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Coastguard provides the primary maritime search and rescue service in New Zealand.

Our mission is saving lives at sea. Every year over 6,000 people are brought home safely to their families because of the dedicated people who volunteer for Coastguard.

Right across the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, our volunteers are saving lives at sea.

President's Report

It has been a year of challenges and change for businesses, organisations and people across the globe and throughout New Zealand. Coastguard hasn’t been immune from this. In fact, even without a global pandemic, Coastguard has gone through a historic amount of change in the past 12 months.

I wrote in the 2019 Annual Report that Coastguard needed to become a more efficient and structured organisation, to remove duplication and evolve better ways of focusing on purpose and supporting our people. At the time, the Coastguard New Zealand Board had put forward a proposal, Project Horizon, to help achieve these objectives, and I was hopeful it would be supported by all our internal and external stakeholders.

After a comprehensive consultation process with our volunteers the length and breadth of the country, on 7 March, we held five Special General Meetings to vote on the merging of Coastguard’s four regions and the national body. The result was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal, with the merger officially taking place on 1 July. Since 7 March, an intensive implementation period has taken place in preparation for this.

I am immensely proud of our volunteers and staff for embracing this change and voting in favour of it. While change can be uncomfortable, I believe that staying as we were as an organisation wasn’t an option if we wanted to continue to prosper and achieve our Mission of Saving Lives at Sea.

Coastguard is a volunteer-powered organisation but, over the past six years volunteer numbers have declined by nearly 20%. The Volunteer Study, commissioned by New Zealand Search and Rescue in 2018, showed that the complexity and long lead times of our current training matrix have an effect on volunteer engagement and retention.

As an organisation, we need to be bold and think differently about how we run our training programme if we are to genuinely enable our volunteers to be successful. I am committed to halting and reversing our declining volunteer numbers by supporting this work in the year ahead.

Coastguard exists as an organisation to serve New Zealand’s communities and the people who live in them. Another main focus for the year ahead is to better reflect our communities by attracting volunteers from across the spectrum of age, gender and ethnicity, while critically examining our culture, to ensure we’re an organisation where people of all backgrounds and walks of life feel welcome and valued.

Coastguard is a great organisation, but to stay great we have a lot of work ahead of us. With our new organisation structure in place, I believe we now have the platform to affect meaningful change for our volunteers and the communities we serve.

I would like to acknowledge all of our volunteers and staff for their dedication and resilience in the face of adversity this year. The rescue statistics further on in this report show that our team – those on the water, in the air, behind the radio, powering their unit or working hard in our offices – have put in another exceptional effort to keep the New Zealand boating public safe.

On behalf of the Coastguard New Zealand Board I would also like to thank our funders, supporters and partners for their commitment to Coastguard over the past year and their steadfast support during this time of evolution. Your ongoing support is vital to our success.

As we reflect on this extraordinary year and its triumphs and challenges, I am buoyed by the bright future Coastguard has ahead. I look forward to working alongside you all to make this our reality.

Ngā mihi nui,

Mike Purchase
Coastguard New Zealand


When we saw a massive light in the distance we realised it was Coastguard… it was an incredible feeling… they saved our lives.

CEO's Report

When I started as CEO at the beginning of February this year, I fully imagined a year of real challenge. What I had not forecast was how the world as we know it would be turned on its head, or the extent to which our agility as an organisation would be put to the test.  

As a volunteer-powered emergency service, Coastguard was confronted with a unique set of challenges as a result of COVID-19. Coastguard is responsible for the wellbeing of 2100 volunteers and staff. When New Zealand went into lockdown on 25 March, our challenge was not only to ensure the wellbeing of our volunteers, staff and their bubbles, but also to remain operational as an essential service.

Alongside thousands of other Kiwi organisations, Coastguard staff and volunteers had four days to adapt, developing and executing plans and procuring and distributing PPE, while also taking a leading role educating New Zealanders on the implications of COVID-19. 

For a water-loving nation enjoying a spell of great boating weather, this took some getting used to, but as a team we got it. While our boats stayed on our driveways, Coastguard did not get to rest, continuing to deliver on our mission and responding to events around the country. During this time we learned new skills and tested and improved upon new procedures, principally in the transport of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients between islands in the Hauraki Gulf and central Auckland. We put our people and our equipment to the test and passed with flying colours. You can read more about the experience of our volunteers later in this report.  

I’m proud to play a role in this great organisation and grateful to every volunteer that remained available or who left their bubble to respond to someone in need. Our ability to do so highlights Coastguard’s continued relevance to the communities we serve, a relevance only expected to increase with a Maritime New Zealand analysis showing that the number of recreational boaties is calculated to have grown to 45% of the population.

To ensure we can continue delivering on our mission as more boaties take to the water, we need to be operating efficiently and effectively as an organisation. As Mike outlined in his President’s report, the implementation of Project Horizon is an important step in the achievement of that objective. The changes made through Project Horizon will also ensure improved support for our volunteers and units, reducing their burden of administration and compliance, and enabling volunteers tbetter utilise their precious time and focus on the life-saving reason they joined Coastguard.

Alongside our actions to reduce volunteer overheads, we are committed to the streamlining and improvement of our volunteer training experience, to enable training accessibility and self-management, and improving pathways for volunteers with transferable skills to join Coastguard and make a difference.

None of this would be possible without the support of our valued donors, partners and supporters. In the May budget, we welcomed the news of an increase in funding to the water safety sector. This was a result of more than a year’s collaboration between sector partners and the Ministries of Sport and Transport, Maritime New Zealand and New Zealand Search and Rescue. The funding is intended to reduce our reliance on higher risk income from donations, Gaming Trusts and Lotteries, which given the impact of COVID-19 on these funding streams, is timely and much needed.

In this report you will find stories of our people and their units, the lives they have saved and the impact they’ve made on New Zealand’s communities. These stories are only a snapshot of the results from the incredible 276,309 hours our volunteers dedicated to saving lives this year.   

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our staff who have risen to every challenge this year, planned or not, and finally, to acknowledge the boards of Coastguard New Zealand and the Coastguard regions for their vision and leadership in this extraordinary year   

Noho ora mai i te wai - Stay safe on the water

Callum Gillespie
Chief Executive
Coastguard New Zealand


Coastguard NZ Board

Mike Purchase

Aaron Wallace

Peter Kara (Coastguard Nelson)
Elected Board Member

John Linn (Coastguard South Taranaki)
Elected Board Member

Graham Brown (Coastguard Auckland)
Northern Region Appointee

Richard Packham (Coastguard Rotorua Lakes)
Eastern Region Appointee

Trevor Burgess (Coastguard Mana)
Central Region Appointee

Jonathan Walmisley (Coastguard Wanaka)
Southern Region Appointee

Marilyn Brady (Coastguard Boating Education)
Ex-officio Member

Dean Lawrence (Coastguard Waiuku)
Co-opted Member

Ed Crook (Coastguard Auckland)
Co-opted Member

A message from our partners

Duncan Ferner, Secretariat Manager, New Zealand Search and Rescue Council 

Looking back on the year that was seems a bit surreal in these unusual times. The widespread impact of Covid-19 is affecting every one of us – and the search and rescue sector is not immune to the challenges it continues to present. Thanks to the calibre of search and rescue people, including the courage and commitment of thousands of Coastguard volunteers, the delivery and quality of search and rescue services in New Zealand has not wavered.

Thriving relationships throughout the sector were evident during the uncertainty of the Covid-19 alert levels. Coastguard played an essential part in delivering joint and consistent communications to the New Zealand public, which saw a dramatic decline in search and rescue incidents and ultimately helped to keep SAR people safe in their ‘bubbles.'

We enter the next financial year with the largest ever vote of confidence from Government in search and rescue.Over the next three years, the Government’s investment in Coastguard will rise to $31.744 million, a 465% increase on the previous three-year period. The Council has strong expectations of a step change in the way we operate with more collaboration, increased effectiveness and greater transparency. 

Search and rescue is a team effort. The skill and commitment of Coastguard people is key to our collective success. On behalf of the NZSAR Council, thank you for the outstanding quality of the search and rescue services you unfailingly provide to New Zealanders and visitors to our shores.  

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