Use of personal locator beacons surges in NZ

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company chairman John Munro with one of the hireable locator beacons. Photo: File

THE uptake of locator beacons this summer has rocketed, despite a lack of international tourists.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust spokesman John Munro said he believed a consolidated push from Land Search and Rescue, the Department of Conservation, New Zealand Police and the Mountain Safety Council to promote locator beacon use was the reason behind the increase.

“So that really has, I think, increased people’s awareness of it and the fact they can hire one, as opposed to going out and purchasing one.”

The Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust runs a company which sells locator beacons and supplies them for hire at 90 outlets throughout New Zealand.

The increase in usage in the 2020-21 season, which he believed to be about 60% higher than normal, included sales between November and March which were three times what they would normally be, he said.

The increase had come as quite a shock as the trust thought it was in for a quieter summer with fewer international tourists, he said.

“But, oh my gosh, we’ve had one of the busiest we’ve ever had.”

It was great to see New Zealanders enjoying the great outdoors while at the same time taking the precautions necessary, he said.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre manager Rodney Bracefield said the use of beacons had increased in the past four months.

“The use of the beacon takes the search out of search and rescue, really, because we get a location and we can go direct to the person involved.”

While most were set off for legitimate reasons, there were some which should not have been activated, he said.

“They should be used in a situation of grave or imminent danger but that doesn’t apply to a lot of the rescues we are doing,” he said.

It was really important for people who were using locator beacons to register them, as it would give rescue co-ordinators significant information which could help.

“You know if it’s a school party… you can dispatch one helicopter thinking that you can pick up, at the most, two or three people but you can prepare for the other 20.”