Police and Coast Guard are scaling back their search this evening after a full-day searching for a father missing in the Manukau Harbour.

They will resume their search in the morning, a police spokeswoman said.

But the 52-year-old is unlikely to be found alive if he is not wearing a lifejacket, WaterSafe says.

Specialist child interviewers have been speaking with the man's 8-year-old daughter, who was saved on Wednesday night after three hours floating in the Manukau Harbour.

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It is not yet known whether the pair were wearing lifejackets, but if not, Watersafe chief executive Jonathon Webber said it made the 52-year-old father's rescue unlikely, and the girl's survival "phenomenal".

Police have appointed a Family Liaison Officer to support the family as the search for the father continues.

This morning the aluminium runabout which the girl and her father were fishing from before it capsized was found and will be recovered later today.

An aluminum boat is recovered at a boat ramp in Weymouth. Photo / Jason Oxenham
An aluminum boat is recovered at a boat ramp in Weymouth. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The pair set off from Weymouth in south Auckland and the boat was to be returned there this afternoon, police said.

Senior Constable Garry Larsen of the Police Maritime Unit said it was still not clear whether the pair were wearing lifejackets.

"It is unclear as to what went wrong and police are still working to establish the facts."

The girl was released from Middlemore Hospital this morning and is with her family.

The pair had been on a 3.6m dinghy which was discovered adrift by a fisherman about 4.30pm Wednesday near the number 10 port marker in the Papakura Channel, said Coastguard spokeswoman Georgie Smith.

The boat still had fishing equipment on board. Police called the Coast Guard shortly after 5pm on Wednesday.

"Investigations quickly confirmed that a father and his 8-year-old daughter had been out fishing and were now believed to be missing," Smith said.

Webber said if the girl was not wearing a lifejacket, it was a "remarkable survival feat".

Her three hours in the water would have involved a mixture of floating and treading water. Even if she was wearing a lifejacket, the fact the girl was able to be found by rescuers in a vast expanse of water was "a testament to her survival ability".

He said it was a good thing the water was not colder, because the outcome could have been much worse for the child.

Webber said if the father was not wearing a lifejacket, it was not likely he would be found alive after this time, and hard to say whether a body would even be found.

"If he was wearing a lifejacket he should have been reasonably easy to spot from the air."

Coastguard put out an urgent call to volunteers to get two rescue boats from Papakura and one from Waiuku and another from Titirangi.

All four rescue vessels started searching for the missing pair, focusing on the Papakura Channel. The child was found at 7.22pm.

Daniel Pearce of Coastguard Northern Regions talks about the search for a 52-year-old man who went missing on Manukau Harbour. His 8-year-old daughter was rescued around dawn today. Photo/Greg Bowker
Daniel Pearce of Coastguard Northern Regions talks about the search for a 52-year-old man who went missing on Manukau Harbour. His 8-year-old daughter was rescued around dawn today. Photo/Greg Bowker

"Coast Guard volunteers on Papakura Rescue One heard a voice and quickly located the 8-year-old girl, who was believed to have been separated from her father for over an hour at that stage," Smith said.

"She was recovered from the water by Coast Guard volunteers, cold, exhausted, slightly confused but otherwise unharmed."

It is believed the girl spent at least three hours in the water after the dinghy capsized. She was found about 3km from where the overturned dinghy was found.

"It was nightfall by then so they were operating in pitch-black conditions and there was a 15-knot breeze on the Manukau Harbour which made the water slightly choppy," said Smith.

Speaking to the Herald from Bottle Top Bay where the Coast Guard launched its search at 8.30am today, Daniel Pearce, Coastguard northern regions operations manager, said the rescue team still hoped to find the man alive.

"We're hopeful for a successful outcome, of course, our volunteers will keep searching until told otherwise by police."

The fact the young girl had been found alive was a "great outcome", Pearce said.

Today's search continued to focus on the Papakura channel.

Coastguard air patrol, a Coastguard rescue boat, a police helicopter and the rescue helicopter were involved in the search.

Eight volunteers were working to find the man, with more on standby, Pearce said.

He was not able to say at this point what had caused the pair to end up in the water.

Coastguard volunteers, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, police Eagle helicopter and airport rescuers searched for the father last night.

They covered about 10 nautical miles in six hours before being stood down by police shortly after 11pm.

Conditions were slightly choppy, with limited visibility. The channel is notorious for its strong current, which sucks boats out to sea as the tide goes out. High tide was at 3.50pm.