Based on New Zealand’s mountainous South Island, Wanaka Search and Rescue (WanakaSAR) is a charity organisation that operates solely with volunteers and subsists entirely on donations.

Headquartered near Mount Aspiring National Park, they’re one of New Zealand’s busiest backcountry search-and-rescue groups, performing 45 to 55 missions a year.


Their 80-strong force of volunteers comprises specialists in the river, marine, sub-alpine, and alpine rescue and covers a huge swath of land encompassing the National Park, Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, and the town surroundings. In such a remote location, TracPlus has become a vital tool in WanakaSAR’s operations, allowing them to track the whereabouts of their volunteer rescuers, communicate with them no matter where the mission takes them, and ensure they have peace of mind while they’re carrying out a rescue.


In addition to choosing TracPlus for WanakaSAR, Chairman Bill Day uses one of our units on his own personal helicopter. We spoke with him about why he opted for TracPlus and how it helps keep him and WanakaSAR’s people and assets safe. Keep reading for his thoughts.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your company. What do you do, and how do you use TracPlus on a daily basis? What assets are you tracking?

Personally, I fly a twin-engine turbine helicopter out of my home in Wanaka. Many of my flights are to Dusky Sound, the wild West Coast, or deep into the mountains. Almost every flight is somewhere out of cell phone range with a landing somewhere extraordinary and isolated. TracPlus allows my family to track me wherever I am. Several other people have my track code, and I can always find someone willing and able to provide a watch service.


As for Wanaka Search and Rescue, we tend to be putting our brave volunteers into the field because something has gone wrong. Often it’s bad weather or challenging terrain. One of the main ways that we enhance the safety of our teams is by tracking them.


We give each team a TracPlus unit. Apart from the basic tracking, we get two further advantages. When we’re conducting a search, the team at the incident control base gets a good general picture of the ground that each team has covered in their searching.


The second advantage involves communication. Texting from a satellite phone (and indeed calling from one) in our terrain with deep valleys often involves waiting and watching the phone until a satellite comes into view. This just wastes valuable search time. With TracPlus, the field teams can send a message and then get on with their tasks, knowing the message will automatically send when a satellite becomes visible.


How did you become aware of TracPlus, and when did you begin using us? What was involved in your decision to become a TracPlus customer?

I’ve used TracPlus from the day I bought my first helicopter. I didn’t know much about it in those days, but it was the system that all my friends were using — so we were able to track each other and provide a safety watch for each other’s flights.


What TracPlus features and functionalities are the most important for you, and why?

Obviously, the tracking is the main function, but the ability to communicate is an incredible addition.  When I land on my barge in Dusky, I can send an ‘ops normal’ message to my family at the push of a button. If I want to send more, then I can link to my phone and send a text message.


I do like the G-force alert, too. It’s just an added safety consideration — particularly as the aerials of the new 406 beacons have broken off and rendered the beacon useless in several aviation crashes.


What would you say are the biggest strengths of the TracPlus system?

The ability to vary the reporting times depending upon what you’re doing. For example, if I’m sailing my boat to Fiji, then I change to hourly reporting times. The text-ability is a huge addition.


It’s always a nice little bonus to give people a screenshot of the day’s flight track when you take people for a scenic.


What key issues for you have TracPlus helped with?

The superpower that you have when flying a helicopter is that you can put the machine down almost anywhere and wait it out if the weather is getting the better of you. It’s so much nicer to do this (and more importantly, you’re more willing to do this) if you know that you can tell the rest of the world that all is well and you’re just performing a precautionary put down. You know that no one will be worrying about you.


Interested in learning more about how TracPlus can help your business or organisation? Get in touch with us at sales@tracplus.com.

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