Beacons (also known as distress or emergency beacons) are the most effective way of letting people know that you need urgent help and where to find you.

Why carry a beacon?

Due to New Zealand’s rugged landscape and changeable weather, you can get into trouble very quickly.

Radios, GPS tracking systems, distress flares, whistles, lights and mobile phones may be useful as a back-up, however, none are as effective as a distress beacon when you need help in an emergency.

Distress beacons are one of the most reliable ways of signalling that you need help.


Choose the right beacon

Although they all work in the same way, different beacons are designed for use in different environments.

There are three types of beacons:

  • EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) are best for boats, ships and other activities on water.
  • PLBs (personal locator beacon) are for those tramping, climbing, hunting and travelling to remote locations, microlights and balloons and any other outdoor activities. If being used for paddling or small water craft then they need to be of a type that can float and operate in water.
  • ELTs (emergency locator transmitter) are only for aircraft.


EPIRBs are suitable for all maritime activities

a distress beacon floating in water

Waterproof and designed to float

Additional safety features may be included and will vary depending on the model and brand.

Get a beacon


Register your beacon

It’s free and easy

Registration of your distress beacon is FREE and only takes a couple of minutes. Registrations can be submitted online, emailed or downloaded and sent by post.

It’s the law

Registering your beacon is a legal requirement.

It could save your life

Ensuring your beacon is registered with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is vital – a registered beacon means a quicker, more targeted response can be launched.

RCCNZ may also be able to find out exactly who is with you, how long you have been gone, and whether anyone has any medical conditions. Rescuers will then be in the best position to help you when you are located.

Register your beacon

Get familiar with your beacon

Before you head out

When moving your beacon - make sure that it is in “safe” or “off” mode

  • Read the instruction manual and understand how to operate your beacon.
  • Check the expiry date for the battery, which is shown on the beacon label.
    • Batteries should be replaced by your supplier or agent
  • Make sure your beacon is registered and that your details are kept up to date.

Make sure it’s easily accessible

Store it on your vessel or life raft

If your EPIRB comes with a mounting bracket, place it where it is visible and easy to access in an emergency. If the EPIRB and mount have a magnetic activated mounting switch ensure that the two magnets are “face to face”. Make sure the EPIRB stays dry and keep it locked away when nobody is on board.

If you have an inflatable life raft on board, an additional beacon can be stored inside the raft.

Keep your beacon away from:

  • equipment that may accidentally knock the activation switch
  • magnetic sources, such as microphones and radio speakers (some beacons are activated by a magnetic on/off switch)
  • high water pressure
  • children who may accidentally turn it on.


Accidental activation

If your beacon is set off accidentally, phone RCCNZ immediately.

This will ensure a search and rescue operation is not launched needlessly.

If you are unable to contact RCCNZ immediately, switch off the beacon and make contact as soon as you are able to.

There is no penalty for accidental activation.


Disposing of old beacons

For the latest information about disposing of old beacons, go to

You must inform the Director of Maritime New Zealand in writing if you dispose of an EPIRB that uses the 406 MHz frequency.

Related information:

Register your beacon for FREE

Submit your registration through post or email, or do it online now!

Register now