A 16-year-old Macandrew Bay boy says he was pleased to see a police officer who swam more than 100m through rough conditions in Otago Harbour to get to him after his yacht capsized.

When Thomas George found himself in the harbour on Saturday, both police and his father, Coast Guard member father Neil George, raced to save him.

The actions of Constable Rhys Davidson in stripping down to his underwear and swimming through metre-high swells have been lauded by his commanding officer.

Inspector Jason Guthrie, of Dunedin, called Const Davidson's actions "the kind of conduct that makes you proud to be a police officer''.

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Const Davidson was responding to a 9.30am callout from members of the public concerned about Thomas' safety.

Thomas said at first after the capsize he panicked, but then calmed down and tried to put the centre board back into his yacht to try to get it back up, "but it never happened''.

"Then I actually just gave up and sat there.

"Altogether, I was in the water about 40 to 45 minutes.''

Rescuers (from left) Neil George, Maximilian Bauer and Constable Rhys Davidson return to shore during the water rescue. Photo: Stephen Jaquery
Rescuers (from left) Neil George, Maximilian Bauer and Constable Rhys Davidson return to shore during the water rescue. Photo: Stephen Jaquery

Thomas was sailing a yacht from Macandrew Bay to help at his father's sailing class at the Vauxhall Yacht Club when he capsized near The Cove.

Const Davidson (40), a general duties constable and qualified protection officer, said he and another officer answered the callout.

On the way, he asked the other officer to drop into the yacht club, where, although he did not know it, the boy's father was teaching his students about sailing.

When he got to the incident there were about six members of the public watching, and the upturned hull of the yacht between 100m and 200m out.

"I looked out there, and you could see there were whitecaps and the conditions were rough.

"You could see the shape of a person clinging to the hull.

"Without knowing the situation, I said to my partner 'I'm going out there, I'm swimming out there'.''

A member of the public who had a wetsuit also offered to help.

Const Davidson said waves were breaking over his head on the swim out.

He was not a regular swimmer, but was confident of his ability.

"I was taking in some water, but just get there - that's what it is.''

It was not a frightening experience, as his goal was to get to Thomas.

"I'd happily say any police officer would do the same.

"I just happened to be the first police vehicle there.''

Once Const Davidson got to Thomas, he found he was safe, and "happy to see me''.

"I apologised I didn't bring my notebook and pen with me.''

Thomas was wearing a wetsuit and life jacket and was an experienced sailor, but the sea had "chopped up'' after he set sail.

By the time his father arrived in the inflatable, Thomas was starting to cramp up.

Const Davidson said the water was cold, but he was not getting close to hypothermia despite it being "a cold, choppy day''.

"The young guy was safe and well and that was the outcome we want.''

Mr George, a Yachting New Zealand instructor, said he had talked his Thai, American and German students through scenarios for evacuations the previous night.

"We got to put it into play.

"It's what they call a teachable moment.''

At Vauxhall, he was "rigging up and preparing for our sailing day'' when he saw ambulances driving past the yacht club, and got on the radio.

"The initial information that I was receiving on the radio was there were three or four people in the water.''

He was trying to tell the radio operator his son was in the area and could help.

Mr Roberts said he stopped his lesson, took "the most nautical'' student and "went and did our thing''.

"One of the great things about Otago Harbour is if you've been stuck for 20 minutes there's always someone ringing the police.

"There's lots of eyes watching the harbour.''

Late yesterday, he said he had thanked Const Davidson for his efforts, something he knew as a member of the Coast Guard was important.

Thomas said: "It was just sort of nice to have someone out there making sure I was OK.''