Search and Rescue

Who to call in a canyon related emergency?

In the event of an emergency, or if someone is overdue from a canyoning trip, please call 111 and ask for the police. 

Police will contact local CanyonSAR teams, as required,

If you’re in a canyon, you are very unlikely to have cell phone reception, so you should activate your personal locator beacon (PLB). More on this below.

How to be prepared

Always leave your intentions with someone (where you are going, what time you are expected back, what time the police should be contacted, etc). 

There is almost never mobile phone access inside canyons, so carry at least one Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) among your group. Make sure your PLB registration is up to date and that canyoning is listed as one of your activities.

Carry appropriate emergency gear – remember that in the event you are overdue or activate your PLB, it may be a long time before rescuers reach you. See kiwicanyons.org for more info,

What is CanyonSAR?

Canyon Search and Rescue (CanyonSAR), or SARChasm as we affectionately call it, is a Specialist Discipline of LandSAR. LandSAR is an organisation providing volunteer search and rescue personnel, to assist the official search and rescue response by the government agencies. 

SAR services are provided for free to anyone in New Zealand. 

The New Zealand Canyoning Association (NZCA), as an Associate Member of LandSAR, advises LandSAR on CanyonSAR around the country. Nationally, NZCA provides specialist advice to assist the development of SOP’s, group integration, training and rescue methods.

Regionally, NZCA liaises with local SAR groups to identify what they want/need for their regional capability and assist them developing it.  NZCA can provide specialist Canyon SAR training, both to existing LandSAR volunteers with canyon skills, and ‘new recruit’ canyoners who wish to become involved. NZCA also has some ability to assist procurement of specialist Canyon SAR equipment. Depending on the local situation, NZCA can also help to source volunteer Canyoners to be on “call out lists” and/or join the local LandSAR group’s official canyon SAR team. 

CanyonSAR capability and organisation varies significantly by region, due to history, frequency of canyoning callouts, number of active canyoners etc. For example in Wanaka/Southern Lakes, there is a CanyonSAR sub-team that sits within the Wanaka SAR Swift Water Group. In Canterbury, the CanyonSAR sub-team sits within the LandSAR Alpine Cliff Rescue Team. And in Wellington, CanyonSAR expertise is limited to a few individuals that operate separately from the local LandSAR group. CanyonSAR was only established within LandSAR in 2019, so the situation is still evolving.

Rescue response is typically coordinated in one of two ways:

  • If you activate your PLB, the signal will be received by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). If a rescue helicopter can be dispatched immediately, RCCNZ will typically coordinate the rescue. If helicopter support is not possible (for example due to no helicopter being available, bad weather, or the canyon being too narrow to winch from) and ‘ground troops’ are required, then RCCNZ may hand over coordination to the NZ Police.  
  • If someone reports canyoners missing or injured via a 111 call, the NZ Police will coordinate the rescue, via their local station. The Police will contact local CanyonSAR and LandSAR groups as appropriate. 

Want to get involved in CanyonSAR?

The vision is to build up small to medium sized groups of CanyonSAR specialists around the country, who are dedicated to SAR and to NZ, and who are trained specifically in canyon rescue.

Skilled and experienced canyoners who want to volunteer should get in touch with their local NZCA representative. (see the list at the bottom of this page). Since we are developing the capability around NZ, each area is organised slightly differently at present. The NZCA rep will have the most up-to date information and will act as the point of liaison between local SAR groups and those wishing to volunteer. 

 

If there’s room for new recruits, and the local LandSAR / NZCA reps think you are suitable, you’ll be invited to get involved. The nature of the involvement varies from region to region; It could be an official application to join LandSAR, and become a canyon specialist attached to a local LandSAR group and/or canyon rescue team.  It could also be as simple as your name and number on a ‘call out list’. Each region has a different approach, which is appropriate for that area. Your NZCA rep can discuss how it might work for you. 

As a general rule, we will only accept people with several years of recreational canyoning experience and that are permanently resident in NZ.

Those who are officially enrolled in LandSAR, will be encourage to attend (free) courses to build general SAR skills and understanding. And you can go on the waiting list for the next round of NZCA 3-day CanyonSAR courses and SAR exercises (usually run annually).

Its up to local groups how the priority for call out/training goes, but in general, team leaders will start with people that have the suitable skills and who have done the applicable training. So if you haven’t done the courses, you might not be first on the list, but you may still get a call depending on the circumstances.

To remain involved, there’s an expectation of on-going participation in training events and responding to call outs. Your local rep can discuss what that means for you. 

CanyonSAR resources for RCCNZ, Police, LandSAR groups

First, a few basics:

  • Perhaps stating the obvious, but canyoning is not kayaking or caving. Kayaking is on bigger rivers and involves a kayak. Caving is underground. A typical kayaker is more comfortable in big whitewater, but does not have technical rope skills for steep environments. Cavers have strong rope skills, but tend to avoid water whereas canyoners seek it out.
  • Canyoning requires very specific skill sets. Canyons are definitely not places where you want to send non-canyoners, even if they have whitewater/swiftwater training.
  • Canyoners can be useful even when there is no true ‘canyon’ involved. Canyoners are experienced in moving through very steep bush (to access canyons, often with ropes) and in steep creeks.
  • A key lesson from past canyon incidents is that RCCNZ/Police/LandSAR IMT should involve canyon specialists in operational planning as early as possible.
  • NZCA runs 3-day CanyonSAR specific courses, through LandSAR. All rescuers entering a canyon should have recently been on one of the NZCA CanyonSAR courses, or have been recently vetted by a NZCA CanyonSAR representative. 

Key resources:

  • Operational guidance. Standard operating procedures for CanyonSAR. The purpose of this document is to help an Incident Management Team (IMT) plan a CanyonSAR operation (in particular during a search for overdue canyoners). It focuses on gathering the right intelligence through discussions with a canyoning expert. It is a checklist of questions. It looks long, but our experience has been that IMT can move through it very quickly and that it dramatically improves the efficiency of the operation.
  • Information on canyons. The Canyoning in NZ Guidebook has detailed information on most of NZ’s most popular canyons. We recommend all local groups have a copy. In an emergency, contact the author (Daniel Clearwater, 021 215 7059) and he may be able to email you canyon info. New canyons are being discovered all the time and are added to the kiwicanyons website. Local commercial canyoning companies can also provide up to date info. NZ has many undiscovered canyons, so just because a creek is not in the guidebook or on the website doesn’t mean it’s not a canyon. 
  • General queries. Contact sar@nzcanyoningassociation.org for any other info or questions.
  • Contact details for CanyonSAR representatives. The following is a list of NZCA CanyonSAR representatives by region. It is not exhaustive, but is a useful starting point if you do not otherwise have the details of local CanyonSAR groups:
RegionNZCA RepPhoneEmail
AucklandShanan Fraser021 427 430standards@nzcanyoningassociation.org
CoromandelRussell Hodgson021 456 682russ@canyonz.co.nz
Central North IslandOli Polson027 57 38049oli@nzcanyoningassociation.org
Wellington/Lower North IslandLee den Haan021 028 26177leedenhaan@hotmail.com
Nelson/Tasman/MarlboroughRichard Bramley022 045 0920sar@nzcanyoningassociation.org
West CoastJustin Venable021 122 1019wildmedkayak@gmail.com
Canterbury/MackenzieGrant Prattley027 241 9948grant@nzcanyoningassociation.org
Wanaka/Southern LakesDaniel Clearwater021 215 7059president@nzcanyoningassociation.org
>>OtherRichard Bramley022 045 0920sar@nzcanyoningassociation.org