top of page

News articles featuring Southland Locator Beacons

Locator beacons are becoming part of the outdoor landscape


Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company chairman John Munro with one of the locator beacons available for hire. PHOTO: LAURA SMITH

Changing attitude to locator beacons

Laura Smith Otago Daily Times Monday, 23 November 2020



An attitude change among outdoors explorers is saving lives, a locator beacon company chairman says.


Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company chairman John Munro said since the Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust (which owns the beacons) was formed, about 30 years ago, there had been an attitude change to the carrying of personal locator beacons.

Thirty years ago there was a resistance to carrying one, and some even considered it a weakness to do so, he said.

Now, the opposite was true, and there was an expectation people would carry one.

If people who got lost had a beacon with them it could reduce search costs considerably.

A person with a beacon could possibly be found within an hour, at a cost of about $10,000, while a three-day search, for example, for someone with no active locator beacon could cost more than $300,000.

It was hard to know if there should be enforcements or regulations around carrying a locator beacon, he said, but he did not want to see "draconian type rules".

The answer was more likely to be education around the benefits of taking a beacon, Mr Munro said.

Beacons cost about $15 to hire a day.

A month ago, 35 Macpac outlets started stocking the trust’s beacons for hire and beacons had been hired out 75 times since.

There had already been a rescue from a hire.

A Christchurch Macpac store hired a beacon to a man and his two children, which was activated when they encountered a slip on the track.

"They thought they could cross it but must have got into trouble," Mr Munro said.

A helicopter winched them to safety.

It could not be predicted when a rescue would be needed, but from about 450 trust beacons for hire there were one or two rescues a month across the country.

The trust’s mandate was to make the hires affordable and it worked alongside the Rescue Co-ordination Centre and New Zealand Land Search and Rescue.

Mr Munro’s father was a patron of the trust when it first started, and his own passion for it began in 1994.

During the restoration of the Port Craig viaducts, a German man was overdue returning from Hump Range.

They searched for his body for four and a-half days.

He was found dead, after he had slipped down the range into a swollen creek. The search cost $385,000.

"We looked at that and thought it would be good to have something that people can hire and be found if they were either lost or in an emergency."

Information on where the beacons can be hired can be found at


Southland Locator Beacons Charitable Company chairman John Munro and Macpac Invercargill store manager Josh Panoho. Personal locator beacons will soon be available for hire at Macpac stores across the country.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company expands beacon hire service with Macpac

Damian Rowe  Oct 01 2020

Finding a life-saving personal locator beacon has become more accessible thanks to a Southland-based charitable companies' partnership with an outdoor retailer.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company has started a partnership with outdoor retailer Macpac, which will result in its locator beacons being hired out at its stores nationwide on Friday.

It would expand from 61 outlets hiring out the beacons to 96 outlets across the country.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company chairman John Munro said the partnership would mean its hire service would have greater reach to places such as Dunedin, Nelson and Lower Hutt suburb Petone, where previously the service was unavailable.

Locator beacons greatly increased the chances of someone being rescued, with 90 per cent of those with a beacon rescued within 60 minutes of the device being activated, Munro said.

It could also reduce the search cost from up to 100 people, multiple vehicles and two helicopters, to a crew of three and only one helicopter, he said.

“It really takes out the search in search and rescue.”

These beacons have proved to be crucial in many of New Zealand’s outdoor areas that do not have cellphone coverage, he said.

The personal locator beacon cost $15 for one day, $30 for 3 days, and $40 for one week.

Starting in 1996, Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Company was the first organisation to hire out personal locator beacons to the public, approved by New Zealand Land Search and Rescue.

They started out of with only five outlets across Southland and have slowly expanded to include Otago and then nationwide.

Perceptions had changed a lot since those early days, where people saw them as unnecessary, to an important piece of equipment they should take with them, Munro said.

People had now been made so aware of the importance of personal locator beacons that they were now being approached by outlets to stock them, he said.


Tramping duo 'should have been charged'

John Munro says in most cases a person can be found within one hour of them setting off a locator beacon

Blair Jackson,  June 6 2020 The Southland Times

Expensive 10-day search for missing trampers near Nelson could have been resolved much quicker if they had spent $30 and hired a locator beacon. Southland Locator Beacons Limited Chairman John Munro said he believed that had rescued trampers Dion Reynolds and Jess. O'Connor taken a beacon with them, and set it off, they would have been rescued within hours. In that case, the search and rescue operation "would have cost maybe $10,000", he said. "A beacon had the potential to save lives and secondly, taxpayer dollars," he said. The Nelson Area Locator Beacon Charitable Trust operates in the area that O'Connor and Reynolds departed from. "They could have hired one. Thirty dollars for a week." Munro said he would like to see information about going into the forest and the use of beacons placed on inbound flights to New Zealand for visitors to read. The trust was established in 1996 and its for-purchase or hire beacons have been involved in more than 600 rescues. Reynolds and O'Connor survived 19 days in Anatori, west of Nelson. They went 13 days without food and did not have a locator beacon. It was fantastic Reynolds and O'Connor were found, Munro said "My concern is that they have been praised for having the right equipment with them, and they did, but one of the essential items that they should always take with them is a personal locator beacon." He estimated the 10-day search would have cost about $1 million. "They put so many people's lives at risk during lockdown, which was a huge no-no. "They should be held accountable for their wrongdoing; they should have been charged." Overnight trips were not allowed during Covid-19 alert level 3, which was in effect on May 8 when they departed. However, they were not charged with breaking the lock-down restrictions. "They put so many other people's lives at risk, for the cost of a $30 locator beacon," Munro said. The search for a German man near the Hump Ridge Track in 1994 cost about $365,000, excluding the cost to the army,. Munro said that 95 per cent of the time a person could be found within one hour of setting off a beacon. 

When you need one, you need it bad. Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust chair John Munro with one of the devices that have saved an estimated 400 lives during the past 23 years.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust chair John Munro

with one of the devices that have saved an estimated 400 lives 


Southland Times Apr 04 2018

What's better than a successful search and rescue?

Easy, A successful rescue.

Without all the delay, expense, difficulties and potential dangers of searching first.

It would be a fine thing to be able tosay searches become passé in these days of personal locator beacons.  We're not there yet but they are certainly becoming pleasingly less common now that the tiny wee devices allow for precise in-and-out rescues.

Sure enough, the same day we report that locator beacons are becoming a routine art of the outdoor landscape comes a successful rescue of a father and daughter stranded by the flooded Glaisnock River amid forecast-to-deteriorate conditions.

Excellent. And reminiscent, surely, of the rescue of a father and son in January last year, stranded on a small island in in the swollen tributary of the Hauroko Burn.

We've even had the slightly weird case this month of a broken-legged tramper saved in Mount Aspiring National Park by a locator beacon he didn't have. Amid foul weather an unidentified woman, not otherwise well prepared, had set hers off after becoming increasingly afraid on her own behalf and rescuers, answering that call, had found the man who by that stage had crawled his way back to the track. It's foolish-to-fatal to foray into the wilds without having either an owned or hired beacon with you - though it's simultaneously true that the little beggars don't then absolve you of your other grownup responsibilities. It's also folly to place excessive reliance on them by failing to carry out the most basic preparations like having a plan, telling people what it is, and being clear about the rigours the trip may impose on you.

Though the trend is for even the more Crumpian types among us taking beacons with them, and the benefits have been assessed as more than 400 lives saved (and a good deal less pain and fear to be endured in the meantime) there's still a necessary development yet to be completed to improve the way the beacons work.

 As Southland Locator Beacons chairman John Munro says, the change from analogue to digital in 2009 carried benefits of reliability, but also meant that the ability to activate them remotely was lost.

Which is crazy, come those cases where the ACR beacons cannot physically be reached by the person in trouble.

Kudos, then, to the beacon trust, to an Otago-based engineer, and to the supportive agencies of the Community Trust of Southland and Venture Southland, for the development of a feature to restore this capability. It still has perhaps 18 months of commercial testing ahead of it, and is subject to patent office and ACR approval. But it's a thoroughly good development in prospect.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust chair John Munro holding a Personal Locator Beacon, which have become popular with 400 rescues in the last 22 years.

Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust chair John Munro

holding a Personal Locator Beacon, which have become popular with 400 rescues in the last 22 years.

Increase in Southland locator beacon sales

Richard Davison, Apr 02 2018 Southland Times

Locator beacons are becoming a routine part of the outdoor landscape,

A southern beacon trust is saying.

Southland Locator Beacons Ltd - owned by Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust - has seen a 40 per cent increase in locator beacon sales during the past 18 months, due in part to an ongoing change in the way the life-saving safety devices are being used.

Southland Locator Beacons chairman John Munro said the days when beacons were rejected as unnecessary and even "un-macho" were long gone.

"It's a regulation piece of kit for anyone spending significant amounts of time outdoors or rurally nowadays. The increase in sales has been driven mainly by the changing health and safety landscape, where contractors, freight companies, farmers and the like use them for safety in areas where cellphone coverage isn't great."

The trust also hired out its ACR-brand beacons to clients, with a standard week's hire coming in at $40.

"We had a stall up at Crankworx Rotorua [mountain biking event] recently, and you could buy a pair of sunglasses for $300. Sunglasses won't save your life, unfortunately."

Although he estimated the trust's locator beacons had saved about 400 lives during its 23 years of operation, Munro and his board weren't resting on their laurels just yet.

"You always want to expand your reach and make improvements where possible, so we've been working on an enhancement to the beacons over recent years."

When New Zealand's beacon transmitting network underwent a change from analogue to digital in 2009, the trust had had to renew its stock entirely, with the loss of an important feature in the new devices.

"The ACR beacons are absolutely fabulous - we haven't experienced a single failure over the eight or nine years we've used them - but in common with all the digital models we've looked at, they lack the ability to be remotely activated."

That meant if a user became too ill or severely injured to activate their beacon, there was no way to track them by remote activation when a red flag was raised at the end of their hire period.

Having now developed a remote activation feature for the ACR model with the help of an Otago-based electronic engineer, the trust was awaiting a patent approval for the innovation, before working with ACR to integrate the new feature, Munro said.

"It's a lengthy and expensive process but one we believe is worth it to save additional lives. Our investment will have amounted to about $200,000 by the time we've finished, and we have to thank the Community Trust of Southland and Venture Southland for their continued commitment to this project."

He hoped the new feature would reach the final stages of commercial testing within 18 months, subject to patent office and ACR approval.

"These are life-saving devices, so they need to be absolutely bomb-proof. The testing is appropriately stringent."

In the meantime, Munro and the trust would keep on supplying their essential emergency devices to an ever-increasing diversity of clientele.

"Hopefully you never need to use it, but take it with you, and it's there if you do."

That compared to a current purchase price of $449, Munro said

Val McKay, left, and John Munro display the Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust's beacons.

Val McKay and John Munro

Display the Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust's beacons.

Tuatapere charitable trust saves lives with locator beacon

Jamie Searle, Oct 07 2017 Southland Times

Personal locator beacons sold or hired out

played a part in rescue of 300 people throughout New Zealand

by a charitable trust in Tuatapere John Munro says.

He added that if 75 of them weren't carrying a beacon, they would have died. 

Munro is chairman of Southland Locator Beacons Ltd, which is owned by Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust. The trust was one of several formed after a public meeting in Tuatapere in1994 to discuss ways to revitalise the district.

Earlier in 1994, a German man was found dead near the Hump Ridge Track. His body was found after a three-day search, which cost about $385,000 and involved 100 people scouring bush. 

Tuatapere's main employers were sawmill and chipmill owners but when the Government stopped native logging in 1986, it was major setback for western Southland. 

Munro and beacon trustee Val McKay reckoned between 60 and 70 people attended the public meeting in 1994.

"The town had closed down and people who did things had left," McKay said.

The Southland Locator Beacon Charitable Trust got off to a good start with a grant of $260,000 from the Community Trust of Southland. 

"We've had a lot of support from the community trust, pub charities, Lions clubs and rotary groups overs the years," Munro said.

More than 1500 beacons have been sold or hired out, with some clients being government ministers visiting remote areas of Southland, New Zealand Army for training purposes, trampers, hunters and mountainbikers.

The United States-made beacon is bought off an Auckland company. Some technology used in the Gulf War in 1991 is built into the beacon, which fits into a small pouch.

Before a beacon hits the market, it was tested for four years, Munro said.

When a beacon is activated, it's location is registered at the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington and personnel there contact Munro for the owner's details. 

Munro knows of four or five cases where people, in difficulties, had given up hope of being rescued after activating the beacon. Rescuers found them alive.

"They'd written farewell notes to loved ones and put them on their body in sleeping bags," he said.

Last year, a deerstalker in Fiordland would have bled to death if he hadn't got help through activating his beacon. He slipped and impaled himself on a pointed stick, which punctured his lung.

Munro was also told of a woman who fell 9.1 metres (30 feet) through an old mineshaft in Nelson.

"She switched her beacon on and got rescued," Munro said.

His contribution to the process in rescuing people has been recognised with a police award, Volunteer of the Year, and a plaque presented by National Rescue Co-ordination Centre.


 Southland Locator Beacon chairman John Munro with a new rescue beacon

These beacons can save your life

Shane Cowlishaw Southland Times 12:16, Feb 24 2009



For just $35, you can save your own life.

That is the message from the Southland Locator Beacon Trust, which has just bought 130 new ResQfix GPS locator beacons for use across the lower South Island.

An international deadline meant from February 1 the old 121MHz beacons would no longer be picked up by satellite, with the new 406MHz model the only alternative.

However, the new device is more accurate and its signal is picked up almost instantly by satellite where the old beacon could take several hours to determine a location.

Trust chairman John Munro said it had spent $80,000 on the new beacons but had decided to keep rental costs low so people would use them. Mr Munro said the benefit of the new rescue beacons had been proven almost immediately with a tramper activating one after getting into trouble in Fiordland National Park this month.

"The difference is coming home to your loved ones, or not," he said. 

While having a more reliable GPS system, the new beacons lack the ability to be remotely activated like the old model. This function is useful if someone is believed to be unconscious and unable to activate their own beacon.

The trust had searched worldwide for a 406MHz model with the function and was now in talks with a Wellington company to build its own, Mr Munro said.

The estimated cost of the world-first device was $700,000, half of which had been secured already.

The beacon would take only three months to build but the main issue was getting approval from the satellite companies, which could take years and cost anything between $120,000 to $180,000.

The trust had hoped to have the remotely activated beacons before February 1 but because of red tape had decided to upgrade to the ResQfix model to ensure people were safe in the meantime

bottom of page