An Auckland boatie is slowly recovering after an explosion that destroyed his yacht but says he is totally shocked by what unfolded.

Mike Lawler, 44, said the dark was just setting in when he returned to his boat which was moored off Herald Island.

He had been working on the engine and had just reinstalled the battery, he said.

"I turned the lighter on to match the positive and the negative the right way and the boat exploded."

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Most of the boat disappeared, leaving Lawler in shock.

Mike Lawler is lucky to be alive after his yacht exploded. Photo / Dean Purcell
Mike Lawler is lucky to be alive after his yacht exploded. Photo / Dean Purcell

"I looked around and I had no roof, no walls on the boat, no cockpit, no dinghy."

"I thought I'd better grab a lifejacket . . . they were gone."

Everything had blown out, Lawler said.

"What the f*** just happened?" he asked himself.

"Ok, oh s*** I'm on fire."

The only option left was to swim in the Waitematā Harbour.

"It wasn't too far to swim."

In the water Herald Island resident Michael Reeves was able to help guide him for a short stretch with a paddle board.

Reeves lives on Ferry Parade and told the Herald the explosion had such force it felt like something had hit his house.

After hearing the "intense" explosion he was fearful of what he might find.

"I thought we were going to find a 100 pieces of him like the boat," Reeves said.

Michael Reeves with what was left of the boat's stern. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Michael Reeves with what was left of the boat's stern. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Most of Lawler's possessions including his wallet and phone went down with his beloved Kauri boat.

He had been living on the boat since about October last year, he said.

Lawler said the boat was two of a kind and he was not going to be able to get the same one again.

"There goes my boat . . . the worst part is I'm not insured," Lawler said.

"That's what pisses me off the most - you always mean to do it and then something else happens and something else happens."

Lawler was recovering at his parent's home and said while he "was pretty sore" his clothing which included longs, a jacket and boots had saved him from the brunt of the burns.

But he expected his healing face would be covered in sores tomorrow, he said.

"What I don't understand is: I always turn that gas bottle off before I turn the stove off.

"I don't get why it went bang. That's what I don't get."

Lawler, who is a roofer by trade, has spent much of his life on and around boats.

A photo of the boat taken hours before the explosion. Photo / Elizabeth Kayes
A photo of the boat taken hours before the explosion. Photo / Elizabeth Kayes

"In summertime, after working you just jump in it and you just go."

He enjoyed fishing on his boat and joked that while on board it was easy to find oneself thinking: "I think I could work late tomorrow".

A Givealittle page has since been set up for Lawler by Samantha Fels, a family friend.

On the page she said the explosion was caused by an LPG leak. She said Lawler's boat was not insured and he was looking at about $10,000 to remove the wreck from the seabed.

"On top of a long road to recovery and finding somewhere to live, he doesn't need the stress of trying to pay for the bills headed his way," she said.

One the day of the explosion a paramedic at the scene said Lawler was lucky to be alive.

Auckland Rescue Helicopter intensive care paramedic Russell Clark told the Herald his crew landed at Whenuapai Airbase shortly before 6.45pm.

Clark said Lawler was conscious when he reached them but had suffered "serious burns" to his face and hands.

The water had helped cool his burns, Clark said.

"With that sort of blast, any sort of explosion, just the sheer forces involved can give you severe traumatic injuries," he said.

"He got off pretty lightly."

A police spokesman said it was still working alongside fire investigators to establish what happened.

"However, initial enquiries suggest that it may have been caused by an LPG cylinder exploding", he said.

Maritime NZ was not investigating but had been in contact with the Auckland Harbourmaster.

A spokesman said after the boat's recovery, Maritime NZ would make inquiries to help explain what happened and decide if there were "any new lessons" about using gas on vessels.