Quick thinking by a boatie's wife - and an app designed to help people track down lost smartphones - is being credited with the quick rescue of a Russell man after his powerboat sank in the Bay of Islands.

Coastguard Bay of Islands was alerted about 11.50pm on Wednesday after a boatie called his wife to say his powerboat was sinking and water was already above his knees. He could tell her only that he was somewhere between Moturoa Island and Roberton Island, and then his phone cut out.

His wife called police and, using a Find My iPhone app linked to her husband's smartphone, was able to provide a map giving his rough location.

Coastguard was then able to triangulate a probable GPS position to start their search. A Coastguard crew member praised the wife's quick thinking and initiative, saying it could otherwise have taken a long time to find the stricken boatie on a dark night with fog starting to come in.

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They searched the area around the Black Rocks and headed to Tapeka Pt to investigate a light on the water, before they were directed to the GPS location off Moturoa Island.

On the way one of their newest members, the sharp-eared Jamie Gallant, heard someone calling and asked the skipper to stop.

The sound was quickly traced to a man perched on the bow of his 4.7m boat, the only part still above water. He was rescued about 1.25am on Thursday, little more than an hour after the search started. He was less than 400m from the estimated position provided by the app.

A second crew was on standby to take over if needed at 5am and the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter had been alerted.

Sharp ears: Coastguard volunteer Jamie Gallant
Sharp ears: Coastguard volunteer Jamie Gallant

The crew member said the boatie was remarkably calm. He told his rescuers he could see boats searching and yelled but no one could hear, until Mr Gallant.

The man was taken to Russell wharf where he was collected by his wife. He was also met by Russell's resident police officer but did not require any medical attention.

He did not want to talk about the rescue when contacted by the Northern Advocate.

Three private boats responded to the call on VHF radio for assistance and helped search the area around the Black Rocks and Tapeka.

The boat, a Reflex Chianti 485, was recovered on Thursday morning.

Northland harbourmaster Jim Lyle said when located the boat was floating bow-up below the surface but self-drained as it was towed back to Russell. The cause of the sinking was still being investigated.

There was no indication the boat had hit anything.

Russell police constable Mike Gorrie said despite the unfortunate circumstances, it was good to see a boatie take responsibility by making sure he had a lifejacket. He had suffered no ill effects and was "a box of birds".