Coastguard celebrates Awards of Excellence 2023 winners!

We are delighted to celebrate our incredible volunteers and announce the winners of our Volunteer Awards of Excellence 2023! It goes without saying that Coastguard volunteers go above and beyond on the daily, dedicating so much time, energy, passion, and a whole lot of heart into everything they do.

Coastguard is powered by volunteers. In the last year, our 2,001 volunteers gave an incredible 273,269 hours of their time to saving lives at sea - a remarkable statistic by any measure. They conducted nearly 2,600 operations and brought 6,300 people home to safety, rescuing 142 people and saving six lives – all in the face of adverse weather conditions, particular in the North Island. 

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

Here’s all the details on our 2023 winners: 

Supreme Award Volunteer of the Year/Outstanding Leadership Award – Rob Carpenter, Coastguard Marlborough

The Supreme 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, Rob Carpenter is our Supreme Award, Volunteer of the Year recipient in addition to winning our Outstanding Leadership Award.

Rob is a dedicated and passionate volunteer, having started his Coastguard journey in 2011. With expertise as a Coastguard ISC Master, VHF Radio Operator, and Instructor, he's instrumental in building community connections. Over his time with Marlborough, Rob has improved relations with local boating clubs, significantly benefiting both parties. 

Under Rob's leadership, the Unit has thrived operationally and financially, raising over $300,000 for a new rescue vessel. He's also fostered a culture shift, promoting gender and age balance among volunteers.

As President, Rob ensures the committee operates inclusively and efficiently, encouraging open communication. The committee of 11 operates in an inclusive manner with no hierarchy. Teamwork is a strong focus for this Unit, with plenty of encouragement and support of ideas from around the table. Rob's firm, but fair approach has earned him the committee's respect and the other volunteers' admiration. He always has his finger on the pulse and is very action oriented. Be assured, if Rob is doing it, it will be done…and well. 

Rob's commitment extends to project management, exemplified by his role in acquiring a vital 9m vessel for the Unit. He also recognises the importance of engaging volunteers' families through social events, reinforcing a sense of community. Respected in the local community, Rob's leadership has elevated Coastguard Marlborough's standards, making him a silent but impactful achiever. He fully epitomises Coastguard’s values and makes an incredible contribution across the board both locally and nationally. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “I would like to congratulate Rob for his significant contribution to Coastguard over many years – leading from the front and ensuring Marlborough are set up for a successful future.” 

“People like Rob are our greatest assets, enabling others to shine while also providing exceptional leadership and direction.” 

Outstanding Leadership Award Finalists: Jonathan Walmisley (Coastguard Wānaka Lakes), Scott Lee (Coastguard Tauranga) 

Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year – Emma Psaila, Coastguard Titirangi/Auckland

This award recognises a wet crew member whose commitment, contribution, and dedication to their role on board a Coastguard Rescue Vessel (CRV) has been continually demonstrated to their Unit. This year’s winner is Emma Psaila from Coastguard Titirangi and Auckland. 

As a Senior Crew member at just 22 years old, Emma consistently displays outstanding commitment, fresh thinking, and a strong willingness to contribute not only to Coastguard Auckland, but also to Coastguard Titirangi. As such, she is one of a handful of volunteers serving both the Manukau and Waitematā harbours. 

Emma's passion for Coastguard is evident from the impressive number of callouts she has attended and the additional hours she devotes during regular duty days. Her total contribution of over 400 hours on the water with Coastguard exemplifies her dedication

Emma likes to lead by example and will be the first to put her hand up to tackle tasks, take on new responsibilities, and actively participate in training sessions. Her "can-do" attitude and willingness to lend a helping hand make her an invaluable asset to both Units. 

Emma aims to become the youngest Master on Coastguard Auckland’s Lion Foundation Rescue, one of the most advanced rescue vessels in Coastguard’s fleet. Since joining at 16, Emma's skills and experience have grown - following in her mum's footsteps; now her dad is part of the crew. 

She is an invaluable trainer for the Unit, and as a mentor, she has been instrumental in assisting new crew members develop their skills and confidence. Her guidance and support have fostered a strong sense of camaraderie within the Unit, contributing to its overall success and growth. 

Emma shows great maturity and composure under pressure. During a risky mission to respond to a distressed boat amid a Cyclone Gabrielle, Emma's calm demeanour and adept risk assessment played a pivotal role in the operation's success. 

When a woman collapsed on a boat earlier this year, Emma and her crew did all they could, including performing CPR for 30 minutes. Sadly, the patient couldn't be revived, but Emma undertook a significant project to improve and standardise first aid equipment across Coastguard Auckland’s three vessels because of the incident. 

Despite her age, Emma has earned her peers' and skippers' respect and admiration. This respect is a testament to her unwavering professionalism, integrity, and dedication to Coastguard's mission of saving lives at sea. Her commitment to the organisation's values and goals sets her apart as a role model for others to emulate. 

Emma Psaila: "I love how fast-paced it is, how everything is different. It's not just about the boats; I've learnt so much [on and off the water]." 

“[On volunteering with Coastguard Titirangi] I live on the North Shore and want to help as much as I can. The west coast is a lot quieter, so they don't get as much experience. I'm keen to give them more training and help them develop more ideas for the Unit."

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Emma’s dedication and energy for Coastguard is hard to rival. Both on and off the water, Emma is a volunteer held in the highest regard by her peers, demonstrating her outstanding leadership across numerous incidents and training sessions.

“It also speaks to her positive attitude and commitment to support Coastguard Titirangi through their toughest times following the Auckland Anniversary floods which destroyed their base and damaged their rescue vessel.”

Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year Finalists: Simon Marshall (Coastguard Auckland), Ed Bezett (Coastguard Marlborough)

Unit of the Year – Coastguard Hawke’s Bay

This award recognises the Unit who in the past year has achieved excellence in all aspects of its management and operational activities. This year’s winners are Coastguard Hawke’s Bay. 

It’s been an exceptional year for Coastguard Hawke’s Bay. The Unit has shown considerable commitment to the Hawke’s Bay community and has had a remarkable impact on Search and Rescue (SAR).

Some notable highlights for what’s been an extraordinary year include the successful undertaking of a $250k+ refit of the Unit’s rescue vessel, the significant contribution they made to the Cyclone Gabrielle rescue effort and continuous support to Police during the search for the sole outstanding missing person, Joseph Ahuriri, a long-distance rescue effort with other agencies, and search for a missing diver. And all this in addition to carrying out the usual range of rescues and assists. 

With a strong committee leading the Unit, Coastguard Hawke’s Bay is a true success story with a focus on community engagement, building strong relationships both within the Unit and with its rescue partners, and celebrating success. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Over the past 12 months, there have been numerous challenges for Coastguard Hawke’s Bay to deal with. However, led superbly by Henry van Tuel, the Unit has dealt with everything thrown at them with integrity, care and with people at the core.” 

Unit of the Year Finalists: Coastguard Papakura, Coastguard Wānaka Lakes 

Rescue of the Year – Coastguard Hawke’s Bay and Coastguard Gisborne

This prestigious award recognises an exceptional rescue crew who have undertaken an outstanding Search and Rescue or Coastguard operation. This year we acknowledge the efforts of Coastguard Hawke’s Bay and Coastguard Gisborne. 

When a callout is received, you always hope for a positive outcome. Sadly, on this day, a life couldn’t be saved. However, the operation to recover a missing diver last November at Black Reef, Māhia, is a testament to those involved. Coastguard Gisborne and Coastguard Hawkes’ Bay volunteers, along with other Search and Rescue (SAR) partners involved in that incident, acted with great respect, integrity, professionalism, altruism, dedication, and cooperation, exemplifying the Coastguard values.

Coastguard Hawke’s Bay became aware of an incident at Black Reef, Māhia, on a Saturday morning last November when a diver had gone missing. Although the Unit hadn’t received a tasking, they undertook initial planning.

The Gisborne Rescue Helicopter and Coastguard Gisborne were initially tasked to the rescue, but later Coastguard Hawke’s Bay also joined the operation. They refuelled the rescue vessel Celia Knowles and prepared it with extra supplies. Coastguard Gisborne searched the southern end of the Māhia Peninsula, while Coastguard Hawke’s Bay started north of the last known point and conducted a shoreline search. The Gisborne Rescue Helicopter conducted an aerial search. 

Coastguard Gisborne arrived at the search area at around 1220 and began their search. Coastguard Hawke’s Bay arrived at Long Point by 1436 and started their shoreline search in favourable conditions. Coastguard Gisborne deployed a dan buoy to assist with drift calculations, indicating a southeast drift. 

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) communicated with both Coastguard vessels throughout the search, providing weather updates and tasking information. Despite several possible targets being checked, nothing significant was found. Coastguard Gisborne completed their taskings and returned to Gisborne by 1618, while Coastguard Hawke’s Bay returned to Napier around 1830. 

The search resumed the next day with Coastguard Hawke’s Bay, Hawke’s Bay Surf Callout Squad, and the Police National Dive Squad involved. On Sunday, November 27, Surf and Coastguard Hawke’s Bay resumed their search and sadly found a body. A Coastguard crew member and a police officer were put ashore to support while waiting for the Police Dive Squad to recover the body. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “This incident involved numerous individuals and assets, and it presented various challenges, including the considerable distance. Collaboration among partners, open communication, and meticulous planning were critical in the search efforts. While the outcome was not what we had hoped for, it showcased the courage, resilience, and dedication of all those involved in their efforts to bring closure to the family.” 

Rescue of the Year Finalists: Coastguard Waiuku, Coastguard Tauranga 

Community Engagement Unit of the Year – Coastguard Hawke’s Bay

This award recognises excellence in the areas of public relations, fundraising, or community engagement activity by an individual or group. This year’s winners are Coastguard Hawke’s Bay. 

Coastguard Hawke’s Bay showed its true resilience, commitment, and community spirit in response to Cyclone Gabrielle. When the cyclone hit, the Unit quickly rallied to assist local Police SAR in the Esk Valley. For two days, the crew focused their efforts on rescuing people from the hard-hit areas. The cyclone had destroyed homes, businesses, and communities, causing significant damage to the community’s infrastructure. 

They then turned their attention to providing support services to other SAR partners. The Unit established a base that served as a rescue and coordination centre for the volunteer rescue partners, LandSAR, Surf, and Coastguard. With a large generator in situ, this base provided much-needed support for the residents as a place to go for companionship, warm showers for volunteer searchers, access to electricity, family, and whānau. The Unit also helped drive Surf vehicles, locate medical equipment, obtain fuel and food supplies, and take people to evacuation centres. 

The Unit also social media experts, regularly engages with the wider community to educate locals on adverse weather and marine conditions through its Facebook page. Their Facebook following of approximately 3,000 allows for a strong reach and interaction of posts, regularly reaching over 25,000 people each month with an average of 1,500 people engaging and reacting to them. This is a testament to the informative content the Unit is sharing and how close they are with their community. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “In the face of considerable adversity, Coastguard Hawke’s Bay rose to the occasion and demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience. They exemplified the Coastguard values of altruism, professionalism, and commitment.” 

Community Engagement Unit of the Year Finalists: Coastguard Waihi Beach, Coastguard Wānaka Lakes 

Support Volunteer of the Year – Michelle Smyth, Coastguard Hibiscus

This award recognises excellence in supporting roles within our Units , such as board or committee roles, shore crew, training officers, secretaries, and other non-operational volunteers. We are delighted to announce Michelle Smyth of Coastguard Hibiscus as our winner. 

Michelle joined Coastguard Hibiscus in early 2022, and in that time has become a veritable sponge, soaking up all the knowledge she can, retaining it, and developing additional avenues for success. 

Now a Committee Member and Recruitment Officer, Michelle has brought onboard no fewer than 11 new recruits to the Unit. That’s a healthy number, but it means nothing if those recruits aren’t engaged or looked after. 

But that doesn’t happen. Michelle has designed intuitive induction plans for her recruits to assist with the onboarding process and meets with the new recruits weekly to help keep them on track and be there for them should they have any questions. 

Additionally, Michelle will guide her trainees through required theory modules, paperwork and, crucially, ensure that they get valuable boat time. Perhaps this meticulous, assured mentorship occurs because, not too long ago, Michelle was a trainee herself, so she knows what it’s all about - and that’s why she boasts a phenomenal 97 per cent retention record. 

Michelle Smyth: “Hibiscus is a really good Unit. The place is full of learning and encouragement - there’s never any negativity. The people are great and they help me become better - it’s all because I’m surrounded by amazing people.” 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Coastguard only exists with amazing volunteers like Michelle supporting and encouraging our newest recruits. I’m thrilled that Michelle’s hours of hard work behind the scenes for the betterment of her Unit and community have been recognised with this award.” 

Support Volunteer of the Year Finalists: Charlotte Robertson (Coastguard Auckland), Hannah Waterman (Coastguard Taranaki) 

Emerging (Young) Volunteer of the Year – Amy Nattrass, Coastguard Rotorua Lakes

This award 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 to Coastguard. This year’s winner is Amy Nattrass from Coastguard Rotorua Lakes. 

Amy is a rising star in the Rotorua community, with an impressive track record of leadership and volunteer service. Starting as a Young Mariner in Rotorua at the age of nine, she quickly progressed to become a Junior Leader and then an Assistant Leader. Her journey continued as she transitioned to the Tauranga Young Mariners and took on the role of Assistant National Advisor, eventually becoming the National Advisor.

But Amy's contributions extend beyond the Young Mariners; she currently serves as the Secretary for two Coastguard New Zealand Units, Rotorua Lakes and Taupō in addition to her on-water volunteering.

Despite her young age, Amy has amassed an impressive list of qualifications, including a Skipper Restricted Limits (SRL) certificate, making her one of the youngest people in the country to hold one. She is also on the cusp of completing her Senior Crew Phase, which will make her one of only two female skippers in her Unit and will see her joining a growing group of wāhine leading the way in Units across the motu. 

She recently organised a successful Search and Rescue Exercise, collaborating with various search and rescue organisations, showcasing her leadership skills and attention to detail.

Amy's involvement in her community goes beyond her official roles. She actively participates in organising community events, such as the Summer Lottery, local lake cleanups, Unit open days, and functions. She also engages with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's 'Boaties BBQ,' strengthening relationships with like-minded individuals.

One noteworthy contribution Amy has made was creating a comprehensive list of names and locations across the Rotorua Lakes region, encompassing both Māori and English place names. This initiative ensures that Radio Operators can communicate with boaties in the water confidently, reducing confusion that may have existed in the past. 

Amy Nattrass: “To be recognised for what I thought was a pretty standard contribution is amazing as well as motivating. I feel pride in knowing that my efforts have made a positive impact and further fuels my commitment to volunteering for Coastguard.”

“The amount of learning from others' experience has been invaluable, and the support the team provides is exceptional. The Unit has become a second family and the memories attached to this experience are ones to be talked about for years to come.”

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Amy gives her all for Coastguard, both on and off the water – making a real difference to her community and fellow volunteers. We’re extremely lucky to have Amy’s skills and enthusiasm, paving the way for our next generation of Coastguard leaders.” 

“Amy’s dedication to our mission is exemplified by the fact that she’s also a key staff member in our Education and Community Education team, delivering vital bar awareness seminars to communities across Aotearoa – all in-between her volunteering time.” 

Emerging (Young) Volunteer of the Year Finalists: Nathalie Le Blanc (Coastguard Whangaruru), Steven Dee (Coastguard Waihi Beach)

Communication / Incident Management Team Volunteer of the Year – Barry Dulieu, Coastguard Marlborough


This award recognises excellence in the performance of Radio Operators and Volunteers working in Incident Management roles that support Search and Rescue (SAR) and Coastguard Operations. We are delighted to announce Barry Dulieu from Coastguard Marlborough as our 2023 winner. 

Barry, with a background in the New Zealand Navy, is an invaluable member of Coastguard Marlborough. He excels both on vessels and in the control room, particularly with his exceptional communication skills. Barry ensures that Coastguard Marlborough and other supporting agencies are always well-informed about incidents, recognising the critical importance of prompt and accurate communication during emergencies. 

Barry's dedication and calm demeanour make him a reassuring presence for those navigating challenging situations. He is known for his meticulous attention to detail, whether it's overseeing multiple vessels, coordinating crew changes, or arranging food for rescue operations. 

In a recent incident in Queen Charlotte Sound, Barry's quick thinking and organisation skills played a vital role in a successful rescue operation. He demonstrated the importance of double-checking critical information, preventing a potential disaster by correcting the rescue boat's course. 

Beyond his operational roles, Barry maintains a strong connection with the local Iwi, is fluent in Te reo Māori, and serves as a cultural advisor to Coastguard Marlborough. He played a significant role in naming the AC36 America's Cup vessel, Tautiaki o Waitohi, in consultation with local Iwi, reflecting the meaning of "Active Guardians of Picton and its People." 

In difficult situations, such as when retrieving bodies from the water, Barry also provides comfort by conducting blessings in Te reo for the deceased, the crew, and the vessel. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Regardless of the scale of an incident, boaties in difficulty and our volunteers on the water require a calm, informative and logical voice on the end of a radio – something that Barry continues to deliver for his community.” 

“I’d also like to acknowledge Barry’s mahi as cultural advisor for his Unit – building relationships and enabling Coastguard to connect better with mana whenua and the communities we reflect.” 

Communication / Incident Management Team Volunteer of the Year Finalists: Luke McCarthy (Communications North), Susie Buchanan-Welch (Coastguard Tauranga) 

Air Patrol Volunteer of the Year – Larry Sutherland, Northland Coastguard Air Patrol

This award recognises an outstanding volunteer who has exemplified commitment, effort, and dedication in their role at one of Coastguard's two Air Patrol Units. Our winner for 2023 is Larry Sutherland from Northland Coastguard Air Patrol (NCAP). 

Larry has shown unwavering loyalty to Northland Coastguard Air Patrol for over two decades. Initially joining the local Aero Club to study for his pilot's license, Larry maintained his allegiance to Coastguard when the two organisations split. As an experienced pilot, he earned his pilot's license, became a NCAP Duty Pilot, and is often among the first to respond to calls, showcasing his dedication to the cause. 

Larry not only excels as a pilot but also takes on the role of a mentor, teaching others and ensuring a focus on safety from debrief to completion. He played a crucial role in high-profile incidents, including the Whakaari/White Island disaster, where he undertook a challenging search mission for the final two missing individuals. 

Larry's longevity at Northland Coastguard Air Patrol is marked by his adaptability to technological advancements and his commitment to passing on his knowledge. Despite recent personal challenges, Larry continues to serve as the President of Northland Coastguard Air Patrol, maintaining his integrity, enthusiasm, and dedication to saving lives at sea. 

Larry Sutherland: “It's the bunch of enthusiastic volunteers who deserve to be nominated for an award more than I, because we are a team. I just want to give something back to my community, and the Air Patrol was by far the best option for me.” 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “As our eyes in the sky, Air Patrol volunteers like Larry are a critical part of our mission of saving lives at sea. Larry is well-known for his safe aviation practices and the importance of looking after his crew so it’s fantastic to able to honour him for his incredible service to Coastguard.” 

Air Patrol Volunteer of the Year Finalist: Robert Brown (Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol)


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