A man has spent the night in his damaged yacht facing 50 knot winds and high seas north of New Zealand as rescuers make their way to meet it.

A Norwegian yachtsman activated his distress beacon after his yacht, Ilanga, was damaged in high winds and heavy seas yesterday afternoon.

Senior Search and Rescue officer Mike Roberts said Ilanga had damaged sails and rigging, a broken window and had taken on some water but was not in danger of sinking. There had also been a fire in an electrical panel.

The boat was 140 nautical miles (260km) northeast of Cape Brett.

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Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand was in contact with the yachtie who was still facing 50 knot winds and very heavy seas.

The yachtsman is the only person on board and activated his EPIRB (distress beacon) at 4.14pm yesterday.

A merchant ship, MV Southern Lily, had been diverted to come to Ilanga's aid and was due to meet the yacht about midday.

Senior Search and Rescue officer Geoff Lunt said the yacht is making some headway in a west, southwesterly direction, moving closer to New Zealand.

He said communications with the Norwegian yachtsman had been limited but they had managed to establish communications by an inReach satellite device and using text messaging.

A New Zealand Defence Force P-3K2 Orion will be up later this morning to oversee the Southern Lily rendezvous.

Earlier yesterday the centre co-ordinated the rescue of a Kiwi yachtsman who had to abandon his yacht, Waimanu, 90 nautical miles (167km) east of Norfolk Island.

In that earlier rescue, an NZDF C-130 Hercules circled over the location of the life-raft while a cargo ship, Norfolk Guardian, was diverted to the scene.

The Kiwi yachtsman has now been safely rescued from his life raft and has arrived at Norfolk Island.

Lunt said he has spoken to police on the island and the weather is still quite bad so there has been suggestion it might be a couple of days before they can offload anyone or any supplies.

"The ship will just wait off the island until suitable conditions allow for any transfer of persons or stores," he said.