Otago Search & Rescue Team Take Out First Place for Daring Night Time Rescue

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Press release

May 18, 2021

[Image: The SLSNZ Otago SAR Team rescued two stranded surfers from Bird Island one evening in early March]

Otago Search & Rescue Team Take Out First Place for Daring Night Time Rescue

bp Rescue of the Month March 2021

Darkness was falling on the 6th of March when members of the Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) Otago Search & Rescue (SAR) Team received a call from NZ Police. Two surfers were stranded on the rocks at Bird Island.

The team leapt into action. Within 15 minutes of the call, one inflatable rescue boat (IRB) was launched from St Kilda and a second from St Clair. A third crew responded by picking up a rescue water craft (RWC/jet ski).

With the light rapidly fading, safety and visibility were key. Surf Lifeguards kitted themselves out with strobe lights and personal locater beacons (PLBs), while a team back on shore at St Clair Surf Life Saving Club maintained communication with the two IRB crews.

The surf was over 1.5m high when the two IRB crews reached the island – dangerous conditions to navigate, particularly around rocks. They devised a plan to send the first IRB to collect both surfers off the rocks and return them to Tomahawk Beach, while the second IRB would collect the two surfboards. This second step was important, because if members of the public spotted surfboards on the island they would likely ring emergency services once again.

The two surfers were extremely cold, but otherwise unharmed aside from some minor cuts and scratches.

As the two crews headed back to their respective clubs, they faced increasingly difficult conditions with messy surf reaching 2m. By this point, light had faded and the crews arrived to shore in near-complete darkness.

Given the cold and the difficult conditions this particular evening, it is likely the two surfers would have met a very different end if not for the quick and skilful actions of the Otago SAR team.

bp Head of Country NZ, Matt Elliott, says bp is proud to support incredible volunteer Surf Lifeguards like those who make up the Otago SAR team.

“Since 1968 bp has been proud to stand behind Surf Life Saving New Zealand and its Surf Lifeguards who consistently put their amazing skills into action to keep us all safer at our beaches.”

As the first-place winner of bp Rescue of the Month, the Otago SAR Team will be recognised with $500-worth of bp gift vouchers.



  • Surf Lifeguards are not on patrol during this time of the year. If you see someone in trouble at the beach, CALL 111 & ASK FOR THE POLICE. They have a direct line to both Surf Life Saving New Zealand and Coastguard.
  • Swim, surf or fish with a mate. It pays to have back up if someone gets into trouble.




SLSNZ is the national association representing 74 surf lifesaving clubs with 18,000+ members, including more than 4,500 volunteer Surf Lifeguards. Our lifeguards patrol over 90 locations each summer saving hundreds of lives each year and ensuring thousands return home safe after a day at the beach. Our volunteer search and rescue squads provide emergency call-out rescue services throughout the year across Aotearoa.

We do all this as a charity and rely on the generosity of the public, commercial partners, foundations and trusts for donations and financial contributions in order to lead and support our incredible front-line volunteer lifeguarding services.

For more information, please email:

Or Phone:
021 757 433