Beacon registrations rise as more Kiwis take to outdoors

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.

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