Media Release: Celebrating the volunteers who save lives at sea



21 June 2021

Celebrating the volunteers who save lives at sea

As National Volunteer Week kicks off around Aotearoa, Coastguard is celebrating the people who keep others safe on the water through education, assistance and search and rescue services.    

Coastguard would cease to exist without it’s volunteers, over 2000 people across 63 units give their time and energy to saving lives on the seas, rivers and lakes of Aotearoa.  

“Last year the collective commitment, sacrifice and passion of Coastguard’s volunteers ensured that over 6000 people got home safely to their loved ones,” says Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie.

“That’s an incredible number of people whose lives would be forever changed if it wasn’t for the volunteers of Coastguard,” he adds.

Coastguard volunteers can be called out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, any day of the year. 

“They might be at the dinner table with their family or busy at work, but when their pager goes off they will drop everything to go and help others in need,” says Callum.

This selflessness and desire to help the greater good was evident during the recent devastating Canterbury floods, when the expertise of Coastguard North Canterbury’s Swift Water Rescue Team was called upon.

As the rain pelted down and flood waters rose rapidly endangering lives and livelihoods, the volunteers of the Swift Water Rescue Team packed their specialised equipment and took to the road to respond to multiple emergencies.

“While their own families, homes and properties were feeling the full effects of the storm, the Coastguard volunteers ventured out in treacherous conditions to help their community,” says Callum.

This included the harrowing rescue of a severely hypothermic farmer stuck up a tree near Darfield.

With the raging flood waters making communication almost impossible, the group of rescuers on scene devised a plan which involved five of the Swift Water Rescue Team, equipped with a swift water sled and ropes, entering the water downstream.

Despite best efforts the plan proved to be unsuccessful as the current was too strong for the crew to progress far enough out to reach the victim.

With their specialised training coming to the fore, the Coastguard volunteers worked with Police, FENZ and St John personnel to devise a number of other plans to rescue the farmer.

Ultimately the force of water was too overpowering and the farmer was eventually plucked to safety by a military helicopter after falling into the raging river.  Once clear of the flood waters the Coastguard volunteers used their sled as a makeshift stretcher to carry the farmer to a waiting ambulance where he was taken to hospital.

This concluded a 14-hour day for the Swift Water Rescue Team volunteers who were re-united with their families well after midnight.

Last year alone saw Coastguard volunteers give over 270,000 hours to communities around New Zealand.

“Being a volunteer with Coastguard is a big commitment, not only for the volunteer themselves but also their families and employers. National Volunteer Week provides a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate the role all these people play in Coastguard’s mission,” says Callum.

National Volunteer Week runs until 26 June, to find more about Coastguard including how to become a Coastguard volunteer, click here.


For more information contact:

Julia James

Communications Manager

Coastguard New Zealand

M: 021 435 804

E: [email protected]



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