Emergencies and Survival

Emergency situations can happen at any time in the outdoors. The New Zealand Police, Rescue Coordination Centre and Land Search and Rescue (SAR) provide free emergency assistance in the outdoors. It's important to understand when their services are required, and how to reach them.


NZ's emergency number is 111 

If it’s not an emergency, phone your local police station.

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What is an emergency situation?

  • Severe injuries
  • Environmental danger - flooding, avalanche, slips etc.
  • Either you or a member of your group is missing
  • Stranded?
What is NOT an emergency situation
  • Being late to return home
  • Forgetting something
  • Needing to contact someone at home

Search and rescue services would rather deploy a rescue unit and find out the person has already returned, than to not go at all. 

What you need to know

Certain events in the backcountry of New Zealand can lead to the possibility of you being in a survival situation, it is therefore up to you to understand how to prepare and how to do it.

How to effectively plan a trip

No matter how short your intended trip is, it is essential to plan carefully for any situation. Find local information and use our trip planning resources along with your fellow group members for the best result.

What to take with you

Some basic items to help you in a survival situation:

  • Communications - Find out more
  • Emergency shelter - Take a 'pack-liner'  that doubles as an emergency shelter
  • Fire-lighting equipment (matches/ lighter and a fire-lighting aid, rubber and a candle. Put these in a waterproof bag
  • Safety whistle - available in our store
  • Cord or string
  • Sharp knife
  • First Aid Kit
  • Plastic bags
  • Pencil and paper

How to stay on track

To stick to your planned route, you should always carry and be able to use a map and compass or form of navigation. Location awareness skills are also important; know where you are and where you have travelled, be observant, and remember natural features. See our Navigation section.

What to do 

  • Stop - unless you are certain of the way out
  • Apply first aid if required - See more in First Aid.
  • Get warm, eat and make a shelter
  • Get help - Make your location visible for rescuers and use what communication devices you have.
  • Look after yourself and your group and wait for help.

 Watch the video

If something does go wrong, if you are carrying a communication device such as a PLB or a satellite messenger device or happen to be in cell coverage you’ll be able to easily raise the alarm. One of the advantages of satellite devices that provide online tracking is that if you are unable to raise the alarm, rescuers can see their last known location. This makes finding the device carrier a lot easier.




  • Tell someone your plans
  • Take sufficient supplies

If you do not have a way to contact anyone you will need to wait for someone else to call the Police, providing you’ve left your intentions with a trusted contact and they know what to do.




When an alarm has been raised, you can expect search and rescue to come looking for you. Help them do their job by:

  • Staying where you are – don’t move, it makes their job harder
  • Put on your spare clothes, stay warm, keep eating and drinking
  • Find shelter (close by), by either putting up your tent or staying in the hut if you’re at one

Use the STAR Model for making decisions:

  • STOP: Take a breath, sit down and remain calm
  • THINK: Look around you, listen, brainstorm ideas
  • ASSESS: Evaluate the options and their potential consequences
  • RESPOND: Take the best alternative.

New Zealand's Emergency Phone Number = 111

How to call Search and Rescue

  • Activate 406 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
  • Press the SOS button on your GPS tracker (such as an inReach or Spot) 
  • Call mountain radio service and request SAR
  • Call using a hut radio or notify a hut warden
  • Call Police on 111 from a cellphone
  • Call on a Satellite phone using the following numbers:

- North Comms (covers New Zealand north of Turangi): 09 571 2800

- Central Comms (covers North Island south of Turangi): 04 381 2000 (ask for Comms)

- South Comms (whole of the South Island): 03 363 7400 (ask for Comms)

  • See the communications section to make sure you can reach them when you are out there.


What you need to tell them

Be prepared to provide details about:

  • WHAT: Is someone lost, or injured? (and how urgent)
  • WHERE: The location/ terrain of you and the people in need. A map grid reference or GPS coordinates helps.
  • WHO you are and how you can be contacted
  • WEATHER CONDITIONS of the area
  • INJURIES: details of their condition
  • MISSING/ OVERDUE: where/when they were last seen, what they were doing and what they look like
  • SUPPLIES: what you have with you. 

Watch Give a Grid Reference


What to do while you wait

  • Place bright coloured items in open areas and hill tops, or tie to a stick and shake
  • Use movement
  • If you hear a helicopter in at night, shine a torch, cellphone or lighter (even very weak light sources show prominently when night vision equipment is used)
  • If you hear searchers, make as much noise as possible with a whistle, rocks shouting or safely fire three* gunshots. Continue this until searchers have reached you.
  • Use a mirror to reflect light in the direction of searchers
  • Make arrows in an open area from rock or sticks pointing to your location.

No Communications?

  • Send a member of your party to get help
  • Leave visual cues to lead to your location.
  • Whether you stop and await assistance, or move to reorient yourself depends on the situation. Take time to consider this.

Helpful hint

Remember that water, shelter, warmth and the will to survive are the essential elements to your survival.

Helpful links

NZ Search and Rescue Find out more about how to deal with an emergency situation.

Find out more

LANDSAR - Find out more about how to deal with an emergency situation.

Find out more

NZ Police - Read how to keep safe in multiple languages.

Find out more

Personal Locator Beacons - Find out more about using or activating a distress beacon.

Find out more