Plans for the rescue of a solo sailor from about 260km off the Northland coast have been delayed by heavy seas.

The container ship MV Southern Lily had been expected to meet the Norwegian sailor around midday.

But the ship has been slowed by heavy seas and the expected time of the rendezvous with the yacht Ilanga is now around 5pm.

Search and rescue mission co-ordinator Dave Wilson, of the Rescue Coordination Centre, said this afternoon a southerly wind in the area is blowing at around 55km/h and there is a 5m swell.

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Wilson said the sailor was safe on board the damaged Ilanga.

He said a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, which had left this morning to help with the rescue, had returned to Auckland.

"They will launch again in time to assist with the rescue when that happens later on."

The yachtsman set off a distress beacon after his boat Ilanga was damaged in high winds and heavy seas yesterday afternoon about 260km northeast of Cape Brett.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force said this morning an Orion left Auckland had to support the man's rescue.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb said the crew of another air force plane, a C-130 Hercules, found the Ilanga yesterday and managed to communicate with its skipper.

"However, a rescue operation could not be carried out due to poor conditions in the area and with only a few hours of daylight left."

The Hercules was returning to Auckland from its earlier search for the solo Kiwi sailor in a life-raft whose yacht had sunk 166km east of Norfolk Island. The Rescue Coordination Centre had picked up Ilanga's emergency signal and the Hercules was diverted to search for the boat.

The 12m-long Ilanga's electrical unit had caught fire and it had started to take on water through a window. The yacht no longer has navigation lights, but the skipper has a handheld VHF radio which he turns off from time to time to save power. The yacht has a dinghy.

The Southern Lily, a 145m container ship, was expected to reach Ilanga at around midday today.

The Norwegian and his damaged yacht are about 260km northeast of Cape Brett. Map / Google Maps
The Norwegian and his damaged yacht are about 260km northeast of Cape Brett. Map / Google Maps

Southern Lily captain Shashi Prakash and a Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron were awarded a certificate of achievement in the Search and Rescue Council awards for their rescue in June last year of three people from the boat Platino.

The Platino was damaged in heavy seas 550km off the Northland coast.

One of the five crew of Platino had died after being hit by the yacht's boom. Another was lost overboard.

An air force Orion was in the region and arrived near Platino within 90 minutes of the distress alert.

The Southern Lily was diverted to assist, arriving 14 hours later.

Using a rope ladder, the container ship's crew tried to rescue the Platino sailors. In extreme conditions, the by-now dismasted yacht thrashed against the ship and suffered further damage.

The first rescue attempt had to be aborted, but in another, using a rescue line, the two men and one woman managed to clamber onto the ship and were brought back to New Zealand.

MV Southern Lily captain Shashi Prakash received an award for his ship's rescue of the three survivors from the stricken yacht Platino off Northland last year. Photo / Facebook
MV Southern Lily captain Shashi Prakash received an award for his ship's rescue of the three survivors from the stricken yacht Platino off Northland last year. Photo / Facebook