A Northland skipper is reviewing safety procedures on his yacht following a horrifying few hours when he didn't know where a crew member was after he fell overboard.
Todd Vercoe was not wearing a lifejacket when a wave swept him into the ocean as the yacht motored on autopilot from the Bay of Islands towards Tutukaka on Saturday.
The 46-year-old from Langs Beach swam for three hours in the water until he managed to scramble onto Rimariki Island. He then plunged back into the bitterly cold water and swam for Kaituna Bay, just over the hill from Mimiwhangata, where he scratched SOS into the sand. The plea for help caught the eye of crew in a rescue helicopter and Mr Vercoe was rescued, flown to Whangarei and treated for hypothermia.
While Mr Vercoe swam for his life crew on the yacht had no idea he had been washed overboard while urinating off the back of the vessel.
The skipper, an experienced sailor who did not want to be named, and another crew member were below deck when Mr Vercoe was washed overboard.
It was only when they got up to investigate if there was a fish on the line that they discovered they were missing their mate.
The skipper said he dialled 111 immediately and got the yacht turned around and sailed north again looking for Mr Vercoe.
"It was a stressful few hours. It was a super scary experience ... it's a big ocean out there."
As night fell and the crew anchored up they were contacted and told Mr Vercoe had been rescued and was still alive.
"It was a huge relief."
The skipper said he sailed up and down the Northland coast all the time and the incident had been a salutary lesson.
"We will rethink our safety plan. There are a lot of little things we can do especially if we have new people onboard.
"I'm considering personal emergency locator beacons. It's expensive to set up but how much is a life worth?"
He said there would be no more peeing off the back unless the rest of the people on board were informed.
The yacht sailed into Whangarei on Sunday night and the crew caught up with the exhausted Mr Vercoe to share a few beers.
Mr Vercoe said yesterday his legs were still tired as they had started to cramp at the end of the three hour swimming ordeal.
"I'm still recovering and resting up.
"It's all sinking in now and I was pretty lucky."
He said he had learnt his lesson as well and would be wearing a lifejacket the next time he took to the water.