A dramatic ocean rescue has ended with a shaken man being winched from his boat off the coast in Whangārei after a five-hour ordeal.
At about midday yesterday, an unexpected gust of wind knocked the man's boat sideways, forcing water to flood on board.
But the real trouble began when the water disabled the boat's GPS and communication ports, breaking the steering at the same time.
The man lost control of the boat and began to drift.
He drifted for about 17km and it was not until just before 4pm that he was able to get some batteries into a handheld radio and call for help.
After a 40 minute search, the Northland Rescue Helicopter found the 34-foot yacht about 5pm, northeast of Bream Head, a peninsula on the east coast of Northland.
Pilot Dan O'Reilly said the boat was in significant distress when he found it.
"The boat was rocking to and fro, wallowing in the water," he said.
"I could see a figure of him holding on tightly to the back of the boat."
The man needed to be rescued by winch, but with the risk of the winch getting snagged in the rigging of the yacht, the crew had to move to plan B.
In very windy conditions, the man got into his dinghy that floated 10 metres from the back of the boat.
"He was bouncing around, hanging on for dear life," O'Reilly said.
Rescue medic Leah Baker was winched down to the man.
O'Reilly said when the man got into the helicopter, he was very emotional.
"He was thanking Leah profusely. He was panicked because he was by himself, and that added to his inability to reef the sail.
"If it had been an hour and a half later, we would've had to find him [using] night vision goggles."
The man had to leave the boat behind.
Miraculously, he was uninjured.
He was assessed by St John medics at the helicopter base as a precaution.
O'Reilly has attended several rescues in his time, although not all are as dramatic.
If he had one message for the boaties out there thinking about a day on the water, it
would be to take an emergency locator beacon.
"Look at the weather forecast, get an emergency locator beacon, and perhaps, like a diver, always go with a buddy."