Coastguard Nelson recognised at Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Awards

18 May 2021

Media release

A successful 14-and-a-half-hour rescue operation that brought six people home safely saw Coastguard Nelson awarded with a Certificate of Achievement at the New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Awards on Tuesday night (18 May).

Coastguard Nelson alongside Nelson Police SAR Squad, Tasman District Harbourmaster and Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) were recognised for their contribution to the rescue of the SV Ocean Gem near Rangitoto kit e Tonga/D’Urville Island on 18-19 March 2020.

When the Mayday call was first received by RCCNZ at 9pm, the 12-tonne sailing yacht, en route from Hobart to Picton, had lost its steering and was drifting helplessly in the Cook Strait Channel in winds gusting between 20 and 25 knots.

Without intervention from rescue agencies to ensure a safe arrival into Aotearoa, the vessel would eventually drift into rocks, putting the yacht and its crew in harm’s way.
In the hours that followed, a full scale search and rescue operation was carried out that pushed the Coastguard crew to their limits and combined the expertise and resources of both land-based and on-water SAR agencies.

RCCNZ advised Coastguard Nelson and Police of the situation and at 4am, the Coastguard crew set out on a lengthy journey into the night to reach the stricken vessel. Back and forth communication between Coastguard, RCCNZ and Ocean Gem detailing the vessels moving position, greatly assisted the Coastguard crew in their search efforts as they navigated a 3-4m swell under the cover of darkness.

Ocean Gem had drifted so far out that Coastguard Nelson had to obtain a special exemption from Maritime New Zealand which allowed them to travel outside their area of operation to reach the yacht.

After a long journey, at 7:20am the following morning, Coastguard finally rendezvoused with Ocean Gem where all crew were found safe and accounted for.

"There is no doubt that the Nelson Coastguard crew risked their own lives during this rescue," says Coastguard Chief Executive, Callum Gillespie.

"The five-person crew travelled outside their normal area of operation to assist a yacht nearly twice the size of their rescue vessel. Whilst this search and rescue operation challenged the crew both physically and mentally, it speaks to the level of selflessness and dedication amongst Coastguard volunteers."

From 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, search and rescue operations in New Zealand ensured 128 lives were saved, 506 people rescued and 783 assisted, and the agencies involved collectively dedicated over 35,000 hours to search and rescue operations.

Search and rescue operations are time-sensitive procedures that are reliant on collaboration.

"This was a great example of search and rescue organisations and local harbourmasters coming together to rescue people in extremely high-pressure situations," says RCCNZ Manager, Paul Craven.

Senior Constable Jude Yeoman, Search and Rescue Nelson Bays says, "This particular rescue, which was long and arduous, stretched our available resources to the upper limits. We would particularly like to acknowledge all the agencies involved. Especially Nelson Coastguard unit but also the Tasman Harbour Masters Dan Cairney and Jimmy McKay who willingly assisted with this rescue out in a region well outside their jurisdiction. Thanks to the Nelson Coastguard Unit who took the lion’s share of the work. The positive outcomes highlights the value of consistently maintaining good working relationships with partner agencies."


Held each year at Parliament, the New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards are an opportunity for emergency services to come together and acknowledge their significant contributions to the sector.

Two Gold Awards and seven Certificates of Achievement were presented by Hon Michael Wood, Minister of Transport. The awards acknowledge the immense efforts of agencies and individuals who in the past year have been fundamental in saving, rescuing and assisting people across the width and breadth of Aotearoa.

  • Each year, 12,831 people are involved in search and rescue in Aotearoa – 95 percent of whom are volunteers.
  • New Zealand’s Search and Rescue Region covers 30 million square kilometres


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