Dramatic footage shows the moment the Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter ended a nearly 2-1/2 hour ordeal for a sailor.

The 30-year-old German man fell overboard about 35km off the coast of Tolaga Bay on Wednesday afternoon in "big breaking swells".

The Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) began a search and rescue operation at 2.04pm after receiving a Mayday call from this twin-brother.

RCCNZ Senior Search and Rescue Coordinator Chris Henshaw said "Maritime Radio asked the remaining person on the yacht to activate their emergency beacon so we could establish their position. Two beacons were activated at 2.14pm."

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The Lion Foundation Gisborne Coastguard boat, an RNZAF Orion aircraft, and two other fixed wing aircraft were called in to search, along with the rescue helicopter.

Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter Trust general manager Ian Wilmot said it was a "challenging" rescue.

"He was not wearing a life jacket and the T-shirt he was wearing was not a contrasting colour against the sea which added to the extra challenge of trying to find him."

He said the glare off the water and a swell of 2.5 metres also added to the challenge.
"He is very lucky. I imagine he was a very happy man when he got in the chopper."

After spotting him, the pilot descended and the swimmer jumped into the sea before he and the rescued man were winched up to the chopper.

Wilmot said they conducted the search with five people onboard; a pilot, co-pilot, crewman, swimmer and paramedic.

"Some of the crew on this particular mission were involved in a training exercise only a couple of weeks ago which proved to be very beneficial."

The siblings left Auckland on March 1 heading south aboard their 38-foot yacht Wahoo.

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Gisborne Coastguard skipper Adrian Brown said the brother on board the yacht was so pleased to have reached the port safely.

"He was incredibly happy, just overwhelmed that his brother was safe, and that their yacht was safe.

"You could hear in his voice how stressed he had been and how relieved he was afterwards."