An Otago father spent an hour in the sea preventing a jet ski, with two distraught children on board, from smashing into rocks after its battery went flat.

Toni Parata, son Van, 8, and stepdaughter Samantha Baird, 14, were on a fishing expedition yesterday near Matanaka Island, north of Dunedin, when the jet ski failed to start and drifted close to the rocky coastline.

Mr Parata rang emergency services before getting into the water and holding the jet ski away from rocks for more than an hour.

They were eventually found by Dunedin man Dr Matthew Leaper and his son Samuel, 14, in an inflatable boat, who towed them to shore at Karitane.


Samantha said she feared that without her stepfather, she and Van would have died.

"We were trying to start it [the jet ski] up, but it wouldn't turn back on," she said.

"My stepbrother, Van, got really, really scared and started having a panic attack.

"I was crying. I actually thought we were going to die.

"I don't really know what we would have done if he [Mr Parata] wasn't there."

The trio, who were all wearing life jackets, went fishing about noon and Samantha estimated they were about 2km offshore before drifting in.

It took rescuers "ages" to find them, she said.

Dr Leaper was the "hero of the day", she said.

On shore, Samantha's mother, Luana Baird, was waiting. "She ran at me with a full-on hug," she said.

"I don't think I'll be going in the sea for a while."