10,000 more distress beacons

The number of registered distress beacons in New Zealand increased sharply by 20 per cent in 2015 (up 10,027 from 49,785 in December 2014 to 59,812 in December 2015).

“For people in trouble more beacons means faster response, more lives saved, and fewer serious injuries,” the Manager of the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), Mike Hill said.

“If you can’t make contact when you are in trouble, then no one will know you need to be rescued.

“Carrying the right communications equipment is at the core of being well prepared for an emergency – whether at sea, on land or in the air.

“We have been promoting distress beacons as one of the most reliable ways of signaling that you need help in an emergency, and I think the message is getting through.

“Beacons are also becoming simpler, smaller, and cheaper, and you do not even have to buy your own beacon. They can be hired from organisations like the Mountain Safety Council and outdoor activity clubs throughout New Zealand.”

Internationally, improvements are being made to the search and rescue (SAR) satellite network to make it faster at detecting and locating an activated beacon.

Last year a SAR satellite receiving station was opened between Taupo and Rotorua. Next year the number of SAR satellites will increase from five to 18, and there will be more than 50 SAR satellites in five years’ time.

A key part of the system is registering your distress beacon and keeping your details up to date. This is free and simple, and can be done at www.beacons.org.nz
Registering a beacon provides important information that makes a response faster and more effective.

In 2015, 622 beacons were activated but 112 of those were not registered and another 57 had out-of-date information about the owner. Without contact details and other key information the start of a search can be delayed, sometimes by hours, and the longer the delay the greater the danger.

The key points to remember when you obtain a distress beacon are:

  • register your beacon free with RCCNZ
  • keep contact details up to date
  • understand how to use the beacon before you leave home
  • check the battery expiry date
  • a distress beacon with inbuilt GPS will provide a more accurate position, faster to RCCNZ
  • do not buy a distress beacon from overseas (unless it is New Zealand-coded) as it may result in delays to the rescue.

Of the 622 activations last year, 194 led to rescues (167 in 2014) and 63 lives were saved (12 in 2014).

Examples of some rescues in January include:

  • a small plane crashing on take-off from a remote airstrip, fortunately the two people on board suffered only minor injuries;
  • a tramper who broke his leg on a canyoning trip; three trampers stuck, unable to move off a dangerous hillside and suffering from dehydration;
  • two cyclists lost in Pureora State Forest;
  • a 64-year-old solo mountaineer who had slipped on snow and injured a leg on rocks;
  • a tramper with an injured ankle;
  • and another tramper with a head wound.