Three vessels came to grief in bar crossings during Easter - leading a regional authority to warn that crossing bars is the most dangerous activity boaties face.

A dramatic sequence of photos taken yesterday show how a 5.5m fishing boat was engulfed and flipped by a wave at the Tairua Bar on the Coromandel Peninsula.

The three fishermen on board - none of whom wore a life jacket - were crossing the bar between Tairua and Pauanui in heavy surf.

Onlooker Tim Hunt took the photos as he watched from his holiday home about 8.30am.


Several boats had lucky escapes earlier so he grabbed his camera as the aluminium vessel reached the large surf. It survived the first wave, but as it tried to turn a second came over the back of the boat.

Two of the men were plucked from the water by the coastguard, while the third waited on rocks and swam to a Surf Life Saving IRB sent out.

Police said the men were rescued within 15 minutes of being thrown into the tide.

One of the men was seen clinging to a lifejacket.

The men were met by two ambulances at the Pauanui wharf but were uninjured.

A boatie told the Herald she and her husband decided against crossing the bar because of the poor conditions.

They saw the group of men on the boat ramp when they arrived back but she said they "scoffed" when her husband mentioned how rough it was.

"This attitude alone gets you into these situations. That bar needs to be treated with respect; it's well known how rough and tricky it can get to cross. My father-in-law was watching from his home and could also see the irresponsible choices these men made," the woman said.

Waikato Regional Council maritime services team leader Richard Barnett said it would be decided this morning whether Maritime NZ or the council would investigate the incident and whether charges would be laid against the men not wearing life jackets.

Occupants in vessels 6m or under are required by law to wear lifejackets in the Waikato, while nationally anyone on board a vessel crossing a bar must wear a life jacket.

Mr Barnett said crossing a bar was the most high-risk activity boaties undertook so it was vital they wore lifejackets, made wise decisions about whether it was safe to go on the water and never tried to turn mid-crossing.

Skippers put not only their crew and the boat at risk when they made poor decisions but also the coastguard and Surf Life Saving, he said.

"They have to go out in the same conditions and pull these people in. Luckily all these people survived which is great but to me that sort of thing is just unnecessary."

Another boatie told the Herald he had crossed the Tairua Bar 30 minutes earlier in a 6.5m boat. The waves were already big.

"I was very surprised to see another boat trying to get out when we were coming in, especially with an outgoing tide and waves working against it."

Meanwhile, Maketu Coast Guard rescued three people from an inflatable boat that overturned as it came across the Pukehina bar yesterday.

Coast Guard president Shane Beech said one of the four occupants swam to shore and the others clung to the hull until two Coast Guard jet skis reached them.

Also, two men tossed overboard spent two hours clinging to a chilly bin and another sat on his upturned boat's hull in the Manukau Harbour after trying to cross the bar on Saturday before being spotted by a group of fishermen.

The men had not made a bar-crossing report.