A fisherman who fell off a boat in the middle of the night was pulled from the water by a friend but could not be saved.

Denis Stratton was fishing near Great Barrier Island on Thursday after travelling by helicopter from the Bay of Islands where he'd just finished building his dream home.

His daughter, Jodie Sexton, yesterday said it was unclear what happened, but it was believed he may have had a heart attack when he hit the water or just before he fell overboard.

The 60-year-old had been living in Thailand but was back in the country putting the finishing touches on the Kerikeri home he hoped his family would eventually stay in during the holidays.


"He loved fishing, loved the water, diving ... anything to do with the water," Mrs Sexton said. The day he died, he'd been fishing with a friend who'd picked him up by helicopter from Kerikeri.

"What a way to finish, eh, a helicopter ride and a great day fishing."

Mrs Sexton said when her father's friend got up in the night he saw he wasn't in his bunk then noticed a shadow in the water and pulled him out.

Support for the family has poured in from around the world.

Mr Stratton's funeral will be held in Auckland today and mourners are being asked to make a donation to the Royal New Zealand Coastguard in lieu of flowers.