The family of Peter McKenzie who died following a boating incident off the Southland coast say he was an experienced jet boater who was extremely safety conscious.

McKenzie's son, Daniel, said his father and his two friends were returning from lifting whitebaiting nets at the Waitutu River mouth on a nice day with reasonable sea conditions when his father suffered a medical event.

The boat was then swamped by a rogue wave.

"There was an enduring distance swim to shore after letting off a flare. One of the men crossed rugged bush and challenging terrain to get help. Unfortunately it came too late to save Peter.

"We will have to wait for the post mortem results to be sure of what happened but Dad knew that part of the coast well and the two passengers say they felt safe.

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"Dad respected the sea and was an expert boatie. We are devastated and ask for privacy so we can come to terms with this awful tragedy."

Peter McKenzie (left) and brother Morrell Mckenzie. Photo / File
Peter McKenzie (left) and brother Morrell Mckenzie. Photo / File

Jet boating NZ immediate past president Paul Mullan yesterday said the boat came to a standstill, with the men trying to stay on it as long as possible before it dropped out from under them.

McKenzie then regained consciousness and he and another man were helped to shore by the third, younger, passenger.

That man then clambered through 2km of rugged terrain on his way to Waitutu Lodge.

The remote lodge had no cellphone reception and the man had to radio for help.

Emergency services arrived about four hours later.

Mullan said McKenzie was part of the jet boating association and would be sadly missed.

It's the second tragic death for his family after McKenzie's brother Morrell died in 2015 when his truck went off the wharf at South Port.

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The Bluff brothers founded McKenzie Marine and Mackcraft, a jet boat manufacturing company.

"Mackcraft are prolific boat builders for jet boats and he's a very, very experienced jet boater," Mullan said.

"It's just really sad."