Rescuers say a 40-year-old Hokitika man who was found clinging to the upturned hull of his dinghy off the Hokitika River mouth just after nightfall yesterday was totally unprepared.

"He was sitting upside down on the bottom of his boat when we found him after dark, about a kilometre off the bar out to sea," Hokitika Surf Rescue member Max Dowell said.

The man had been on the overturned boat for about an hour.

"He had absolutely no safety gear at all, he had no lifejacket and only had a piece of light cord for a tow line. So we had to load the boat upside down over the bow of the surf rescue boat and transport it in to the ramp," Mr Dowell said.

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Although police said the man was from Hokitika, he was unknown to Mr Dowell and fellow rescuer Liam Anderson.

The man was brought back to safety about 8.30pm to a waiting ambulance at the Gibson Quay boat ramp. The NZCC Rescue Helicopter was also called from Greymouth but was not required. It was hovering over the area of the vessel, which police say had been capsized by a wave.

Police were called by St John at 7.30pm after a beachcomber noticed the man in trouble off the river mouth, at Southside.

-Hokitika Guardian