Volunteers recognised and celebrated at Coastguard Awards of Excellence

Coastguard volunteers from across Aotearoa have been recognised and celebrated over the weekend for their immense contributions to saving lives at sea.

Coastguard's Awards of Excellence are an annual event that celebrate volunteers and units across ten award categories. This year, given current Covid-19 restrictions, the awards were held online. The categories acknowledge rescue operations, community engagement and our volunteers on the water, in the air, at the end of the radio and behind the scenes who ensure our volunteers can be there for boaties in their time of need. 

In the last 12 months our 1,978 volunteers gave an incredible 291,402 hours of their time to saving lives at sea - a remarkable statistic by any measure. Over this time, Coastguard volunteers conducted more than 3,500 operations and brought more than 8,000 people home to safety. 

We are delighted to announce the following winners at the 2021 Coastguard Awards of Excellence. 

Coastguard Volunteer of the Year (Supreme Award) – Richard Craig, Coastguard Kaikoura

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 Richard Craig from Coastguard Kaikoura who also received the award for Coastguard Rescue Vessel Volunteer of the Year 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. 

Richard is a Life Member of Coastguard Kaikoura and notably played an integral part in the project planning and fundraising securing $700k for a larger and more purpose-built rescue vessel, an 11.3m Naiad-designed boat his unit still uses today. 

Richard joined Coastguard Kaikoura over 34 years ago and is now the longest-serving volunteer in the unit. It was a natural adoption for him to take, having loved the sea and boats from an early age and being introduced to Coastguard life by his father, Jack. Richard’s skills and knowledge are exceptional, and he’s a well-respected member of the unit and the wider emergency services team playing pivotal roles in rescues and other disasters such as the Kaikoura earthquake. Whether it’s on or off the water, Richard’s dedication to the unit and Coastguard’s cause is unwavering. 

With more than 30 years of making a difference with Coastguard, Richard is an incredibly well-deserved winner of both awards. 

Coastguard Air Patrol Volunteer of the Year – Mark McCarthy, Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol 

This award recognises an outstanding Coastguard Air Patrol volunteer who has exemplified the commitment, effort and dedication to making a significant different to the success of Coastguard achieving our Vision of ‘No Boaties’ lives lost at sea.’ 

Mark has been a backbone for the unit for nearly 20 years. In addition to undertaking numerous successful search and rescue operations over the past two decades, he plays a major role in the administration of the unit including keeping the flight database up to date and organising the roster. Mark lives the vision of Coastguard by having flown each and every tasking that he has undertaken over his years of service with the professionalism that we all aspire to achieve. 

Coastguard Communications/Incident Management Volunteer of the Year – Pat Collins, Coastguard Wellington 

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. 

Pat is one of the SAR coordinators for Coastguard Wellington. A key example of her incredibly hard work was during a search for a missing kayaker. She was instrumental in the communications with the search which covered two days. This included coordinating crews, arranging refuelling of Coastguard Rescue Vessel (CRV) Spirit of Wellington, and maintaining frequent communication with the Police. She was also in regular contact with the Unit President with search updates and crew welfare purposes. Pat contacted members of the search crews at the conclusion of the incident and ensured everyone had the welfare support they needed. 

Pat always ensures that the CRV base and launch facilities are always safe and ready for crews to use at all times. She also utilises her incredible wealth of contacts for the better of the unit. Everything that Pat does makes a difference every time the crew and vessels go out. 

Coastguard Unit Support Volunteer of the Year – Ken Wood, Coastguard Taranaki 

This award 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.

Ken’s outstanding contribution in an onshore support role ensures the unit’s CRV, Todd Energy Rescue, is always fully maintained for the safety of the unit’s crew and ready to respond to a call out 24/7. Ken is currently volunteering 6-7 hours a day to the unit and actively supports any onshore projects or maintenance that need completing. These have included an upgrade of the radio room, installing new 10m aerial masts to provide better VHF radio coverage, fitting additional shelves with cargo safety nets in the crew shed, and improving the mooring ropes system. Ken’s professionalism and how he engages with the crew and service suppliers have quickly earned him the respect of all the unit. Ken provides invaluable onshore support, and his contribution allows for the cohesive running of the Taranaki unit. 

Coastguard Community Engagement Unit of the Year – Coastguard Whitianga 

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

The Alan Jackson Memorial Cadet Program is a stand-out achievement for Coastguard Whitianga in terms of what it provides for the local community and the Coastguard profile. Inspired by late long-serving Coastguard volunteer Patron Alan Jackson and his dream to develop a Coastguard cadetship, the program was successfully launched in 2019 as a platform to introduce youth to the world of leadership, self-discipline, responsibility and health and safety on the water and in the workplace.

The young cadets, made up of ten teenage students from the local school, receive an insight into how Coastguard works from the radio operators, wet crew, and Incident Management Team over an intensive 12-week period. The cadetship aims to provide youth with skills to set them up with a lifetime of safe boating knowledge. 

The cadetship programme has allowed the Whitianga unit to give something back to the community to show their appreciation for the support given over many years. It has generated an interest in Coastguard activities by a much younger age group than is usually the case and has undoubtedly cemented itself within the local community and culture. 

This is the second year in a row that Coastguard Whitianga has received this special award. 

Coastguard Emerging (Young) Volunteer of the Year – Matthew Harvey, Coastguard Hawkes Bay 

This new award for 2021 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. 

27-year-old Matthew Harvey is the epitome of a role model volunteer, his dedication to the unit and to Coastguard is unquestionable. Over the past year, he has skippered almost 70 per cent of the units training sessions and gives around 14 hours each week to volunteering. He spends a considerable amount of time helping the unit’s inductees with their training, organises additional training for those coming up to Operational Assessments and constantly helps crew upskill by providing practical and positive feedback. Matthew has undoubtedly contributed genuinely and practically in keeping people safe on the water in Hawkes Bay. He is a real talent within his unit. 

Coastguard Outstanding Leadership Award – Peter Kara, Coastguard Nelson 

This new award for 2021 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. 

Peter’s leadership is second to none. He has played an instrumental part in turning Coastguard Nelson around from a low point 10 years ago, when the unit had a small number of volunteers and wasn’t well-equipped. Looking at it today, you would think it was a completely different unit due to its strong and committed volunteer base and it’s high-functioning and inclusive team culture. Peter’s focus is always on Coastguard’s mission and building team culture and capabilities that ensure the job is done properly. His philosophy of success is everyone being invested in the same thing, holding the same vision close and ensuring everyone is OK, from volunteers and their families to those who have been rescued. Peter truly is an inspirational leader and in the words of Nelson Training Coordinator Rosie Musters, "He is our Kaitiaki”. 

Coastguard Unit of the Year – Coastguard Nelson 

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

2021 has been a big year for Coastguard Nelson. In March the unit finally welcomed the arrival of new rescue vessel, Hohapata Sealord Rescue after three and half years of hard work, passion and strict oversight. On top of this, the unit recently received international recognition for their lifesaving work in the form of an International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) Award for their exemplary efforts in rescuing a 12-tonne sailing yacht drifting in the Cook Straight amid 20 to 25 knot gusts. These two achievements highlight the incredible amount of pride and dedication present within the unit which is reflected in the work they complete in their community. 

Coastguard Rescue of the Year – Coastguard Maraetai, Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol, Communications North and Coastguard Thames 

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

All four Coastguard assets played vital parts in rescuing a father and his two young children after their kayak capsized 1 kilometre off Kaiaua in July. This sparked a category 1 multi-agency Search and Rescue operation where communication across all responding services played a critical role in not only locating the kayak, but also coordinating air assets, search patterns and the mission plan.

Coastguard Maraetai was on the water fighting windy conditions with Auckland Air Patrol searching above. On their third sweep of the area, Air Patrol spotted the kayak, dropping a dye marker and within a few minutes, Maraetai found them – the father clinging onto his two children, one conscious and breathing but deteriorating and the other requiring CPR. The casualties were transported to shore, while Coastguard Thames retrieved the kayak. When the family were flown to hospital, the child was at status 1, but sadly later passed away. 

This rescue was a massive test of resilience and strength, physically and emotionally. While it wasn’t the outcome anyone hoped for, the rescue highlights the collaborative success of those emergency services and agencies concerned. The team performed their roles admirably under extreme pressure, and it was a gallant effort to try and save the lives of three people and one that impacted everyone involved.


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