New Zealand Coastguards

Article reproduced courtesy of the USA Reserve Magazine

coastguards around the world

nz map

New Zealand

Story and Photos courtesy of CDR Susan Rogers, USCGR(Ret.)

The new millennium brought with it the implementation of a few new ideas here at the Reservist. One of those ideas is to highlight coast guards from around the world. As you may recall if you watched any of the New Year’s Eve hoopla on television, one of the first nations to usher in the new millennium was New Zealand. So we kick-off this year-long series with a look at this island nation’s coastguard (spelled as one word in New Zealand). Retired Coast Guard Reservist CDR Susan Rogers, who penned this first article, joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in 1974 and served five years on active duty after graduating from Officer Candidate School in 1979. She also served as a small arms training coordinator, executive officer of a port safety unit, and as commanding officer of the old reserve unit at TRACEN Petaluma.

Rogers now lives in Nelson, New Zealand with her husband, CDR John Roosen,USCGR(Ret.), and their three sons, Christopher, Nicholas and Timothy. She has justcompleted her third book, Visual Management, and works in the Emergency Management Field.You may contact her by writing: CDR Susan L. Rogers, USCGR(Ret.), 37 Moncrieff Ave.,Nelson, New Zealand. Learn more about the New Zealand Coastguard on their Web site at:

coastguard mana vessel

Nicholson Rescue, a British Waveney class lifeboat owned and operated by the Mana Volunteer Coastguard, is equivalent to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 44 footer.

old coastguard logo

New Zealand has one of the longest and most varied coast lines of any country in the world. The sea, lakes and rivers have always been an important part of the lives of New Zealanders, or Kiwis as they call themselves. For a country the length of California with a population of 3.9 million, the sea is a pivotal force in its economic and recreational environment. Nearly 50 percent of all New Zealanders will spend some time on a boat at least once a year. Thus, marine risks have also been part of New Zealand life from the earliest days.

Similar to the U.S. Coast Guard, the New Zealand Coastguard began as a lifeboat service. In the 1860s, several cities around New Zealand had lifeboats. Canterbury on the South Island had a 33-foot lifeboat with a six-foot beam. At one point, the Canterbury crew rescued 43 passengers from the City of Perth and the Benvue that were wrecked simultaneously off the Canterbury coast. However, the first permanent rescue service wasn’t established until the summer of 1898 at Sumner, Christchurch.

The name Coastguard first appeared in 1937 with the formation of Auckland’s Volunteer Coastguard. This group was a voluntary rescue organization run on paramilitary lines (with uniforms and ranks) and was the forerunner of today’s program. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, with 1 million people, is located on the North Island, and is renowned for its many recreational "boaties". It will be the host to America’s Cup later this year.

The New Zealand Coastguard Federation was established at a meeting in Taupo on July 31, 1976 by eight Coastguard organizations who met to develop a common approach to SAR. In 1981, Charles, the Prince of Wales toured New Zealand and spent much time with the Coastguard at Sumner, including a turn at the helm of a rescue boat. In 1990, he accepted an invitation from the Federation to recognize the valuable work of the Coastguard by becoming its patron and Her Majesty the Queen granted the title “Royal” on Sept. 17, 1990. Unlike the United States, the New Zealand Coastguard always was and still is a completely volunteer federation. All of its members perform SAR tasks, stand duty and are on call like reservists in the U.S. Coast Guard.

CDR Susan Rogers and Harold MasonCDR Susan Rogers, USCGR(Ret.), left, talks with Harold Mason, Immediate Past National President of the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation. Mason spent 20 years as a SAR volunteer, is a life member of the Canterbury and the Nelson Coastguard unit.

Today, the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation represents 54 voluntary Coastguard units spread around the New Zealand coastline and on the major lakes. The organization has approximately 10,000 volunteers who are carpenters, plumbers,accountants, sales people...coming from all walks of life to serve in a volunteer status. Rostered volunteers carry a pager and spend many hours in training for the emergencies they may encounter. Many make their own personal boats available for search and rescue work, similar to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The New Zealand Coastguard has been developed without any direct financial assistance from the government. All funds for the vessels and equipment are raised by individual areas through philanthropic trusts, the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, donations, sausage sizzles, and even raffles. In general terms, about 80 percent of all funding for each Coastguard unit has to be raised within each individual community by their own voluntary rescue crews, shore personnel and supporters. Sometimes they receive donated equipment which they put to good use.

Today, the New Zealand Coastguard also performs search and rescue on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Using radar, global positioning satellites (GPS) and radio direction equipment on their 50 rescue vessels and aircraft, they are called out 2,900 times a year on a nationwide basis. The vessels themselves are mostly rugged all-purpose built craft capable of a high-speed rescue up to 12 miles off the coast in any kind of weather. These vessels are supported by a New Zealand-wide network of marine radio stations and Coastguard air patrols.

sealord rescue vessel

Sealord Rescue, a 10-Meter Brede Class self-righting ex-Royal National lifeboat

The Coastguard’s nine Regional Air Patrol units are owned and operated bythe local aero club but are made available for Coastguard emergency work. Using radio direction finding equipment linked to the Global Positioning System and a laptop computer, a vessel broadcasting a distress signal can be quickly located.

On the water, the Coastguard helps with engine breakdowns, battery failures, sinkings, heart attack victims and accidents. They receive calls from the police to coordinate larger scale rescues. On land, the Coastguard provides a widespread boating safety education program. Over 40,000 New Zealanders have attended such courses as Day Skipper Boatmaster, Coast Skipper and Ocean Yachtmaster. In addition, the Coastguard provides VHF radio operators with instruction on how to use their radios. Some quick statistics on the New Zealand Coastguard show that it answers seven calls for assistance per day while assisting over 12 New Zealanders per day.


spirit of wellington vessel

Spirit of Wellington, a 12.5-meter RHI high-speed rescue boat operated by the Wellington Volunteer Coastguard

The New Zealand Coastguard is similar to the U.S. Coast Guard in several other ways. They promote safety through encouraging high standards in the manufacturing of boats and boating equipment. They also provide an emergency listening watch, which in the large population areas is a 24-hour service. In the smaller areas, the service operates on weekends and public holidays. Often the Coastguard provides regular weather reports,navigational warnings and marine safety information.

All in all, the New Zealand Coastguard is remarkable for its skill, use of equipment and dedication. They provide a vital community program on a totally volunteer basis. For a small country and a small service, they perform a big mission.

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