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Don’t forget to register your beacon

Rescuers say a registered PLB will save time. Photo: Nelson Marlborough Helicopter Rescue

If you own a personal locator beacon (PLB), you may be breaking the law.

It’s a legal requirement to register PLBs, but according to the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand, as many as 40 per cent of beacons bought in New Zealand have not been registered.

Paul Craven, operations manager for RCCNZ, said there are about 67,000 beacons registered in New Zealand, and 26,000 unregistered beacons. He said 10 per cent of registered beacons have incomplete or incorrect information, which is sometimes because the beacon has been sold and the registration details are outdated.

The issue of unregistered beacons was highlighted in two recent call-outs in which the PLB users hadn’t given adequate trip information to their emergency contacts or their registration details were incomplete, which meant rescue crews had very little information about what to expect.

When a beacon is activated, one of the first steps for RCCNZ is to check that it’s registered, and then attempt to contact the listed emergency contacts. On one of the recent rescues, the victim had listed an emergency contact, but that person had no knowledge of the trip the person was on. The other recent call-out had even less information; the person had incomplete registration details with no phone number for the owner, and no emergency contact listed.

“The big advantage when a beacon is registered is that we start with just a dot on a map, but then when we call the emergency contact, we might find out that the person is diabetic, so we then have a much better picture of what we’re encountering,” Craven said.

Mike Hill, RCCNZ manager, said after registering a beacon and updating emergency contact details, every beacon owner should get in the habit of keeping in regular touch with the contact person to relay plans.

“Just send a text message to let them know you are heading off, and what you have planned. Then when you get back, send another text confirming you are home safely,” he said.

To register or update your beacon, go to www.beacons.org.nz or email  406registry@maritimenz.govt.nz.