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Tautoko tāngata, tautoko hapori

Our size, skills, equipment and training are geared for combat. But when you’re as large as the Navy, with highly skilled personnel and specialised assets, you end up being very valuable in a wide variety of other situations.

The Navy has over 2,500 personnel. It has disciplined forces and a fleet of ships and aircraft. In maritime terms, these resources are on a scale that civilian authorities can’t match, and the best thing about us, is that we're available at short notice when a crisis happens. It could be in New Zealand, or it could be for our Pacific neighbours.

Government agencies, such as the National Maritime Coordination Centre or National Emergency Management Agency, will look at a situation, like a mayday, a flood, or a fire and ask themselves: what is the best way to solve this situation? When it’s on a large scale, or if it is remote and inaccessible, the Navy has the skills and equipment to support the response.

A good example is search and rescue operations. The Royal New Zealand Navy rotates vessels to be on short notice to depart if a mayday call is received from a vessel at sea, especially if people need medical aid.

Our personnel rescue people, survey damage and deliver Government assessment teams into affected areas. For instance, following an earthquake in 2016, the Navy evacuated hundreds of tourists and New Zealanders from Kaikōura.

But community support isn't just about emergencies – it’s about being a good community partner. The Navy have supplied remote islands like Tokelau with vital infrastructure for power generation and water storage.

We help to ensure our fighting heritage – and the men and women who served during the two World Wars and other conflicts - are not forgotten. Our veterans and what they have done for New Zealand is important to the New Zealand Defence Force. The Navy supports the Returned and Services’ Association with commemorative events in New Zealand, as well as major commemorations overseas, such as Gallipoli.

The Navy also works to support New Zealand’s youth because we are a progressive employer and keen to showcase what the Navy can offer. The market for skilled youth is competitive, and we’d like New Zealand’s youngsters to see the Navy as a promising and fulfilling career. The Navy and the Air Force run introduction programmes for Year-13 girls who favour Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The Navy helps programmes such as the Sea Cadets within the New Zealand Cadet Forces. These programmes, which include motivational training and valuable life skills, make a difference in the lives of youth and in their communities.

The Navy is a major New Zealand employer. That means we provide New Zealanders with satisfying careers that supports not only themselves but the communities they live in. Devonport Naval Base has hundreds of personnel living and working on base, and this boosts local economies.

The Royal New Zealand Navy is tasked with responding to calls for aid from vessels at sea.

The first responder to a distress call is usually the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who are able to get overhead of a vessel and make an early determination of what help is needed, as well as dropping essential supplies.

The Navy may then be tasked to reach the vessel. The Navy always has a ‘duty’ vessel among its fleet, whose job is to depart within eight hours of being tasked with a search and rescue mission by New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Centre.

Distress calls can vary. Frequently our Navy ships intercept a distress call directly from a mariner nearby, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf where we train. Many events are minor, involving a mechanical breakdown or a vessel drifting, and the Navy, working with the Coastguard, can help with repairs or take a vessel under tow.

Other incidents can involve a Navy ship travelling hundreds of nautical miles, in seas that require a great deal of skill and professionalism to navigate. As well as being robust enough in rough seas to reach a location, the Navy’s Seamanship Combat Specialists are trained in small boat handling and line handling and will use the ship’s fast seaboats to reach a vessel, board it, and render aid.

When the MV Rena container vessel went aground on Astrolabe Reef in 2011, four Navy vessels were tasked with assisting in the response. HMNZ Ships Rotoiti, Taupo and Endeavour sent in seaboats in rough, oily seas to evacuate 27 crew members, who were climbing down the ship on a rope ladder.

Ceremonial homeports

Paying a visit home

From time to time, a Royal New Zealand Navy ship will make a ‘homeport’ visit and re-engage with its adopted community.

Although all Navy ships are based out of Devonport Naval Base, each ship or unit with an ‘HMNZS’ in front of its name has an affiliation to a region of New Zealand and a ceremonial 'homeport’ in that region. HMNZS Otago, for example, is affiliated to Otago and her ceremonial homeport is Dunedin.

The homeports are a legacy of a time, particularly before World War 2, when Navy ships made annual tours of New Zealand, hosting locals and dignitaries on board, and in turn being hosted at events in town. Today, the ship and its crew receive a charter from the local authority in their homeport, granting them the ‘freedom of the city’ that allows them the right to parade through the streets without interference. It is customary for ship’s companies to exercise this freedom when they visit, for the enjoyment of locals and the city or district council.

A particularly notable charter is the one presented to the entire Royal New Zealand Navy from Te Tai Tokerau in 1990, cementing the relationship the Navy has with the Waitangi Day commemorations in the Bay of Islands.

Ship open days, visits to schools and rest homes, and sailors undertaking community work in their homeport are all part of a typical homeport visit. Some visits are timed with Anzac Day, to allow the crew to join with the local RSA in commemorating the fallen.

The ship’s symbol of command, carried by the Commanding Officer during official engagements, is crafted using materials and artistry from the region. Each carries a locally-crafted mauri, its life force, as an object secured internally, near the ‘heart’ of the ship.

Ships usually have a charity they sponsor, and/or a local school, on an ongoing basis. Each year HMNZS Te Kaha provides an education grant to a student at Hastings Boys’ High School, for university studies.

Art Deco

"Thank God for the Navy"

On 3 February, 1931, HMS Veronica lay at anchor in Napier harbour. At 10.46am, Commander HL Morgan, captain of Veronica, heard a terrific roar. “The ship heaved and tossed. For about ten seconds I stood still and then ran on to the boat deck. I could see houses falling and roads cracking. Everything seemed to disappear in a cloud of dust.”

The service offered by Veronica’s ship’s company, and later by cruisers HMS Dunedin and Diomede, following Napier’s devastating 7.8 earthquake, has never been forgotten in Napier.

In February each year, the citizens are reminded of that service during its colourful week-long Art Deco Festival, a homage to the period when Napier rebuilt itself in the architecture of the time. People dress in 1930's fashion for the festival and each year, the Navy are invited to share some of the festival’s special moments, dressed in white uniforms largely unchanged since the thirties.

Events include a vintage car parade, with Navy sailors and officers marching up the centre of Napier’s CBD behind the Royal New Zealand Navy band and ahead of over 200 period cars.

The festival’s most formal moment is the Veronica Bell ceremony, attended by a Navy guard of honour, as the Veronica ship’s bell is brought from Napier museum to the Marine Parade gardens. The bell is rung to honour those lost in the 1931 disaster. Following the ceremony, sailors are invited to join families and friends as they spread blankets on the foreshore for an old-fashioned picnic lunch.

Considering a career in the Navy?

Together we protect New Zealand’s interests at sea. Our Navy carries out a range of tasks including combat operations, search and rescue, underwater recovery, trade protection and peacekeeping. Whatever the mission, you’ll find that there’s a real tight-knit camaraderie whether you’re at sea, at home or abroad.

Find out more