The search has resumed for two men missing after a commercial West Coast fishing boat sank on Thursday after it became entangled in a rope.

"An improvement in weather conditions has allowed a helicopter to start an aerial search and ground search teams are carrying out a shoreline search," police said this afternoon.

The Greymouth-based Wendy J ran aground on the rocky South Westland coast near Jackson Bay on Thursday night.

The alarm was raised yesterday morning after a light aircraft spotted wreckage and a life raft on the shore.

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A survivor, Mark Thomas, was found yesterday near Teer Creek, about 10km southwest around the bouldery coast from Smoothwater Bay, the area where it is the boat sank. Smoothwater Bay is a small cove whose entrance is marked by rocky outcrops.

Thomas was fishing on contract for Greymouth company Westfleet Seafoods.

Westfleet general manager John Brown told the Herald today he had spoken to Thomas, who is aged in his early 20s.

"He's pretty upset.

"He said they might have picked up a rope around the screw and it stalled the engine - a floating rope off a cray-pot or something like that."

Brown said the Wendy J had gone to Smoothwater Bay to seek shelter.

Asked how Thomas managed to survive, he said he was tough and had a very strong will.

Thomas was taken to Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth after his ordeal and has been discharged.

The police said wreckage from the boat is spread over a large area.

The search for the missing men was suspended last night to wait for daylight and was this morning postponed due to high seas and bad weather.

But just before 3pm the police said the search had resumed.

One man was found near Teer Creek in South Westland after the Greymouth-based boat the Wendy J sank in the area. Two others are missing. Map: topomap.co.nz
One man was found near Teer Creek in South Westland after the Greymouth-based boat the Wendy J sank in the area. Two others are missing. Map: topomap.co.nz

Police yesterday stated that a man from the boat was found at Neils Beach, southeast of Jackson Bay. Today they corrected that, stating that the man was found near Teer Creek, about 8km from where the boat sank.

Earlier today, the police said: "Any further searching today will be weather-dependent".

"Police search teams are constantly reviewing the situation with a view to resuming the search when able.

"Searching has most recently been in the Smoothwater Bay area.

"Police are in contact with the men's families to keep them updated."

An emergency operation was launched about 11.30am yesterday after a light plane flying near Jackson Bay, southwest of Haast, spotted some debris and a life raft on the shoreline.

A helicopter was sent and about three hours later spotted Thomas on a rock near Teer Creek.

One of the missing men, Jay Cairney, was described last night by family as an experienced fisherman, and his relatives were praying for his safe return.

MetService this morning issued a gale warning for the Milford coastal area southwest of Jackson Bay, with predictions of very rough seas from a swell of up to 4m, plus rain, poor visibility and possible thunderstorms. The wind could blow at up to 35 knots, easing to 10 knots this afternoon, before picking up to 25 knots off shore this evening.