Witnesses to a boat that capsized on the Tutukaka Coast in Northland yesterday had been keeping a close eye on the family as they paddled toward their mooring after worrying that a baby and another child were not wearing lifejackets.

The family of six used a kayak, canoe and paddle board to return to their Hartley 16 yacht moored about 60 metres from Kowharewa Bay, north of Ngunguru at about 4pm on Monday.

"All the bystanders when they launched were quite concerned that they didn't all have lifejackets. We were also quite concerned that their gear looked a bit old and huckery," witness Graham Crooks said.

The captain had only started the motor and travelled another 60 to 70 metres when they noticed from shore that the mast was slowly tipping over.

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While it was hard to see exactly what happened from land, Crooks said they either hit a rock or the keel fell off the boat as they attempted to sail through the small passage between Philip Island and the mainland.

The yacht sank after hitting rocks. Photo / Supplied
The yacht sank after hitting rocks. Photo / Supplied

"There was a very large hole in the bottom of the boat where it slowly fell over."

Worried that there were young children on board, probably without lifejackets, they quickly found a phone and called 111.

"We were very concerned when we saw the vessel tip over. One of those kids was a baby."

Crooks, a sailing instructor, then ran over to two paddle boarders and gave them some spare lifejackets to quickly take over to the family who appeared to live on the boat.

But while they were making their way out to them, another boatie from Church Bay had rushed to their aid and rescued the family. They were taken back to Church Bay.

Crooks said the owner of the vessel came back to the bay to fetch his car and take it back to Church Bay where his family was.

"He said they were all safe and sound."

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The boat, about 4.8m long, has been retrieved and is now a wreck at Church Bay.

"What happened to them was inevitable. That boat would have fallen to bits at some point. It is rotten."

A police spokesperson confirmed they were alerted to the incident at 4.35pm. When officers arrived the passengers had already been rescued and officers were unable to locate those involved to speak with them.

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