Search and rescue in the Pacific

Pacific countries – including New Zealand – work together to build search and rescue capability throughout the region. The region faces unique challenges for search and rescue with small countries and populations spread over the world's biggest ocean.

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C-130 Hercules

Staying safe on the water

Preparation is key before you head out. It’s important that you have the right knowledge, experience and equipment. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind:

Before heading out:

  • check the weather forecast – if in doubt, don’t go out
  • carry at least two types of emergency communications equipment that will work when wet (e.g. distress beacon (406MHz EPIRB – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), VHF radio, mobile phone in a plastic bag, or red hand-held flares). Remember, you can’t always rely on your mobile phone. It may be out of range, have limited battery power or become water-damaged
  • prepare your boat – service the engine, check and change the fuel, check the battery and give it a good onceover
  • check your gear – make sure your lifejackets are fit for purpose and you have enough for everyone on board
  • make sure you know the "rules of the road" on the water, so you understand your area’s requirements.

When you’re on the water:

  • know your boat’s limits – if it’s designed for inshore use, don’t take it far from land
  • avoid alcohol – it slows down your reaction times and affects your ability to cope if something goes wrong
  • if you find yourself in a life-threatening situation and need to be rescued, activate your distress beacon and leave it turned on until help arrives, and make a mayday call on the international distress radio channel 16.

Boating safety tips

Prep Check Know
Get all our boating tips in one handy guide.

Prep your boat

Check your gear

Know the rules

Prep, Check, Know[PDF: 5.08mB, 12 pages]

Building search and rescue capability

Search and rescue prevention is a key part of the PACSAR’s work. This includes implementing maritime safety education programmes, ensuring that maritime safety regulations are in place, and encouraging mariners to use safety equipment, including distress beacons, radios and mobile phones.

How New Zealand is helping to improve search and rescue capability across the Pacific

  • Each year we are involved in around 100 search and rescues in the region, both within our SAR region and outside it. Agencies from other countries, including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, US Coastguard and search and rescue personnel in New Caledonia are often involved. As well as training and exercising, real search and rescue experience helps to build effective capability with our Pacific colleagues.

  • Over the past 12 months, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) has visited the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, American Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga to build search and rescue capability. On these visits, our RCCNZ staff develop an understanding of each country’s dynamics and problems, identify training needs and create a joint work programme. Each country has then developed its own search and rescue plan.

  • New Zealand is funding $8.1 million of maritime projects in Tokelau, Tuvalu, Niue, Cook Islands, Tonga and Kiribati (in 2016-18). This includes upgrading maritime VHF radio channels, lights, navigation beacons, other navigation aids and, in some cases, search and rescue vessels. Most of the projects are not search and rescue specific but they help reduce the number of search and rescue incidents.

  • As well as search and rescue prevention, the PACSAR conference is looking to improve governance, coordination and response.

  • Upcoming work includes on-going visits to the Pacific, creating search and rescue national plans, working with other nations to create search and rescue legislation, training, and conducting audits.