Having access to and appropriate communication device can give you peace of mind, and in an emergency situation it can also save your life. New Zealand does not have reliable cellphone signal in the outdoors. An 'unexpected night out' can happen on any length of journey so it's important to prepare accordingly, even if you only intend to be going out for a short time. 


Even a short day walk can easily turn into an unexpected night out, and you might not have cell signal. Prepare accordingly.

Using comms device in the outdoors - Nathan W

Quickly explore a section of this page 

Why take a communication device?

There are a number of reasons you'll need to be able to communicate to others. 

  • You might get lost and need rescuing
  • You could change your route and need to alert a friend
  • You could be running late and need to stay an extra night
  • You might want to get updates in the weather along the way
  • You could get injured or be in an emergency situation and require rescue.

 Never leave it to chance chart 

What you need to know

  • How to leave your intentions with a trusted contact - Read the 'tell someone your plans' section of our website to make sure you leave your intended trip correctly. Find out more.
  • What form of communication to take - Some devices will only provide your location to emergency services, and some will provide two-way communications. Consider your choice of device carefully. 

Communication Devices

Communications device charts

While New Zealand’s mobile phone coverage network is good in urban areas, it’s unlikely you’ll have reliable coverage in the backcountry unless you have a compatible satellite messenger device. You may choose to carry your mobile phone ‘just in case,' or for communication at the start/end of your trip, but it should never be relied on as your primary form of communication. 

Taking a photo with a cellphone

Cellphones are helpful, but they should never be relied on as an emergency communication device

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)
What are they?
  • Small, emergency distress beacons that emit a UHF radio signal when activated. Search and Rescue operations use the signal to ‘find’ the beacons, as detailed below.
  • There are two frequencies available – 121.5MHz and 406MHz. However, the 121.5MHz type has been phased out and SHOULD NOT BE USED. Carry or purchase only a 406MHz beacon.
  • 406 MHz beacons must be registered with Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ) and a recommendation for  GPS equipped ones would also be a good idea. 

Note that personal locator beacons must only be used in life threatening situations.

How do they work?

Once activated, the signal is picked up by satellite and/or aircraft. An alert message is relayed to the nearest Local User Terminal (LUT, ground station), which calculates the beacon’s position and sends the data to the Mission Control Centre (MCC). The MCC then sends the information to the RCCNZ, which in turn initiates a class II rescue operation.

The beacons operate with a clear view of the sky; avoid gorges or heavy foliage. Do not turn off once activated. Stay put.

If it is a false alarm, get a message to RCCNZ (0508-4RCCNZ, or 0508-472-269 or if outside New Zealand +64 4 577 8030) or Police as soon as possible. Failure to do this may divert SAR resources from genuine emergencies and in doing so may endanger lives.

Where can you hire one?

We have collated a list of New Zealand National hire outlets for PLBs to the best of our knowledge. Open the PDF below to find your local PLB outlet, and please get in touch with us if you know any more places to hire PLBs. 

pdf NZ PLB Hire Outlets - 2017 pdf – 568 KB  

Before leaving
  • Know how and when to activate the beacon.
  • Check the batteries and carry spares if user-replaceable type.
  • Check the beacon is operational (some units have a test functions to do this).
  • For more information please visit 

Helpful hint

It is important to know how and when to make an emergency call 

Learn more

Mountain Radio Service

The New Zealand Mountain Radio Service is a volunteer group that provides a backcountry communications service with scheduled calls. Here you can hear the weather forecasts or request emergency assistance. You can rent these devices from the services below: 

Canterbury Mountain Radio Service - Visit their website

Wellington Mountain Radio Service - Visit their website

Central North Island Mountain Radio Service - Visit their website

msc comms mountain radio 17

A mountain radio set


Helpful hint

It is important to know how to assemble and use your equipment. Make sure you test the batteries, practice setting it up and show everyone how to use it before you go.


Satellite Messenger Devices

Satellite messenger devices use the earth’s orbiting satellite systems to send messages or emergency distress notifications. Various devices offer differing services, which can include: distress/emergency signals; pre-programmed text/email messages; free form text/email messages; and route tracking using GPS capabilities. Some devices allow you to use your mobile phone to send texts/calls using the satellite technology.

Each device is different, so it is important that you research their specific functions and select one that meets your needs. 

Messenger Device on pack

Satellite Messenger Devices are an excellent option for the outdoors

Satellite phones

Satellite phones are similar to mobile phones but use orbiting satellites (as opposed to mobile phone coverage towers) to connect to phone networks. A satellite phone can be used anywhere in the world to connect to domestic and international numbers, provided you have satellite coverage. Coverage will vary depending on your location. For example, being on top of a mountain with a clear view of the sky will give you better coverage and call quality when compared to calling from the bottom of a valley.

Satellite phone

Satellite phone 

Transceivers - for avalanches

You only have minutes to live if you are buried in an avalanche. If you are wearing a transceiver you have a significantly higher chance of being found quickly. So, whether you are recreating or working in avalanche prone terrain, you should always wear an avalanche transceiver and carry a shovel and a probe. 

Types of avalanche transceivers:
  • Several models of transceivers are imported into New Zealand. All 457 kHz models are compatible with each other but some models are better at finding different types of transceivers than others. Some models are better at searching for multiple burials than others. 
  • Each type has its own way of working. Some require you to make volume adjustments, while others do it for you. Some change the sound they make depending on how close you are, while others have lights or arrows pointing in the direction of the buried person. Some can give you instructions on what to do next and some return to transmit mode after a set amount of time.
  • Digital transceivers convert the signal from the buried set into visual and audible signals that aid the searcher. Analogue transceivers do not apply any enhancement to the signal; the beep you hear is the actual unprocessed signal from the transmitting set. There is a change in volume when the searching analogue set receives a stronger signal.
  • It is important to know how to use these features on your transceiver. It is also important to know how to use the generic search techniques described in this pamphlet that will work with all 457 kHz models. Older transceivers with a frequency other than 457 kHz, or that feature more than one frequency, are either incompatible or are technically insufficient and should be destroyed. If you are uncertain whether your transceiver complies with the EN* standards, contact the New Zealand agent of the manufacturer.  
Where to go for transceivers: 

Transceivers and safety equipment are available for purchase or hire through leading ski and snowboarding shops and outdoor equipment suppliers. 

Key Resources 

Get some of our helpful books and flyers

We have free pamphlets, books and equipment to help you find out more information about outdoor survival in New Zealand from our online store and resources page.

Read more about your desired activity

Whether you walk, run, hunt or climb – we have specific information you need for your favourite activity – find them here



What is #MakeItHomeNZ?

MSC encourage exploration and adventure in the incredible wilderness regions of New Zealand. We encourage you to participate, get out there and see what all the fuss is about. New Zealand is on the bucket list of so many people around the world for good reason.

We also encourage safe practices that ensure you make it home to your family and friends. We want you to make it home with adventurous stories, memories and photos. But, most of all we want you to make it home to do it all again next time. That's why on every advertisement, press release, video and resource we reaffirm our intent to help the 1.2 Million+ participants in outdoor recreation to make it home. You can help us spread this philosophy by sharing our resources and following the outdoor safety code so you make it home.

– Mike Daisley, CEO

Helpful Links

Explore our insights
Find out more 

Read Outdoor Safety Code
 Find out more