The injured crew of a stricken yacht that rolled in 10 metre seas between New Zealand and Tonga are bracing themselves against 75km/h winds as they face a long wait for rescuers.

The crew of the 11.6m Windigo, which left Tonga two days ago, activated an emergency beacon after rolling about 6.30pm yesterday.

The yacht was still afloat about 700km southwest of Tonga, some 1260km northeast of New Zealand, but was taking on water and being lashed by 75km/h winds.

The crew - a 52-year-old British man and 43-year-old Auckland woman - were understood to have sustained mild to moderate head injuries. The man also suffered a back injury.


The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) said an air force P-3 Orion from Whenuapai dropped a liferaft to the yacht's crew about 1am today.

However, the crew could have to wait up to 40 hours to be rescued, as few vessels were in the area.

RCCNZ search and rescue mission coordinator Keith Allen said another yacht, Adventure Bound, was about 70km from the Windigo but could travel at only 3-4km/h in the conditions.

The navy offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago has been diverted from exercises in the Hauraki Gulf, but would take about 35-40 hours to reach the stricken yacht.

A French navy Guardian aircraft was flying from Noumea to the Windigo's position, and would arrive shortly before 2pm today.

Mr Allen said the crew of the Windigo had secured themselves in the stern section of the yacht.

"They have a liferaft, but in the conditions they're reluctant to leave the yacht until they have to. That is the correct approach for them to take.''

Meanwhile, the P-3 Orion returned to New Zealand to refuel before returning to the area to investigate a second distress signal.

The beacon from an unknown vessel was activated about 5am today, 230km southwest of Tonga.