The failure of a recreational boat to report its return to Whanganui's port triggered an extensive and needless search yesterday.

The boat left the Castlecliff slipway about 8am, apparently with two people on board. It had notified Coastguard Whanganui that it would be fishing off Turakina.

Whanganui police Sergeant Colin Wright, who heads the Whanganui-Ruapehu search and rescue squad, said the boat did not report its return which was scheduled at 1pm. He said the concern was the boat was in trouble and it prompted a sea and aerial search.

"Ravensdown Wanganui's helicopter was in the air for about an hour and the Energy Direct rescue boat was on the water for at least another two hours looking for this boat but found nothing, no debris, nothing."

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Mr Wright said other checks were made with boat owners about where the boat might have been, but a check late yesterday afternoon eliminated all the boats and trailers that had been parked in the Wharf St area next to the slipway.

"We could only assume the boat has come off the water and not told Coastguard they had returned. The result has been a very frustrating and very expensive exercise," he said.

Mr Wright said the weather conditions meant a lot of boats had used the slipway.