A tanker is on its way to help restart the motor of a "rocking and rolling'' yacht drifting in high swells off Kaipara Harbour.

Three men aboard the disabled yacht Cheval de Mer have been riding out high winds and rough seas since the boat's engine failed on Friday and the main sails were blown out in 70km gales.

The trio, two of which are said to be over 65, declined a helicopter ride to safety and chose to remain on the boat when a Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) helicopter first responded to an emergency beacon at about 8.30pm on Saturday night.

The crew used a small jib and mizzen sail to claw their way north and stay clear of the treacherous lee shore, and were last located about 10 nautical miles (18.5km) west of the Kaipara Harbour entrance.


Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Ross Henderson said a motor tanker had been sent to aid the trio this morning.

"Kakariki has been tasked to go and give the yacht some assistance, and see whether they might be able to get their motor restarted. They were due to arrive there at about [12pm], but I haven't had any further update.''

Crew aboard the tanker would try to help kickstart the motor aboard the drifting 12m yacht. There were no plans to remove the men from the yacht, said Mr Henderson.

He said there had been communication with the three men today, who were "fine'' as far as he knew.

"They seem fine and they've just been waiting for the weather to improve so they can hopefully make headway and head back into port.''

A NEST helicopter winched replacement communications equipment and sustenance to the disabled yacht yesterday, who were "rocking and rolling'' in 4-6m high seas, said pilot Pete Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull also readied a "comfort package'' for the trio, made up of oranges, chocolate and other food to be dropped to the sailors yesterday.

Rough seas on the harbour bar prevented a Kaipara coastguard vessel reaching the yacht yesterday.