Officer Molly Luke and her team smiling, with Lindisfarne Castle in the background

What has been a highlight or memorable moment during your time with HM Coastguard?

Bex: I have had numerous memorable moments. We completed a rope exercise at Devils Cauldron in west Wales, the satisfaction of going over the edge at such a high location was amazing. 

Karen: One of my more memorable moments in my first year was spending Hogmanay at the hospital to assist one of the Coastguard helicopters with a casualty transfer, thinking we were going to bring in the New Year there. 

Olivia (pictured below)I was involved in a major evacuation in Selsey where we helped more than 150 people affected by flooding throughout the night. There were so many of us there and we all kept each other going. It didn’t matter which emergency service we were from - we all looked out for each other and worked well to help everyone get to safety. That was by far the largest call out I have ever been on and is certainly one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Coastguard Rescue Officer Olivia Letchford with her back to camera, facing the direction of a Coastguard helicopter

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