A German tourist owes his life to a pair of jeans he used as a makeshift lifejacket while lost at sea for over three hours off the Gisborne coast.

Arne Murke was knocked from a 12-metre yacht while sailing with his brother, Helge, about 28km from Tolaga Bay on March 6.

The Murke brothers from northern Germany had taken a commission to deliver the yacht, Wahoo, from Auckland to Brazil.

But while sailing south down the New Zealand coastline in rough conditions at about 2pm, a loose mainsheet caused the boom to "unexpectedly" swing and knock Arne overboard, tangling his arm in a rope.

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"I was dragged next to the boat for one or two seconds down in the water, but then the rope got loose luckily, and I was floating in the water not wearing any life jacket. Just my t-shirt, my jeans, that was all," Arne told the Herald on Sunday.

"My brother started directly to get me but the swell was like three metres. He threw a life jacket with a rope overboard. I couldn't reach that, it was already too far away. Then I think the motor exploded.

"Luckily, I knew the trick with the jeans. Without the jeans I wouldn't be here today, they were really the thing that saved me. "

Murke's quick thinking saw him transform his jeans into a life-saving buoyancy aide; employing a technique employed by Navy Seals.

"I saw it many years ago and I always thought if I ever go overboard without a life jacket I'm going to do that," he said.

"I took a deep breath, took out my jeans, made knots at the end of the legs and inflated the jeans; pull it over water and get air inside and then push it under water - I had like an improvised life vest."

Arne, 30, had been holidaying and working in New Zealand vineyards prior to setting sail on Wahoo.

He said the yacht delivery job to South America was undertaken with an aim to raise money for his 10-month old daughter, who lives with his girlfriend in the Philippines.

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"While I was in the water I was just thinking, I can't leave my daughter behind without a father. That was the biggest motivation," he said.

Arne Murke used these jeans as a makeshift life jacket using a technique of the navy seals.
Arne Murke used these jeans as a makeshift life jacket using a technique of the navy seals.

"The water was breaking over me, and it was getting cold. My legs started to shake. I needed to re-inflate the jeans because they lost a little bit of air, they were twisted somehow.

"I was quite exhausted so I went under, but couldn't use my arms because I didn't want to lose my jeans.

"I was under water and I just thought . . . do it for your daughter. I managed to somehow get the jeans right and floated again. That was one moment where I really thought I might die, if I don't give all my energy."

After about three and a half hours in the water, Arne was eventually spotted by the Hawke's Bay Rescue helicopter, who were conducting the huge search along with Coastguard and the Air Force.

"Two times it was really close to me but they didn't see me and flew away," Arne said.

"At that moment I was really doubting if they were going to come back for me. It took another 20 minutes but luckily I could see the helicopter again. They let down the rope and I was so glad."

The Murke brothers are now stranded in Gisborne, after the marine pest, Mediterranean fanworm, was spotted on Wahoo's hull, and the yacht was craned out of the local marina.

Wahoo - the 12-metre yacht the Murke brothers were trying to deliver to Brazil.
Wahoo - the 12-metre yacht the Murke brothers were trying to deliver to Brazil.

Arne said he was now keen to find work in New Zealand, and had developed an affinity for the area and his rescuers.

"I really want to thank all everyone who was involved in the search and rescue operation, they did an excellent job and I'm very very thankful," Arne said.

And after 20 years on the water, his near death experience isn't going to stop him from sailing again.

"I know the risk but I'm not scared of it. I'm just going to be super careful in the future. I would never say I'm not going out any more, or I'm too scared."