Beacon registrations rise as more Kiwis take to the outdoors

01 February 2021

New data compiled by Maritime NZ’s Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) shows Kiwis are taking safety seriously as greater numbers head outdoors.

RCCNZ Deputy Manager Operations, Neville Blakemore, says distress beacon registrations in December 2020 were up almost 30 percent on the previous year, with more than 2000 registered.

Mr Blakemore said the up-tick in beacon registrations in December was in line with RCCNZ’s noticing more activity in January, as more Kiwis took to the outdoors over the holiday period.

“Accidents happen unexpectedly. Having a beacon increases your chances of survival as it gives early notification of your location and situation. It enhances and speeds up the rescue – effectively it takes the search out of search and rescue,” Mr Blakemore said.

The range of beacon use was demonstrated in one day recently, when RCCNZ responded to five beacon alerts encompassing - two people clinging to an up-turned dinghy; a person in a Kahurangi National Park hut who had had a medical event; a motor-cyclist who had crashed his motorcycle in the hills north of Naseby; a person who had become violently unwell on the Hump Track; and a tramper who had become isolated and disoriented on the Te Araroa Trail.

“A beacon signal is picked up from almost anywhere and a response commences immediately,” Mr Blakemore said.In all these instances there was a helicopter with the people within the hour.”

Many people find cell phones have no coverage when they need help, he said. “Cell phone coverage is patchy, but a beacon is picked up by satellite coverage – it makes a big difference when it really matters.”

He also said that people should think about having a personal locator beacon on them even when they didn’t anticipate being in an isolated area. “For instance, more and more people are using the Te Araroa Trail and don’t realise it takes them into some very inaccessible parts of the country.”

“People are also starting to use e-bikes and going on tracks which might lead to accidents,” he said.“The same goes for people using kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, who may not think of themselves as boaties but can easily end up being dragged out to sea by currents and winds before they know it.”

Last year, RCCNZ tasked rescuers to respond to distress beacons 275 times – 62 on the water, 196 on land, 12 on aircraft and five classified as unconfirmed. This was only slightly down on the previous year, primarily due to the pause in boating and outdoor activity during the COVID-19 lockdown.

To register your beacon, or for more information, visit:


Registration of 406 MHz distress beacons is a legal requirement in New Zealand.

Registration is free and can result in a more efficient search and rescue effort.

Digital 406 MHz distress beacons transmit a unique code that identifies a particular beacon when it is activated.

A registered 406 MHz distress beacon will allow the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand to access the registration database and find emergency contact details for the owner of the beacon in the event the beacon is activated.


RCCNZ is responsible for coordinating:

  • land-based missions arising from someone activating a distress beacon; and
  • all major maritime and aviation search and rescue missions within New Zealand’s 30 million square kilometre search and rescue region.

Land Safety Code – advice to remember when you are heading outdoors.

  1. Choose the right trip for you
    Learn about the route and make sure you have the skills for it.
  2. Understand the weather
    It can change fast. Check the forecast and change your plans if needed.
  3. Pack warm clothes and extra food
    Prepare for bad weather and an unexpected night out.
  4. Share your plans and take ways to get help
    Telling a trusted person your trip details and taking a distress beacon can save your life.
  5. Take care of yourself and each other
    Eat, drink and rest, stick with your group and make decisions together.
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