Incredible rescue mission to save kayaker who capsized at sea near Wellington

  • 09/01/2024
The man clutched his kayak for over an hour as large waves and strong winds pushed him out to sea.
The man clutched his kayak for over an hour as large waves and strong winds pushed him out to sea. Photo credit: NZ Police

A kayaker says he owes his life to the rescue team who saved him after he capsized off the South Wairarapa coast this morning.

The man clutched his kayak for over an hour as large waves and strong winds pushed him out to sea until a coordinated rescue effort came to save him.

Police said they received a call for help at around 7:30am Tuesday from a kayaker at Palliser Bay who had set off from the beach south of Lake Ferry over an hour earlier.

However, the phone line was bad and the call-taker could only make out that the man was struggling and couldn't get back to shore.

A strong offshore breeze had carried the man further out to sea than he had expected and the kayak had capsized and the man was lying on top of it, police said.

The man estimated he was around 500 metres offshore but the wind and one-metre-high waves were pushing him further out to sea.

A police spokesperson said after the call disconnected, the man activated the Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) he had with him, which alerted the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) at Maritime New Zealand who dispatched a Westpac Rescue Helicopter to locate him.

The Westpac helicopter arrived at the man's location but gale-force wind made it unsafe for the helicopter to attempt a winch recovery. The wind speed in the sea area was averaging 50-60 knots, with the highest winds being 80-90 knots.

The helicopter remained overhead to monitor the situation until the Lady Elizabeth IV which was deployed from Wellington Harbour at 8am arrived around 45 minutes later.

The man was pulled aboard the boat and assessed for injuries. The kayak was later recovered.

The man was taken closer to shore and was able to paddle to the beach under his own steam, accompanied by a police rigid inflatable boat.

Police Maritime Unit staff noted that the man was well-prepared for kayaking, he was dressed in a full-length wetsuit and wetsuit boots and wearing a lifejacket. His paddle was tethered to his kayak, and he was carrying a waterproof mobile phone and an EPIRB.

"However, taking that into consideration, the incident today shows how quickly the environment can change, and even well-prepared boaties can find themselves in difficulty," the police spokesperson said.

"Being aware of the weather should always play a big part in planning any venture onto the water.

The man said he was grateful to all those involved in the rescue.

"I owe my life to them," he said.

"The bay is huge, and I didn't know where or when I was going to be washed ashore.

"I've been surfing and kayaking and in the outdoors a lot, but this time I really thought this could be it."

The man said he managed to keep calm, knowing that help was on its way. 

"I had my phone in a waterproof pouch and I got a lot of reassurance from the person on the other end of the line, who gave me updates on when the boat would arrive," he said.

"I encourage everyone who's going out on the water to get a locator beacon, it saved my life."