Three crew from a Chatham Islands crayfish boat were saved this morning thanks to a float-free distress beacon and the VHF radio network.
The Rescue Coordination Centre NZ says it received the distress beacon alert at 8.20am today from Western Reef, 32km northwest of the Chatham Islands.
The coordination centre staff spoke with the owner – the registered contact for the beacon – who was on land. He confirmed that three people were on board the Mary Ellen II – a 10m-long commercial cray-fishing boat.
"The beacon saved their lives," said senior search and rescue officer Dave Wilson.
"The only way we knew they were in difficulty was the alert from the EPIRB distress beacon – it's vital to have one on board."
The coordination centre worked with Maritime Radio to broadcast a mayday distress message.
"We used the local Chatham Islands VHF radio channel to request help for the stricken vessel," Wilson said.
Following the call, two fishing boats headed to the scene. The fishing boat Falcon II picked up the three crew members at 9.45am from the bow of the semi-sunken vessel. They were suffering from hypothermia, cuts and bruises. The crew have been taken to Chatham Islands main wharf in Waitangi Bay.
"The owner recently installed the float-free EPIRB distress beacon on the vessel. The crew reported they were swamped via the stern by a wave," Wilson said.
"The skipper tried to dive down into the boat to access the beacon but was unable reach it. Fortunately, it deployed automatically and floated to the surface, transmitting their distress signal and alerting RCCNZ to their situation," Wilson said.
He said this rescue also demonstrated that VHF radio was the rescue network at sea.
"The rescue only happened because the other boats tuned into the VHF network and were able to assist."
Float-free EPIRB distress beacons that can activate automatically became compulsory on commercial fishing vessels from January 1, the coordination centre said. This requirement applies to those vessels between 7.5m and 24m, that are operating outside enclosed waters.