A Far North man at the centre of a dramatic sea rescue less than three months ago has again been winched to safety from remote rocks in a night-time operation.

Kaitaia's Nathaniel Maafu, 18, was rescued by lifeguards with the Far North Surf Rescue in March after he and another man became trapped on rocks for more than five hours in atrocious sea conditions. The pair had been diving.

But on Saturday Maafu went with his uncle Gilbert Yukich, 28, of Awanui, to retrieve his uncle's snorkel and flippers, which were stashed in a cave when he was rescued in March.

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Their 3.6m tinnie had no spare oars, VHF radio, flares or lifejackets.

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The Northland Rescue Helicopter was only able to find the men by using heat detection goggles.

Crew on the Northland Rescue Helicopter used heat detection goggles to find two men stuck on rocks in the dark. Photo / NRC
Crew on the Northland Rescue Helicopter used heat detection goggles to find two men stuck on rocks in the dark. Photo / NRC

Senior police search and rescue staff were considering if the man rescued for a second time could be prosecuted under Maritime Law.

Concerned family members who contacted police about 6.30pm on Saturday - three hours after the duo were scheduled to be back from their salvage mission.

Kaitaia Sergeant Trevor Proctor said the men's tinnie had a motor that was started by wrapping a cord around it, then pulling sharply.

They launched at Tapotupotu, 4km east from Cape Reinga. The motor stopped when they were about 300m from shore, but a 20-knot offshore wind forced them out to sea.

They managed to get the motor started and made it to rocks on their second attempt, where they dragged the tinnie ashore.

Dressed in only shorts and singlets the men tipped the tinnie and used it for shelter.

Proctor said the men managed to go to sleep and missed the first pass of the Northland Rescue Helicopter. They were spotted on the helicopter's second pass.

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Pilot Steve Couchman said the rescue team flew north about 9pm and liaised with a fishing boat and a charter vessel in the area that were helping look for the two men.

He said the men were found halfway between Tapotupotu and Sandy Bay, on rocks surrounded by 100m high cliffs.

St John flight medic Andrew Fergusson used the heat-tracking goggles in complete darkness to find the two men. He was then lowered down and the men were individually winched aboard the helicopter and taken to family members in the visitor carpark at Cape Reinga.

"It was a difficult winch in the lee of the cliffs at night with down drafts, which pushed the helicopter around. It made it more difficult," Couchman said.

Northland Police search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the men had gone to sea in marginal conditions and were totally unprepared.

"They are endangering the lives of those that are forced to rescue them," Metcalfe said.
"They are lucky to be alive."

He confirmed police would be investigating whether charges could be laid. The bill for the rescue was estimated to be $15,000.