A man who drowned in treacherous seas in Wellington Harbour yesterday was not wearing a life jacket, despite them being stowed in the boat, police say.

The man was today identified as 49-year old Leon Grant Scurrah, of Lower Hutt.

He and another man made a desperate attempt to swim between 75 and 100m to shore after their dinghy sank about 3.30pm.

"The surviving fisherman has made it to shore, and when he turned around for his associate, he realised that he had disappeared from view,'' police said in a statement.


He flagged down a passing cyclist, who called emergency services on his cellphone.

Police recovered Mr Scurrah's body last night. The death has been referred to the coroner.

Meanwhile, one of five men rescued from their sinking yacht yesterday by HMNZS Canterbury says he can't thank his "heroes'' enough.

The Auckland men were plucked to safety by the navy and coastguard after hitting rocks around 5.45am at Cape Colville near Great Barrier Island.

"It was scary. We were very lucky to have the navy, the coastguard and the police. There are so many heroes here. We are here doing great thanks to them. I don't know how to say how much I appreciate that,'' he said.

The yacht capsized moments after the men had been winched off it. Nobody was injured.

The men, from Howick and the North Shore, were given food and dry clothes by the sailors and were taken back to Auckland in an inflatable boat.

Police coastal master Garry Larsen said the skipper had a Coastguard boat master's ticket and 15 years' experience, and he knew the area well.

"The vessel was probably sitting on the rock for about an hour until our services arrived. They couldn't convey their gratitude enough. They didn't want to put anyone in this sort of situation but they all had life jackets on and they're appreciative of the response,'' he said.