Boaties urge others to log trips with Coastguard after rescuing man who floated for 23 hours off Whangamatā coast

A group of boaties has told Newshub of the moment they rescued a man who was bobbing in the sea a long way off the coast of Whangamatā - and shared their potentially lifesaving advice for other water enthusiasts.  

The man, Will Fransen, had been in the water for 23 hours and if it weren't for the flash of his wristwatch in the sun, he might never have been rescued. 

When the three boaties from Auckland headed out for a day of game fishing on Wednesday, little did they know they'd end up saving a man's life.

"It was kind of a series of fortunate events really when you start going back and piecing through the day," said fisherman James McDonnell.

Cambridge man Fransen had set off on a solo fishing trip on January 2, which nearly turned to tragedy by the Alderman Islands, 55km off the coast. 

He fell overboard after hooking what he thinks was a marlin, and was dragged away by the currents.

Fransen floated for more than 23 hours near Mayor Island, with a shark even swimming over to have "a sniff". 

But Fransen's fate took a miraculous turn at about 2pm on Thursday. 

"We sort of saw a glistening probably 600 metres away from the boat at the time, and sort of curious as to what that could've been," McDonnell told Newshub. 

"We made our way over, and as we got closer, I think it was Max that said 'I think that's a person'... And it was actually me who said, 'surely not'." 

The floating fisherman had been trying to attract the boaties' attention by reflecting the sun off the face of his watch. 

"I think you know you could see the despair in his face when we slowed down." 

Once Fransen was pulled onto the boat, McDonnell and fellow boatie Max White sprang into action. 

"Our priority quickly turns to take off all of our shirts our jumpers," said White. "We had a big cooler bag and to just wrap him up in as many layers as possible. He was desperate for water and that side of things so had a bit of warm water and cranberry juice." 

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald after his life-threatening ordeal, Fransen said he knew the chances of him surviving were slim - and he was just focused on "staying alive". 

He said when he got out of hospital, he enjoyed a McDonald's meal with a Heineken.

Whangamatā Police Sergeant Will Hamilton told Newshub it was a "miracle" rescue. 

"It's nothing short of heroic, observing something a little bit unusual on the water and taking the time to go and investigate that," he said. 

The incident has also served as a poignant reminder about water safety this summer. 

"He wasn't wearing a life jacket at the time. The thing that we thought kept him alive was his game fishing harness which kept him afloat," said McDonnell. 

"But also, it's the importance of logging trips with Coastguard… and that you've got all your safety equipment on board, personal locator beacons. All of that is really imperative." 

Fransen has reportedly already chartered a plane to look for his boat, which has yet to be located. 

"I don't think the reality will settle in for a while just how fortunate the situation is," White told Newshub. 

Something the lucky fisherman and his rescuers won't be forgetting anytime soon.