A boat owner is safe after an extensive search was mounted for people lost overboard when a driverless vessel motored past boats and capsized in a Northland cove.

Fears were held for possible people in the water after the 3.6m runabout passed boats in the Marsden Cove area without a skipper or passengers about 5.30pm before hitting another vessel's wake and flipping.

Those who reported the runaway boat said there was no sign of anyone on board when it capsized.

An aerial and sea search by the Northland Air Patrol, Whangarei Coastguard, Tutukaka Rescue and Surf Life Saving failed to find anyone in the water last night.

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But Coastguard Radio said a man who saw the search called them and wondered if it was related to him.

Coastguard said the man had tried to start his boat about 20m off the beach when it took off without him.

The man was safe on the shore, said Coastguard.

Friends had been on the water to help retrieve belongings from the craft after it capsized.