Carmen Long leads the way at the NSRI
GO.FOR.IT. This is Carmen Long’s simple motto when it comes to achieving what hasn’t been done before.
That is certainly what this full-of-life 52-year-old did when she was presented with the opportunity to become the first woman in the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI) illustrious history to qualify as a Class 1 coxswain.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) coxswain training programme covers five classes of rescue vessel coxswains, or skippers, with Class V allowing operation of a rescue vessel on inland waters such as a dam. Class 1 qualifies a person to operate rescue vessels more than nine metres in length, but under 25 tonnes and with an inboard diesel-driven engine.
The fact that “for more than 50 years no woman had achieved the Class 1 rank did not mean there were none capable,” Long said. “It was something that no one really considered. When that option was put in front of me as if it was the most natural and logical next thing to do, I thought, why not?”
The NSRI, the non-profit organisation dedicated to saving lives on South African coastal and inland waters, was founded by pioneer Patti Price in 1966, after the tragic deaths of fishermen off Still Bay.
Women today play a leading role in the organisation and Long is one of an ever-growing number of women filling leading roles in the NSRI.
She serves as Class 1 coxswain, training officer and admin person at Station 8 in Hout Bay, one of the busiest NSRI stations thanks to the bustling fishing harbour and a number of beaches along the coastline popular with water sports enthusiasts.
“Being a Class 1 coxswain, one is responsible for the decision-making and execution of a rescue operation, and ultimately the safety of the crew on board your vessel, other crew and vessels involved, as well as the casualties we are assisting,” said Long.
“Apart from being qualified and able to command a vessel over 10 metres, a Class 1 coxswain has to be competent to perform any and all of the roles required to safely run that vessel. Some of these roles are helming, navigation, engineering and radar, for example.”
Long has been an NSRI volunteer for nine years – 730 volunteer hours and counting – but for her it doesn’t feel that long: “There are so many people that I’ve met that have been here forever, that my small nine years feel very little.”
Long was born in Chile. Armed with a desire to help others, she wanted to become a paramedic, but “in my country it wasn’t really a career you considered back then, so I studied something else instead”.
“But the will to help never goes away,” she said.
She moved to South Africa in 1999 and in 2009 joined a neighbourhood watch in her area. She ended up doing patrols with Sven Gussenhoven, current NSRI deputy station commander at Station 8, when he joined.
Long recalled that when he mentioned he was part of sea rescue she knew right then that she wanted to get involved.
“When I went to the first meeting, I realised I had so much to learn. But I was inspired by what I saw, I wanted to be part of it. I was sold right there and then.”
“I think being a volunteer and a rescuer is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It is not only great to be able to make such a difference in the community and be part of an incredible team, but also you learn much about yourself.”
Long joined the NSRI in September 2011, and the seed of becoming a Class 1 coxswain was planted in 2017 by then station commander Lyall Pringle.
“After some consideration I decided to jump in and started to get ready for the assessment.”
After hours of studying and practising, she did the assessment in 2018 but had to redo the engineering oral exam, and so spent more hours in the engine room before passing and obtaining her ticket in February 2019.
“I realised there is absolutely nothing that a woman cannot do, be or achieve,” Long said. ”We all have to learn the same things, do the same courses... same amount of hours served. And at the individual level, there are always things we all need to improve and work on. The barriers and issues are in people’s minds, women’s and men’s alike.
“All that it is needed is the right support and encouragement. This is teamwork.
“I certainly encourage women to follow their goals and achieve them, whether it’s becoming crew, coxswain, medic or a kick-ass navigator. GO.FOR.IT. Don’t deprive yourself of becoming and achieving what you aspire to be.”
* Carmen Long was nominated by the NSRI for our Women’s Month #SheIsMyRock campaign, a collaboration by IOL and the African News Agency.
We are calling on our readers, corporate partners and staff to nominate a woman who is empowering and uplifting her community, fellow women or her industry.
The #SheIsMyRock nominee will be featured on IOL and you could stand a chance of winning one of our awesome weekly prizes to give to her.
To enter, email us at [email protected] or send a WhatsApp to 074 557 3535, include a picture of the inspirational woman in your life and tell us why she is your rock. Text, audio and video entries will be accepted.
Now is your chance to show the women who care so much how much you care for them.
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