RCMSAR members put in countless hours of volunteer work, asking very little in return, so it is all the more important to acknowledge their contributions and achievements. A “thank you” or “well done” goes a long way, but should and could we do more?

Late last year, our CEO Pat Quealey asked that member recognition within RCMSAR be reviewed. Manager of Human Resources John Johnston approached former president Jim Lee and asked Jim if he would lead the review, put together a team and report back to the management team. The new team consisted of Jim, RCMSAR Director of Administration Rob Duffus, Eric Brand from RCMSAR Nanaimo and ourselves. We kicked things off in November with a brainstorming session at Headquarters where we talked about awards and recognition at all levels.

We were curious to find out why relatively few RCMSAR members get nominated for national and/or provincial awards. We wondered if most stations even know these awards exist, and thinking back to the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary-Pacifc days, whether there is a need for RCMSAR to develop their own awards. We also talked about how different stations likely have different recognition needs and ideas, whether we should (and how we could) improve awareness and whether there was something Headquarters could be doing to better support our stations.

To help make an informed plan, we sent out a survey to all station leaders to fill in themselves or forward to the respective member recognition coordinator if their station had such a position.

Survey Results

A big thank-you to all stations that participated in the survey (almost 70%!) that provided us with valuable information, questions and inspiration to dig deeper.

While only about a quarter of stations have some sort of formal recognition program (and/ or a dedicated recognition role), most stations do try to recognize members’ achievements in some way. Some stations are content with how they handle things, but others would like to extend their recognition efforts.

The most popular way to recognize member achievements seems to be public recognition

Member achievements that warrant special recognition included: high number of volunteer hours or training hours; training accomplishments (such as courses completed); mission acknowledgement; and, length of service. Some stations also acknowledge above-and-beyond commitment by their members, or long-standing members leaving official positions or retiring from active service.

The most popular way to recognize member achievements seems to be public recognition, such as pointing out the achievements at the station meeting, on their mailing list/news- letter, on their Facebook page or even in the local newspaper. Certificates, pins and plaques are the next most popular means of recognition. Items are also used as thank-yous, such as branded apparel, high-quality personal protective equipment or branded merchandise. In contrast, some stations answered that nothing works better than a pat on the back and a few friendly words.

Recognition of members in the form of items or events is mostly financed through general funding, but in some cases stations create their budgets in a way that allows them to use grant money.

On the subject of awards, we found out that few, if any, stations have nominated members for Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary National awards or participate in the CCGA National Service Pin Program. e prevailing view is that, with our rebranding to RCMSAR, members were no longer eligible for CCGA recognition. At the same time, there is support for the development of RCMSAR-HQ awards.

Almost half of all stations indicated that they would like to do more and are looking to HQ for guidance.

Overall, stations said that they found member recognition to be very valuable. A thank-you to one member not only motivates and encourages them to continue their commitment, but also functions as an incentive for other members.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

The survey has shown that most stations do try to recognize members’ commitment and dedication. Some stations have successfully implemented their own programs while others struggle with this, or simply see no need for a structured approach. However, almost half of all stations indicated that they would like to do more and are looking to Headquarters for guidance. 

Replies were divided on whether there should be an RCMSAR-wide, consistent program for all stations, or whether stations should be able to preserve some autonomy.

It is apparent that different stations have very different cultures, and that different approaches will work for them. Headquarters recognizes that there is no need to dictate how to approach the subject of member recognition. We hope that all stations feel encouraged to take responsibility for recognizing their own members’ achievements in ways they see fit.

Based on our talks as well as the survey results, our team has come up with some recommendations to facilitate that.

John Johnston presented our recommendations to the RCMSAR Board of Governors and they were approved in February. At the same time, John drafted a new policy in which stations are encouraged to develop and apply their own recognition programs, as well as nominate deserving members or groups for community, provincial or national awards. The policy outlines the process of how to do this. Going forward, we want to make awards information more accessible through the SAR Management System. Eric took on the task of identifying and cataloguing municipal, provincial, national and international awards that RCMSAR members may qualify for.

We are also working to create a platform with recognition ideas and recommendations. For now, it will be based on the survey results, but the goal is to open it up in the future so that all stations can share their ideas and experiences. is platform can then be used by individual stations looking for guidance, finding examples and ideas if they so wish.

We’re excited to present more findings and developments on the subject of member recognition soon, so keep an eye on the Compass! If you’re interested in getting involved with our committee, please get in touch with Jim Lee.

RCMSAR members of all levels put in countless hours of volunteer work. We feel that their efforts deserve to be seen and applauded. Our team will keep working to provide our stations with ideas and resources to help with that.