Two men plucked from Lake Wakatipu after an ill-equipped attempt to go camping on an island are lucky to be alive, Queenstown's harbourmaster says.

Staff from Dart River Jet rescued the pair after an hour-long search on Friday night, and harbourmaster Marty Black believed they owed their lives to the crew.

Police co-ordinated and headed the operation and said this morning the rescued pair were a Polish man (31) and a 25-year-old Chinese man.

The men had set off to row to Pigeon Island in an inflatable boat with no motor, one lifejacket and two oars between them.


One of the oars broke and it appeared the boat either took on water or capsized.

The men used a cellphone to call for police, and Mr Black said the jetboat and a local helicopter spent an hour searching in the dark before the boat's crew heard cries for help about 7pm.

"When they found this pair, they were hypothermic and could hardly speak.

"They are incredibly lucky to be alive."

Mr Black said the only thing the pair appeared to have done right was to take a cellphone with them so that they could call for help.

The inflatable boat and oars were not suited for rowing across the lake; they did not have lifejackets for each person on board; and setting off so late in the day was unwise, he said.

Police said they were talking to the men about what happened.

While glad the men made it back safe and sound, police said the incident may have ended very differently and could have been avoided had they been adequately prepared.

At this time of year, it could get very cold and the weather could change in an instant, so it was important to have the right gear, police said.

Some simple common sense checks could prevent needless tragedies:

• Always wear a life jacket when you're boating, jet skiing or using other craft on the water

• Make sure your equipment is safe and working

• Check the water and weather conditions before you set out.

Police, Maritime New Zealand and local authorities all had the ability to take enforcement action against those acting irresponsibly on the water.

Police said they can (and do) prosecute those who break the law and put others at risk.