11 Jan 2017

Unregistered rescue beacons cause distress

10:20 pm on 11 January 2017

The Rescue Coordination Centre says valuable resources are being used up searching for people who are not in distress because they have failed to register their details.

tramping boots

The Rescue Coordination Centre is encouraging people to register their rescue beacons. Photo: AFP

A record 62,000 alert beacons are registered with the centre but about 30 percent of beacon users have not given their contact details.

The centre said that made it harder to send the right teams and equipment for the situation.

Manager Mike Hill said, in some cases, rescuers were sent out to find nobody was in distress.

"We're encouraging more people to carry locator beacons with them, whether they're on land, in the bush, mountain biking, hunting, tramping, whatever they're doing and also making sure that more people on the water have an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) with them."

Mr Hill said people who owned a beacon needed to register it with the Rescue Coordination Centre and ensure that their next of kin details were up to date.

"The importance of up-to-date details with us is that we can make several phone calls through the next of kin or the responsible person and it allows us to understand that if there's someone who's gone into the bush, is it with a party of school children, is it three hunters, who might we be dealing with, which allows us to work out which is the best rescue asset to send given the numbers or the circumstances we might come across."

There were also a number of cases where it was much harder to trace lost people because the centre did not have their details, he said.

"We believe about 30 percent of the beacons in New Zealand are unregistered, so potentially 30 percent of the people feel that they've got the insurance policy and are carrying beacons - and while we still may find them, because we know where they are in distress, it can add different layers of complication not knowing what might we be dealing with when we get there," he said.

"It's a bit like phoning 111 and hanging up. Well, which emergency service do you need, what might they be dealing with when they get there? It's the same with an unregistered beacon.

"If you are in distress, and you need help, why not give as much information as you can to those coming to help you."

New Zealand's search and rescue region covered 30 million square kilometres, Mr Hill said, and the search and rescue unit included about 15,000 people, mostly volunteers.

"If we're sending something halfway to Fiji, it's best we know exactly who are we going to encounter, how many people, it's a registered yacht, there are five people on board.

"Then we can send halfway to Fiji the most appropriate asset to deal with the people who are in distress," he said.

A woman who suffered severe head injuries while out climbing on Christmas Day and a motor boat stuck on a sandbar off Foxton Beach were among the more than 450 rescue beacon incidents for 2016.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs