A young man who got blown out onto Lake Taupo with three of his mates in a cheap inflatable rafts, is warning of the dangers of the craft on open water.
Tom, who wanted to be known only by his first name, was rescued by Coastguard Turangi at 11.15pm last night 4km northeast of the lakeside settlement of Kuratau, at the south-western end of the lake.
The Wellington-based group of four were not wearing life jackets, were lightly-clad and hypothermic, had been drinking and had only a single cellphone between them.
Tom says the group, all in their early 20s, never intended to go out onto the lake. They had been drifting down the Kuratau River late in the day on their $25 inflatable boats, entered the lake, "had a couple of beers, it was all good" and paddled back to shore deciding to do it all again.
But on their second drift down the wind caught them when they got to the lake, picked them up and pushed them out into open water.
They tried rowing against it, but their cheap plastic paddles broke. One person made it back to shore as it got dark, leaving the other four of them floating. The wind pushed them north-east, away from Kuratau and away from the shore.
"The wind just came and we started moving and by that point we were paddling but not really getting anywhere."
With their cellphone battery fading fast, and all of them becoming cold and worried, they tied their boats together and called their friend who rang 111 to alert Coastguard. A crew set off in the rescue boat Mauri Ora, and the police located Tom with a mobile location app. Coastguard Turangi picked them up about 4km from their starting point and several kilometres offshore.
In the meantime, Tom had been using his phone's flashlight to try to attract attention and a local man who had seen the light from his window, had been out searching the lake for them.
Coastguard Turangi skipper Allan Turia says the Coastguard crew were out for about an hour in all, finding the group and dropping them at Kuratau boat ramp.
Turia said when Coastguard found the group they were scared, mildly hypothermic and smelt of alcohol, with a bucket of empties on board.
He said he wished he could ban blow-up boats which were "nothing but a pain in the backside".
Coastguard had been called to several jobs over the years where people, including small children, had been blown out onto the lake in inflatables.
"Some parents have the right idea and have a nice long rope on [the boats] but some don't, and just don't watch them ... they go very quickly."
Senior Constable Barry Shepherd of Taupo Police said that while the group's decision-making, including not wearing life jackets and drinking alcohol was questionable, it was a timely reminder to other lake users that with summer here, care was needed around water.
"These four really owe their safety last night to the good citizens of Kuratau and the efforts of the Coastguard Turangi volunteer crew," he said.
Tom said as a boat owner himself, he never ventures out without life jackets, a VHF radio and flares, but this was supposed to be just a fun play on a river.
"We just didn't think about it as boating, we were really only meant to be a few metres off shore in these things."
He said people should be very careful in inflatables on the water as they had a big surface area and were easily pushed around by the wind.