SOUTH SURREY -- Dozens of women put their skills to the test in South Surrey on Saturday as part of a weekend-long, hands-on experience with first responders.

They spent their Saturday at sea off Crescent Beach, participating in Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue's "Operation: This IS You" event.

“We’re trying to promote more women in non-traditional roles,” said Amber Sheasgreen, Operations Manager for RCMSAR.

“They’re just as strong and capable at doing all the same jobs and duties as everyone else on the boat," she added. "It’s a learned skill."

The event was created by Achieve Anything Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to get women into high-tech fields.

First responders held a variety of training exercises for participants between the ages of 14 and 60.

“The idea is to wake them up to new possibilities,” said Kirsten Brazier, the foundation's president.

Brazier worked as a professional pilot for 25 years, but she was one of only a handful of women working in the field.

There are more 25,000 professional pilots in Canada, but only six per cent of them are women.

According to the foundation, women only account for four per cent of technical tradespeople and less than three per cent of top command positions in Canadian Forces.

“I think a lot of the past approach has been talking, brochures, and pictures. I don’t think that’s going to capture these girls and women,” said Brazier.

She says part of the problem is that most women don’t have direct connections to the aviation, aerospace, defence, or marine industries, so they’re missing out on networking opportunities.

“If I didn’t have this experience, I would have no idea what marine search and rescue is,” said 18-year-old Lokman Wong, a participant in Operation: This IS You. “I think a part of that is mostly exposure: we don’t know what they do, so we don’t try to explore those fields a bit more."

Wong says the training deepened her interest in volunteering for SAR in the future.

She and two dozen other women worked alongside first responders to learn first aid, how to save a man overboard and dewatering techniques for sinking ships,.

“It’s very important; these are upcoming leaders,” said Nadia Humchitt, a fellow participant.

The 17-year-old has plans to become a firefighter and hopes more training events will be offered to inspire other girls her age to step out of their comfort zones.

RCMSAR volunteers say a gender-diverse team is often more dynamic.

“They bring different perceptions and information and they look at things in different ways. So it really helps balance out teamwork,” said Sheasgreen.

The number of women taking on command and technical roles is growing, but advocates say there’s still a long way to go.

“People don’t have to tell you that men are pilots, that men are astronauts, that men are firefighters. You see it in the news, you see it in the paper. It’s like this subliminal message that’s being driven home very day of your life,” said Brazier.

She says overcoming those stereotypes is going to take time and a lot more hands opportunities.