History of LandSAR in New Zealand


LandSAR started in the early 1930’s after two large searches in the Tararuas, the most notable being the Sutch Search in 1933.  The Wellington tramping clubs, Deerstalkers, etc met and had discussions with Police, etc that cumulated with Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) forming a national policy in 1934.  Under this policy a FMC SAR Subcommittee was formed to administer the volunteer side of LandSAR – then called NZLSAR.  Some money was made available from a government grant that was channelled through the Police.

NZLSAR operated under this structure for some 70 years, with local SAR groups and NZLSAR Advisers appointed by the Commissioner of Police.  The structure was based on the old Police Districts (not the same as the present Police Districts).  Membership of the FMC SAR Subcommittee was by invitation.  People who had a genuine interest in SAR and who were active in their local area were tapped on the shoulder and asked if they would like to serve on the national committee.  The FMC SAR subcommittee generally met three times a year (in Wellington) and held one national training course a year at the Police College.  By the early 1990’s the amount of the grant had risen to around $23,000 per year.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the FMC SAR Subcommittee held a number of conferences in Wellington called SAR 2000.  The objective was to look at were we wanted LandSAR in NZ to be by the turn of the century.  For a whole host of reasons it was decided that Land SAR should be a standalone body and this resulted in the formation, with the support of the Police of New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Inc towards the end of November 1994.  With the formation on NZLSAR there was an increase in the funding from the Police ($103,000 in the first full financial year) and the ability to employer a full-time person to deal with much of the administration.  (John Tristram was appointed in April 1995.)  The Police provided office space and facilities at Police National Headquarters, sitting alongside the Police national SAR coordinator. 

Under the 1994 constitution, the country was divided into six regions (now seven regions) with a regional representative from each region being elected onto the national committee.

The membership (for legal and AGM purposes) of NZLSAR was made up of the seven Regional Representatives, one representative each from Police, DoC, NZMSC, FMC and NZSS.

The management of NZLSAR was carried out by the NZLSAR National Committee.  The national committee was made up of the Chairman, Treasurer, Seven Regional Representatives, The Chairs of the five standing Subcommittees, a Police Representative, a FMC Representative and a DoC Representative.

A Secretary and Deputy Chairman were elected from the above membership.  To be elected Chairman of the national committee, one had to already be a member of the national committee.  Once a person was elected as Chairman the position that person originally held became vacant and someone else is elected /appointed to the vacated position.

The five standing Subcommittees were Communications and Technology,  SAR Dogs, Specialist, Training and Underground.

There were also a number of other subcommittees and Working Groups attached to either the national committee of the standing subcommittees.  For example the Specialist Subcommittee consists of four Working Groups, Aviation, Medical, Swiftwater SAR and Vertical Rescue.

In 2005 the National Committee agreed to undertake a major strategic review of the organisation. This review recommended the national committee be replaced by a Board of Directors, and ownership of the organisation vested in the New Zealand LandSAR Council, comprising the five institutional members and 21 regional representatives.

A Chief Executive has been appointed to replace the National Field Officer, and the SAR Advisory Group has been appointed to recommend projects for consideration to the LandSAR Board of Directors and to advise them on operationally specific matters.

The role of LandSAR NZ is to provide a land based (includes coastline and inland waterways) search and rescue resource to the Police and public of New Zealand.

In 2009, the representatives to the AGM voted on changes to the Constitution giving ownership of the organisation to its grass roots membership with the groups haing the future voting pwer at AGMs or SGMs. The original five institutional members have become Associate Members together with four more organisations maintaining an interest and links with other partners. For further information on these Associate Members please go to the Partner Organisations page. 

There are over 60 local LandSAR groups, most operating as dedicated groups as well as a number of specialist groups.  Membership is over 2,500.