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Distress beacon the ideal travel buddy – when registered

Emergency distress beacon the ideal travel buddy – when registered

Anyone fleeing family and friends this Christmas should ensure they take one faithful companion with them – going bush or heading to the boat, an emergency distress beacon could turn out to be their best friend.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) Operational Support Manager Rodney Bracefield says GPS-equipped beacons can significantly speed up the rescue of people in distress.

“They really do take the search out of search and rescue,” he said. “But the numbers show that registering your beacon is a key part of the process. It’s a legal requirement, and it’s free, and this enables the RCCNZ to call emergency contacts who can provide valuable information about a trip.”

Of the 307 beacons activated in New Zealand’s search and rescue region to date this year, only 42% (127) were used in distress situations - the other 58% were attributed to false alerts or inadvertent activations.

“If the beacon is registered, the first call we make is to the emergency contact to find out if the beacon is being used by somebody or it’s an accidental activation. Where a beacon is not registered all alerts must be followed up, involving emergency response services and personnel that may be diverted from an actual emergency.”

There are an estimated 12000 unregistered 406MHz beacons in New Zealand – about 30 percent of the total. Registration is free, a legal requirement, and can be completed online at

“Having your beacon registered means we can contact you and or a relative or friend if your beacon is activated and determine your intended location and also what your boat, vehicle or aircraft looks like. This helps us to get help to you as soon as possible and also ensures rescuers are carrying all the gear that is likely to be required, such as appropriate medical equipment.”

For those who regularly get away from it all, a beacon could be the ideal Christmas gift – prices start from around $400, and RCCNZ recommends GPS-equipped beacons.

For those heading away from civilisation on a less regular basis, hire beacons are also available from many tramping clubs and outdoor equipment suppliers.

“Beacons are for anyone venturing off the beaten track – from farmers to mountain bikers, climbers to 4x4 adventurers and microlight pilots. They are small and light and they could genuinely be a lifesaver,” Rodney said.

The 127 beacon alerts leading to rescues this year were made up of: 55 in the North Island (7 air, 39 land, 9 maritime) and 72 in the South Island (10, 58, 4).

It is also important that beacons are disposed of correctly when they are old or unwanted to avoid inadvertent activations in the likes of rubbish tips. Contact the Police or a beacon retailer for advice on this.

To update beacon registration details, email:


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