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 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. CanyonSAR team members have been used successfully in several recent SAROps.
  • A key lesson from past canyon specific 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:

  • CanyonSAR FAQ for LandSAR groups. We put together a list of frequently asked questions about CanyonSAR to help LandSAR groups understand how we fit into the LandSAR puzzle. 
  • 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. 
  • Funding CanyonSAR teams. CanyonSAR receives an annual budget from LandSAR. We use this to fund national courses and exercises. We also make a portion of the funding available to regional CanyonSAR groups. Our Funding Policy describes this in more detail, including how regional groups can apply for funding. We also have a Reimbursement Policy which explains how CanyonSAR team members can recover expenses.
  • Regional groups responsible for CanyonSAR. The role of NZCA is to support local CanyonSAR teams. Those CanyonSAR teams take a different form in each region. As far as we understand it (and it is constantly evolving), the current lay of the land is as follows. We’ve also included the contact details of the NZCA Representative who can put you in touch with the local group leaders if necessary.:

Region

LandSAR team

How CanyonSAR is organised

NZCA regional representative

Aspiring & Fiordland

Wanaka Swiftwater

CanyonSAR is a subgroup

Daniel Clearwater

021 215 7059

president@nzcanyoningassociation.org

Westland

Westland RiverSAR

CanyonSAR is a subgroup

Keith Riley

027 291 0440

keithjriley@gmail.com

Canterbury & Mackenzie

Christchurch ACR

CanyonSAR is a subgroup

Grant Prattley

027 241 9948

grant@nzcanyoningassociation.org

Top of the South

Tasman Swiftwater

CanyonSAR is a subgroup

Richard Bramley

022 045 0920

sar@nzcanyoningassociation.org

Lower North Island

Wellington CanyonSAR

Standalone team (recently established)

Warren Fitzgerald

027 511 1599

secretary@nzcanyoningassociation.org

Central North Island

Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation

CanyonSAR subgroup to be established in the near future

Russell Hodgson

021 456 682

russ@nzcanyoningassociation.org

Upper North Island

Upper North Island CanyonSAR

Standalone team (recently established)

Russell Hodgson

021 456 682

russ@nzcanyoningassociation.org