Awards of Excellence recognise and celebrate Coastguard’s best

Coastguard volunteers from around Aotearoa came together this weekend to recognise and celebrate their collective contributions to saving lives on the water. 

This year's Awards of Excellence were held at the beautiful Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Across 12 award categories, volunteers and units were acknowledged for their rescue operations, community engagement and leadership - whether on the water, in the air, at the end of the radio or onshore behind the scenes. 

Coastguard is powered by volunteers. In the last year, our 1,963 volunteers gave an incredible 261,000 hours of their time to saving lives at sea - a remarkable statistic by any measure. They conducted over 3,200 operations and brought more than 7,900 people home to safety. 

Special thanks to our whānau of sponsors for their support of our volunteer mahi!

We are delighted to announce the following Coastguard Awards of Excellence winners for 2022. 

Supreme Award Volunteer of the Year/Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by Naiad) – Rachel Hessey, Coastguard Hibiscus Coast 

The supreme Coastguard award commends an individual who has demonstrated the utmost in excellence in their commitment to the work they do in Coastguard. This supreme award is evaluated through the judging of the individual volunteer categories that cover each area of expertise. 

This year’s winner is Rachel Hessey from Coastguard Hibiscus Coast who also received the award for Coastguard Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year, sponsored by Naiad, which recognises a wet crew member whose commitment, contribution and dedication to their role on board a Coastguard Rescue Vessel has been continually demonstrated to their unit. 

Rachel Hessey has been with Coastguard Hibiscus for six years and has very quickly proven her worth to the unit. A multi-tasker with a caring disposition, Rachel is a model volunteer who is dedicated and passionate on and off the water. She is the Unit’s Crew Coordinator and fundraising committee member who has spent tireless hours selling raffle tickets and organising fundraising events. 

This is all on top of her hours at sea as skipper and senior operational crew, and all the while, holding down a full-time job and looking after her 15-year-old daughter. Rachel is also instrumental in ensuring Coastguard Hibiscus Coast is an integral part of the local community, updating social media and writing a column in the local newspaper. 

Outstanding Leadership Award (sponsored by JumpShift) – Paul and Jayne Wheeler, Coastguard West Coast 

This award, sponsored by JumpShift, recognises those who make a difference and lead the way. These volunteers are held in high regard for the leadership, initiative, and commitment they bring to their unit and Coastguard. 

Paul and Jayne Wheeler come as one unique, dynamic package. Coastguard West Coast was in trouble - the ISC Master and Safety Officer had recently tendered their resignation, leaving the unit with just one qualified volunteer, no Master, and 10 disheartened, dejected volunteers. Enter the dream team. Paul and Jayne made it their mission to haul Coastguard West Coast back from the brink, and that’s an aim they achieved with fantastic support of their neighbouring unit’s masters and instructors who have gone above and beyond as well.  

Well on their way to becoming ISC Masters (that’s right - both of them!) Paul and Jayne have rebuilt Coastguard West Coast from the ground up, with a fresh army of qualified crew and volunteers, a revamped, organised base, a refurbished rescue vessel and lovingly restored Rescue Centre. Paul and Jayne have simply never given up – they would not let West Coast lose its Coastguard. 

Unit of the Year (sponsored by Hutchwilco) – Coastguard Lake Taupo 

This award, sponsored by Hutchwilco, recognises the unit who in the past year has achieved excellence in all aspects of its management and operational activities. 

This year, Coastguard Lake Taupo has shown true commitment to their community, professionalism when times got tough, dedication to the tasks at hand, and, most importantly, altruism throughout. The success of Coastguard Lake Taupo doesn't just lie with one individual; it's a collective effort to address challenges and work as an entire team. It exemplifies the dedication and community feel of the unit.  

With the loss of their president and some crew due to work and family commitments, the unit came together to appoint a new president and share the unit roles which involved people taking on extra responsibilities.  

Throughout this time, the unit continued to train together and recruit, as well as respond to incidents and participate in multi-agency training exercises involving the Royal New Zealand Airforce, Harbour Master, Police and a simulated exercise involving a local commercial charter, Cruise Cat. This paid off when just after an exercise one of the Cruise Cats suffered engine failure and their passengers had to be evacuated. This worked seamlessly due to the "dress rehearsal" a few months before.  

Rescue of the Year (sponsored by Rayglass) – Coastguard Sumner 

This prestigious award, sponsored by Rayglass, recognises an exceptional rescue crew who have undertaken an outstanding Search and Rescue or Coastguard operation. 

A hazardous location, deteriorating weather and sea conditions, fading daylight and patchy communications were some of the challenges Coastguard Sumner faced when responding to a Category 1 Police emergency in July 2021.  

In variable wind conditions, a single-person hang glider had lost lift while flying over the cliffs at Whitewash Head, Sumner, Christchurch. The male pilot crashed into the cliff face, falling to the base of the cliffs near the waterline. It involved precision, calculated timing, and several emergency agencies assisting in the rescue. The skills of those crew members involved, both on and off the water, were exemplary and are a testament to the success of the rescue. 

Community Engagement Unit of the Year (sponsored by Tower) – Coastguard Maketu 

This award, sponsored by Tower, recognises excellence in the areas of public relations, fundraising or community engagement activity by an individual or group. 

Maketu is a very small rural community, and collectively the emergency services are often the backbone by which they function. Coastguard Maketu is no different. While COVID has restricted many of the usual community engagements the unit would get involved in, they’ve continued to prove their worth - working with the Harbourmaster and the local Council on projects which are of benefit to the whole community, whether it’s clearing debris and logs from the Kaituna River, or cleaning buildings and their grounds, providing on-water support for the Waka Race, or teaching kids about water safety. 

On and off the water, Coastguard Maketu is a great advocate for their local community. 

Support Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by Century) – Geoff Eban, Coastguard Nelson 

(Coastguard Nelson President Clive Paul on behalf of Geoff Eban)

This award, sponsored by Century, recognises excellence in supporting roles within units and regions, such as board or committee roles, shore crew, training officers, secretaries and other non-operational volunteers. 

Geoff Eban is the man who gets things done. No matter the time of day or night, Geoff is a constant, a shining beacon of reliability the Coastguard Nelson team hold in the highest regard. He can turn his hand to just about anything, whether that’s fixing a broken oil cooler, installing a dehumidifier, or attaching much-needed sunscreens to block out the glare. Because that’s what Geoff does - fixes, repairs. He’s proactive, too, often spotting a problem before it arises, and getting it dealt with before it becomes a bigger issue. 

Not only is Geoff a seasoned handyman, he also finds time to pass on his wealth of knowledge to those around him - both senior and junior Coastguard crew alike. Regularly running training sessions, Geoff understands the value of knowledge - and passes it on to the next generation to help make our waters a safer place. Geoff is a bastion of brilliance over in Nelson - and that’s why his nomination in this category is fully merited. 

Emerging (Young) Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by Mercury) – Tara Doak, Coastguard Mana 

This award, sponsored by Mercury, recognises a newer volunteer under 30, who has demonstrated the commitment and dedication required to be an outstanding volunteer, and who has already made a great contribution. 

What a story of achievement, graft and personal dedication Tara Doak has to tell. She joined Coastguard Mana in 2020 and is now Unit President, applying her experience as a volunteer in land-based Emergency Response Teams to the Coastguard world.  

With the backing of Coastguard Mana volunteers, Tara has led real change over the past year, including revamping the financial process, developing clear repair and maintenance processes and improving the culture of the unit. Tara works closely with local organisations, namely the Mana Cruising Club and Sea Scouts and has built a strong relationship on behalf of her unit with local Iwi Ngata Toa who has since gifted the name Te Arawa for their ground-breaking AC36 diesel vessel.  

In addition to this, Tara has been put forward by the regional team as a representative on the inaugural Volunteer Leadership Development Program. She also sits on the Volunteer Advisory Group for Coastguard New Zealand where she makes a valuable contribution to help the national volunteer strategy. 

Communication / Incident Management Team Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by Wireless Nation) – Matt Shelton, Communications North 

(Communications North Unit Crew Coordinator Erica Hussona on behalf of Matt Shelton)

This award, sponsored by Wireless Nation, recognises excellence in the performance of Radio Operators and Volunteers working in Incident Management roles that support Search and Rescue (SAR) and Coastguard Operations. 

When it comes to comms, it’s imperative you have someone on the airwaves who knows what they're talking about. With his volunteering experience gained from being wet crew at Coastguard North Shore, Matt seamlessly slipped into a key role in the Operations Room at Communications North – he understands the role from all angles. The experience he brings as a wet crew member to our Operations Room is invaluable, providing insight, perception, and suggestions on how to improve interactions between Operations and CRVs.  

Matt is always the volunteer who turns up early, on both of the Comms teams he volunteers for and offers to stay past the end of his shift, when the need arises. He is also always happy to help solve IT issues as they arrive, which is a huge relief to those of us less tech savvy! 

Air Patrol Special Merit Award (sponsored by Advanced Optics) - Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol 

Our eyes in the skies are vital in our search and rescue response and contribute significantly to our ability to achieve our Vision of ‘No lives lost at sea.’ 

Over the past 12 months, both Air Patrol units have been involved in multiple searches across the North Island, supporting Coastguard units on the water and other search and rescue agencies. Volunteers have collectively contributed a massive 257 hours in the sky, making this year’s award a little special. 

Generously sponsored by Advanced Optics, this year’s Air Patrol Special Merit Award goes to Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol for their unwavering commitment to two searches – taskings which saw volunteers back up day after day and contribute a massive amount of mahi. Here’s a little more on these searches. 

During Alert Level 4 restrictions in September, volunteers joined the search in Marokopa for a man and his three children. Following the discovery of a ute submerged on a beach, and an assessment that marine conditions weren’t conducive for an on-water search, volunteers from Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol flew south multiple times over a two-week period, often refuelling in Hamilton before contributing even more search hours from the sky. The dense and rough terrain made searching on the ground tricky, highlighting the value of volunteers scanning every corner from the sky. This complex search is still ongoing. 

Air Patrol volunteers were also heavily involved in the Easter Weekend search for an overdue fisherman at Torere Bay in the Bay of Plenty. Following an extensive four-day marine search by Coastguard Opotiki, Police and Surf Life Saving, and the deteriorating weather forecast and rough sea conditions, Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol was tasked for multiple shoreline and outer island searches. Over several days, volunteers made their way to their Ardmore base in South Auckland and made the long flight south-east to Torere Bay and back to contribute to the massive search. With limited crew, poor weather conditions and long hours, all volunteers should be commended for their dedication and commitment to the fisherman’s whānau and giving up their own time from their families and work. 

These are just two examples from the past year that highlight the immense value and commitment of our Air Patrol volunteers. As a result of these searches, and the many others that volunteers contributed, we would like to present Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol with a special merit award to acknowledge this mahi. 

President’s Award - Sue Tucker, Coastguard New Zealand 

The first ever President's Award was presented to Sue Tucker. 

A trailblazing individual, Sue was earlier this year recognised for her contribution to promoting and supporting safer boating and the marine industry as the first ever female inductee into the esteemed Hall of Fame of the Hutchwilco Boat Show.  

Volunteers up and down the country will have benefitted from Sue's presence and knowledge as she traveled countless miles across Aotearoa delivering our flagship community programme 'the Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade’ establishing its success and impact over the last six years.  

With more than 45 years’ experience working with boating education, communities, schools, councils, businesses and key partnerships, Sue knows the ins and outs of the marine industry and how important getting the right safe boating messages to people is. 

Honorary Life Member - Ian Coard, Coastguard Riverton 

At last year’s AGM, Ian Coard from Coastguard Riverton was inducted as Honorary Life Members of Coastguard New Zealand.  

Ian Coard has given more than 34 years of service to our organisation, undertaking numerous governance roles including CNZ President for three years, CNZ Board Member for eight years and Southern Region Board Member for nine years.  

He is also a well-respected figure within the Coastguard Riverton unit, currently acting across multiple leadership roles including Coastguard Master, Unit Support Officer, Marine SAR Coordinator and Boating Education Tutor and Assessor.  

Notably, during Ian’s term as CNZ President he led the relationship building between the national governance structure and local Coastguard Units, and oversaw the development and signing of the first service level agreement between Coastguard New Zealand, the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council, and New Zealand Police. 

Coastguard New Zealand extends a massive congratulations to all winners, finalists and those nominated for this year's Awards of Excellence! 


For more information, contact:
Ben Parsons 
Coastguard New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor 
[email protected] 
+64 21 756 405

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity