The skipper of a commercial fishing boat hauling in his catch was forced to abandon ship off the Northland coast after discovering a fire in the engine bay and gulping down thick smoke.

The 11 metre boat was 1km off Waimahana Bay, east of Doubtless Bay, when all the lights onboard cut out just after 4am yesterday.

It's believed the skipper - the only person onboard - was pulling in the long lines when the boat was left in darkness.

The 44-year-old went to investigate the reason for the power cut and lifted the lid on the engine room. The small cabin area filled with think smoke and made visibility difficult. There were flames near the starter engine that were quickly spreading through the engine bay.


The skipper had gulped in smoke when lifting the lid, so he decided to launch a dinghy and get off the burning boat. He managed to grab and activate the emergency locator beacon. The fire spread through the boat as he tried to get a safe distance away.

Mangonui police Constable Brett Walford said the alarm was raised by a person in the bay about 6.30am after they saw smoke pouring from the boat near a rock the locals know as Sugar Loaf.

A resident of the bay launched their own boat and went to the aid of the skipper and brought him ashore. Police took the skipper, who was in shock, to the Mangonui St John station where he was initially examined and then taken to Kaitaia Hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation.

"He was obviously in shock and suffering from the smoke," Mr Walford said.

He was released yesterday afternoon and was to speak to the Whangarei-based owner about the fire and how the boat would be recovered.

Whangaroa Coastguard responded to the call.