Coastguard Waiuku marks 50 years of saving lives at sea

It takes a crew to save a life, and for volunteers at Coastguard Waiuku (also known as Waiuku Search and Rescue), they have saved more than their fair share of lives over the past 50 years.

This weekend, volunteers and supporters past and present are coming together to celebrate the Unit’s 50th anniversary – a journey which started in the Waiuku RSA rooms on August 27, 1973. Following a tragic incident on the Waikato River which claimed two lives, the local community came together to formalise a search and rescue entity to help those in trouble.

One current volunteer, Richard Udy, has been with the Unit since day one. He was instrumental in shaping the Unit's early years including establishing its first base as well as pioneering vital initiatives like New Zealand's first VHF radio repeater and teaching safety courses for over three decades. Richard is still an active volunteer providing his expertise, experience, and wisdom to volunteers young and old.

Today, Coastguard Waiuku’s 27 volunteers operate across the Manukau Harbour and Bar, out 12 nautical miles into the Tasman Sea and south to Port Waikato River Bar and Huntly. The Unit currently has two vessels - 'NZ Steel Rescue' a 7.2 metre Naiad Inflatable with twin 150hp Suzuki outboards and 'Counties Power Rescue,' a 4.8 metre Naiad, proudly sponsored by Counties Energy, which is used for the smaller inshore jobs.

Over five decades, volunteers have responded to countless calls for assistance, but a recent rescue in November 2022 once again highlighted the importance of Coastguard Waiuku and its close connection to its local community.

Just before 1800, the Unit was alerted to an urgent distress call off Clark's Beach in the Manukau Harbour, where two survivors had made it to shore and raised the alarm about a 6m runabout which had capsized hours earlier with five people on-board.

Alongside other emergency services, volunteers quickly launched both of their rescue vessels, Counties Power Rescue and NZ Steel Rescue, on route to the vessel's last known location. With light fading, volunteers were guided by the Police Eagle Helicopter to the upturned hull, with rescuers quickly finding two of the missing people in the water. With the assistance of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, the two were brought on board and first aid was administered immediately.

The search continued long into the night before being suspended, with volunteers finishing around 0230. At 1000 the following morning, volunteers were back on the water and recommenced the search for the missing person identified as a 10-year-old boy at school with some of the volunteer's children. The search continued for two more weeks before it was sadly suspended with the child never found.

Coastguard Waiuku President Dean Lawrence said the Clark’s Beach tragedy underpins why so many volunteers have given their time and commitment for this community over the years.

“Our region is surrounded by some of the most unforgiving sea conditions in New Zealand and for 50 years now, our volunteers have put themselves out there to bring people home safely,” he said.

“I would like to thank everyone who has volunteered for and supported Waiuku Search and Rescue over the past 50 years. We are excited to see what the next five decades have in store – for example, we are already well into designing a new 12m vessel which will take us into the future and hopefully save many more lives on the water.”

For more information, contact:
Ben Parsons
Coastguard New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor
[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