A helicopter search began soon after first light today for a Norwegian yacht, missing with three people on board in the Ross Sea, Antarctic.

The 14-metre yacht Berserk activated its emergency beacon on Tuesday night but because of the rough conditions the navy offshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Wellington, could not get to the search area for nearly 12 hours.

If found no trace of the yacht and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin was sent to the area.

New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman (NZRCC) Ross Henderson, said the Steve Irwin had launched its helicopter to search the area, about 33km from Scott Base after improved weather conditions.

"The weather conditions are pretty good, wind about 25 knots, good visibility so good conditions for searching," he said.

A Russian ship was also heading to the area but was not expected to arrive until early afternoon.

The steel yacht was thought to have three crew on board after dropping two others on land for an attempt to trek down to the South Pole.

Four of the crew were understood to be from Norway, and a fifth was from United Kingdom.