Carmen Long, the NSRI’s first female Class 1 coxswain from Station 8, Hout Bay

Women’s Month: Meet NSRI’s first female Class 1 coxswain

‘Go for it’ is NSRI’s Carmen Long’s simple motto when it comes to achieving what has not been done before.


Carmen Long, the NSRI’s first female Class 1 coxswain from Station 8, Hout Bay

“Go for it” 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 NSRI, the non-profit organisation which is dedicated to saving lives on South African coastal and inland waters, was founded by pioneering woman Patti Price in 1966, following 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.

“Just because for over 50 years no woman had achieved the Class 1 rank did not mean there were no capable women,” 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?”

Long serves as Class 1 coxswain, training officer and admin person at Station 8 in Hout Bay, one of the busiest NSRI stations due 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 your crew on board of your vessel, other crew and vessels involved, as well as the casualties we are assisting.

“Apart from being qualified and able to command a vessel over 10 metress, 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’s big acheivement

Long has been an NSRI volunteer for nine years — 730 volunteer hours and counting — but said it doesn’t really 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 and armed with a desire to help others, wanted to become a paramedic but said, “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 moved to South Africa in 1999 and in 2009 joined a neighbourhood watch in her area where she ended up doing patrols with Sven Gussenhoven, current NSRI Deputy Station Commander at Station 8, when he joined after her.

Long recalled that when he mentioned he was part of Sea Rescue she knew right then that she wanted to be a part of it without really knowing what this sea rescue thing was all about.

Getting involved with NSRI

“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, and 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.”

Having joined the NSRI in September 2011, the seed of becoming a Class 1 coxswain was planted in 2017 by the then Station Commander, Lyall Pringle.

“After some consideration I decided to jump in and started to get ready for the assessment.”

Hours of studying and practicing saw her do the assessment in 2018 but she 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 added. ”We all have to learn the same things, do same courses, same task books signed, 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,” she said. “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 and want to be.”

Also read: Women’s month: Four South African women who have won Olympic gold