International Women's Day 2021

Sarah Psaila

  • Volunteers with Coastguard Auckland
  • Works as Safe Boating Programme Coordinator, Coastguard Boating Education
  • America’s Cup course marshal
  • Mum extraordinaire 
  • #ChooseToChallenge this International Women's Day

Sarah Psaila is a busy woman, and she enjoys it that way. That’s how she’s managed to juggle teaching students about water safety, being a Coastguard volunteer and staff member, and taking care of her family too.

After arriving in New Zealand from the UK with her family in 2012, Sarah wanted to get into the community to make a difference and to meet new people. Just a month after finding her feet in a new country, knowing no-one, she began volunteering with Waterwise and quickly became passionate about teaching children and young teens water safety skills.  


Finding her passions 

Her passion led her to seek out more, so when she was looking to volunteer with a charity a friend pointed out: ‘you won’t be happy on the land, you need to be on the water’. Tied in with her love for the water and her passion with educating children on water safety, it was a natural progression to become a volunteer with Coastguard Auckland in 2015 

Since then, Sarah has continued to strive to achieve, moving rapidly through the extensive Training Matrix all on-water volunteers must undergo to serve aboard rescue vessels. “I started getting pushy about getting though the matrix,” she said. Her mantra is to keep practising, to help cement and consolidate her knowledge and skills. “I was keen to take any training I could get,” she laughs. 

Her passion and positive attitude has rubbed off on her daughter Emma, who began volunteering with the Auckland unit when she was just 16, and who is now just weeks away from becoming an operational crew member alongside her mother – in fact, she’d have been operational months ago had her assessments not kept being postponed by the various COVID lock downs in Auckland. “I’m incredibly proud of Emma,” Sarah said. “She has seen me getting on with it, and she’s really proving you can do anything you set your mind to”.  

Their achievements were recognised by the Coastguard Auckland team in 2019, when the mother/daughter duo took out awards for Rescue Vessel Crew of the Year among others.  


Looking out for the kids in her day job, too 

Sarah is an operational volunteer, primarily aboard Trillian Rescue Alpha and the new Trillian Trust Rescue, and also works as Safe Boating Programme Coordinator with Coastguard Boating Education, having been part of the team for two years now

“There’s a lot of focus solely on being able to swim”, she said, “but you also need to know how to survive in the water, which includes being prepared”. As a Coastguard volunteer she’s seen many people get into trouble on the water, and knows the value of wearing a lifejacket for survival. “I can translate my on-water experience into the classroom.” 

Regarding water safety, her main focus is the youth of today. “It’s all about the children, and teaching them the skills to survive.” 


Helping out in the America’s Cup  

All this experience has led Sarah to one of the pinnacles of the marine industry – the America’s Cup.  

As a course marshal, she’s on board one of the 26 support vessels during the races of the Prada Cup and the upcoming America’s Cup, setting out the orange course boundary buoys and liaising with the public – one of approximately 130 people supporting the racing on the water, many of whom are also Coastguard volunteers too. 

While it is fun, the training she had to put in beforehand was punishing with weekend after weekend on the water. “But I put myself out there,” she said. “It’s helped with my helming skills, and has really built up my confidence another level.” 

She’s also volunteered with the Volvo Ocean Yacht Race in the past, including minding and mentoring school groups within the race village for 3 weeks. “That made me even more passionate about helping children, as some of the schools involved were a lot less fortunate than the ones I was used to working with,” she says. “Most of the children were very excited, some never been near a boat before – it was inspiring to help out”. 



The marine industry is heavily male dominated, but Sarah doesn’t see this as an impediment to women being successful. She believes most people are respectful, and most have been welcoming to her and other women entering the industry. She reckons women are subtly helping change what can be a very macho dynamic for the better. “There’s just as much banter and fun, and we are all learning from each other in such great ways.”

“The best thing I’ve done is be willing to listen and take advice, and to share my experience”, she says. “The more I do, the more I love it.”  

While she's one of just 17 women amongst 115 men who are America’s Cup marshals, her direct Coastguard crew is made up of 4 women and 3 men. “So we outnumber the guys there,” she laughs. 

She’s part of a close-knit crew who work hard and train hard, but know how to have fun too. “Coastguard is a very supportive place to be,” she says. “All the volunteers have a passion for helping people and being on the water, and you bond over this – no matter who you are or where you’re from. The encouragement has been phenomenal.” 

To women considering the marine industry, Sarah thinks there’s no better time than now. “It’s an amazing space to be in”, she says. “My advice is to just go and do it, and experience it for yourself – I’d encourage any woman to get into it!” 


Read more stories from inspirational women who are #choosingtochallenge this International Women's Day, on our Facebook page.

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity