Royal New Zealand Coastguard

The Royal New Zealand Coastguard (informally Coastguard New Zealand) is the primary civilian marine search and rescue organisation for New Zealand. Unlike a number of other countries, the organisation is a non-governmental, civilian charitable organisation, with no enforcement powers. Uniformed agencies of the New Zealand government, including the police, Maritime New Zealand and customs, manage New Zealand's maritime law enforcement and border control. Coastguard New Zealand has a strong focus on boating education.

Royal New Zealand Coastguard
NicknameCoastguard New Zealand
TypeCharitable organisation
PurposeMaritime search and rescue
HeadquartersLevel 2
470 Parnell Road
New Zealand
New Zealand
18,000 supporter members
Chief Executive Officer
Patrick Holmes
23 paid staff
2,235 active volunteers


Sea rescue services have existed in some shape or form in New Zealand since at least 1861, but it was not until some time later that the modern Coastguard New Zealand was formed.[1]


  • Following tragic events such as the Wahine disaster, various local groups that had been operating separately recognised a need for a unified, national organisation and so they formed the "New Zealand Coastguard Federation" in 1976.[1]
  • Units began offering training and education to local boaties in an effort to reduce incidents since at least 1979.[1]


  • Radio communications are introduced and play a large part in assisting with search and rescue events.[1]
  • Name changes to "Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation" in 1986 as the charity is granted Royal Patronage, with Prince Charles as the Patron.[1]


  • First Air Patrol unit is introduced in 1991 which means that for the first time in New Zealand survivors would be able to be seen from the sky as a part of Coastguard search and rescue incidents.[1]
  • "Nowcasting" service was introduced in Auckland in 1992. This was different from simply broadcasting a forecast as weather measuring instruments had also been installed. This was later rolled out through the rest of the country.


  • Dropped "Federation" from the name in 2005.
  • Began charging a call-out rate per-hour to non-members in 2006.[2]
  • Calls were made for government funding in 2007.[3]
  • Law changes were passed in 2008 requiring Auckland councils to provide funding for, among other things, including Coastguard Northern Region.[4] For more info, see Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008.


The Coastguard in New Zealand is a civilian charity made up of volunteers. There are four Coastguard regions (Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern), with 63 units between these regions.

Incident types

The type of incident will influence a number of factors, such as who is in control of the incident and who will pay for the incident. Other organisations may also become involved in an incident including:[5]

Category 1 (New Zealand Police)

Some examples of a Category 1 incident are:[6]

  • Person on-board vessel is overdue
  • Death near shore
  • Usually on-land or within a few miles of the shore

Typically require the use of local personnel and resources and can be carried out efficiently and effectively at the local level.

Category 2 (Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand)

Some examples of a Category 2 incident are:[6]

  • Marine EPIRB (beacon) activated
  • Plane crash
  • May be coordinated internationally or several miles off the shore

Coastguard non-emergency assistance

Coastguard also provides non-urgent assistance, such as breakdown assistance (including re-fueling and towing), for free to members.[7] Coastguard membership is $115 per year (as of 2016).[8] However, this non-urgent assistance is chargeable for non-members. The current rate is $280 per hour (from the time the rescue vessel leaves the dock until the time it arrives back).[9] Emergencies are always covered for free as this is the primary mission of the Coastguard.

Mission, vision and focus

The vision of the organisation is "No boaties’ lives lost at sea" with the mission "To be the ‘go to’ people for marine safety, education and search and rescue services".

The focuses for Coastguard New Zealand currently are:

  • Our People
  • Community
  • Financial
  • Reputation


A large number of volunteers make up the organisation, alongside a small number of paid staff. In 2016, there was 2235 volunteers and 23 paid staff, made up of 13 Coastguard staff and 10 Coastguard Boating Education staff. The organisation is made up of a large number of different roles, both on-shore and as SAR crew.

Becoming a volunteer

As a charity, Coastguard requires volunteer crew in order to continue their operations. Many rural units need crew now, with some urban areas operating a wait list instead. Interested people can apply on the How do I become a Coastguard volunteer? website. Applicants need to pass a "police vet". This is more stringent than just a regular criminal convictions check as crew may work with vulnerable people.

SAR Crew

Units require people to attend search and rescue events as they may arise.

Rescue Vessel Crew

Involves being a crew member onboard a Coastguard Rescue Vessel (CRV). There are many roles on-board, including helmsperson, navigator / radio operator, observer and skipper.

Air Patrol Crew

Involves being an air observer or tactical officer. The air patrol typically involves small planes.

Shore Crew

Units require people on-shore to maintain the operations of the unit. This involves operating radios and managing incidents, among other things.

Radio Operator

Communicates with vessels at sea, including rescues vessels (as well as the public). This role requires the crew member to hold a Maritime VHF Radio Operator Certificate. The role invol

Incident Controller

Coordinates search and rescues operations. The role is suited to someone who has previous people management experience. This role is especially important when working with other agencies, in which case the Coordinated Information Management System (CIMS) is used.

Training Officer

Plans and manages the delivery of training to the unit and ensures the crew remains competent. This role also involving assessing crew and reporting results.

Safety Officer

Manages unit compliance with the Health and Safety in Employment Act, as well as the Maritime Transport Act and the general Health and Safety needs of the unit. The role encompasses the vessel, buildings and crew & may also involve maintaining relationships with WorkSafe New Zealand and Maritime New Zealand.

Asset Manager

Manages on-going repairs and maintenance for the units buildings, vessels and vehicles.

Crew Manager

Represent the crew members to the board and maintains the crews welfare.

Unit Management and Administration

The individual units of the Coastguard each have a treasurer, as well as a number of other roles. The units also take some responsibility for fundraising in their community.[10]



All units operate small to medium-sized marine rescue vessels, typically under nine metres. They are specially equipped with rescue equipment, such as:


Today two Air Patrol units exist under the Coastguard banner presently, Auckland Air Patrol and Northland Air Patrol. Together, they responded to 76 calls for assistance and assisted 155 people in 2016.[11] Previously an Air Patrol existed in the South Island.[12] This has now been disestablished due to a lack of funding. Assistance is still able to be provided in the event of an emergency to the South island but this is now typically provided by helicopters based out of Christchurch.


Crew members are provided with a distinctive red uniform that is suitable for challenging marine conditions. Some of the clothing includes:


Marine VHF radio

A number of services are provided by the Coastguard via. marine VHF radio. The person operating the VHF radio is required to hold a Maritime VHF Radio Operator Certificate (unless they are under supervision by someone who holds one or they are making an emergency call).[13] All emergency calls should be made on marine VHF channel 16. The channel is monitored by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand and the Coastguard Marine Rescue Centre. Nearby vessels are also encouraged to listen on the channel for any distress calls.[14]

Marine Weather

Provides up-to-date marine weather for all of New Zealand. This is also known as "nowcasting".[14] The channels used for the Marine Weather service are available on the Coastguard website.

Trip Reports and Bar Crossing

Provides ability to lodge a trip report. It is a good idea to do a trip report when departing on the water and when crossing a bar. You should always remember to close your trip report when you arrive back safely or when you cross the bar. In the event that an alarm is raised, search and rescue teams will have information available to assist them with the rescue. The channels used for the Trip Reports service are available on the Coastguard website.[14] The information collected includes:

  • Boat name and callsign
  • Where you are travelling to
  • Number of People onboard (POB)
  • When you plan to arrive

Coastguard Boating Education

Coastguard New Zealand operates a subsidiary, Coastguard Boating Education (CBE). The organisation runs education events, such as classes for female skippers,[15] and two Hauraki Gulf cruises highlighting popular anchorages and hazard awareness.[16] Many courses are offered with a number being NZQA-accredited. Some of the most popular courses include:

  • Day Skipper
  • Boatmaster
  • Maritime VHF Radio Operator Certificate
  • Maritime Restricted Radio Operator Certificate (MRROC)

More information is available on the Coastguard Boating Education website.

Old4New lifejacket replacement programme

As part of a water safety campaign, Coastguard is conducting a programme where old, and oftentimes unserviceable, lifejackets can be replaced at a lower cost than the retail price. More information is available on the Old4New website.



In the 2018 financial year, Coastguard New Zealand received $10.6m in income and had $9.9m in expenses.[11]

Income (in 2018)

  • 47% Grants
  • 27% Lottery ticket sales
  • 10% Examination fees
  • 13% Donations
  • 1% Sale of publications
  • 2% Interest and other income

Expenses (in 2018)

  • 42% Support for regions and units
  • 17% Direct lottery expenditure
  • 16% Professional services and other costs
  • 13% Income stream development
  • 6% Boating Education services
  • 3% Public safety and communications
  • 2% Accommodation
  • 1% Governance and AGM

Volunteers and rescues

Year Number of volunteers Volunteer hours Rescues conducted People rescued
2018[11] 2042 291235 3037 6951
2017[17] 2052 309367 2702 6797
2016[18] 2235 308733 2475 6489
2015[19] 2240 302453 2646 6828
2014[20] 2326 315234 2849 7334
2013[21] 2432 307445 3127 7088
2012[22] 2398 363108 3339 6634
2011[23] 2224 348356 3337 6996

In the media



See also


  1. "Our history | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  2. "Coastguard struggling to stay afloat". TVNZ. 29 December 2006. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  3. "Coastguard calls for govt funding". TVNZ. 31 May 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  4. Trevett, Claire (28 August 2008). "Key slams bill – but has backed it for now". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  5. "Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) – Maritime NZ". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  6. "Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand information leaflet" (PDF).
  7. "Free Assists | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  8. "Membership Options & Fees | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  9. "Frequently Asked Questions – Coastguard Membership | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  10. "Become a Coastguard shore crew volunteer | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  11. "Coastguard New Zealand 2018 Annual Report" (PDF).
  12. "Canterbury local scoops Coastguard Air Patrol Volunteer of the Year award | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  13. "VHF radio – Maritime NZ". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  14. "Boating Safely – Communications, VHF, trip reports, Coastguard radio and emergencies | Coastguard New Zealand". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  15. Rose, Mike (26 April 2008). "Boating courses put confident women on board". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  16. "Coastguard cruises to showcase top anchorages". The New Zealand Herald. 24 November 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  17. "Coastguard New Zealand 2017 Annual Report" (PDF).
  18. "Coastguard New Zealand 2016 Annual Report" (PDF).
  19. "Coastguard New Zealand 2015 Annual Report" (PDF).
  20. "Coastguard New Zealand 2014 Annual Report" (PDF).
  21. "Coastguard New Zealand 2013 Annual Report" (PDF).
  22. "Coastguard New Zealand 2012 Annual Report" (PDF).
  23. "Coastguard New Zealand 2011 Annual Report" (PDF).
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