The search for the missing sailor lost overboard from a yacht north of New Zealand has been suspended.

The 63-year-old man is understood to have been swept away after the yacht Platino sustained damage to its rigging 550km north of New Zealand on Monday.

A Royal New Zealand Airforce aircraft was on the scene within 90 minutes of the incident but despite searching over two days the missing man was not found.

A second man, crew member Nick Saull, died after he was apparently struck by rigging on the yacht.


His body remained on the damaged yacht after three other crew members made it onboard container ship Southern Lily around 3pm yesterday.

The missing 63-year-old man is understood to be in relatively light clothing and did not wear a life jacket, Maritime New Zealand said.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand search and rescue mission coordinator Ramon Davis said the decision to suspend the search was taken "only after a full review of the search operation".

"At this point, we are satisfied that we have taken all possible steps to find the missing man - but sadly we have found no trace of him.

"Expert advice indicates the maximum survival time for a person in the water in this area has now been exceeded. We have therefore made a decision to suspend the search," Mr Davis said.

"This is obviously an extremely difficult time for the family and our thoughts are with them."

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand issued a notice to ships travelling through the area to be on the lookout for the man.

A maritime officer on board a tug boat left Whangarei last night to recover the body of Nick Saull.

Police are using coordinates from an emergency beacon on the yacht to track it -- but it may take several days to reach the Platino.