The man who died when his boat capsized on the Hokianga bar on Thursday was from the Okaihau area.

The 69-year-old had been out on his 7.2m hardtop boat with his brother, aged 67, and a nephew aged 15. They were returning to the harbour entrance about 12.15pm when they struck trouble.

Coastguard Hokianga president Jeff Cramp, who is also a senior constable at Rawene police, said conditions on Thursday were slight with a 1.5m swell — but there were always ''a couple of nasty spots'' at the bar.

''The boat was coming in when it got caught up in an incoming swell. The boat broached and capsized, and all three were caught underneath.''

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The 67-year-old and the 15-year-old managed to get out but the 69-year-old, the boat's owner and skipper, was trapped in the cabin.

Boaties on a nearby vessel saw the boat flip and plucked the two men from the water.

However, conditions were too rough for anyone to check inside the upturned boat. After searching the area the rescuers returned to Opononi wharf and called Coastguard.

When Coastguard found the boat it was still upside-down and drifting towards rocks on the south side of the bar.

Cramp said he managed to get a towline onto the boat and tow it into calmer waters. He then set up a rig in a bid to right the boat, which was full of water and extremely heavy.

The boat could not be fully righted but it was enough to free the trapped man.

By that time the Northland Rescue Helicopter had arrived. A diver was lowered into the water by winch and brought the deceased to the rescue boat. All three men were wearing lifejackets, Cramp said.

If anything could be learned from the tragedy it was to always respect the sea. ''Even if the sea is slight it can still catch up with you — especially on the Hokianga bar.''

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The dead man's name has yet to be formally released.

Pakanae Marae declared a rāhui barring the collection of seafood from part of the west coast either side of the harbour entrance and the westernmost end of the harbour. The rāhui was lifted at 4pm yesterday.