‘This could be it’: Kayaker’s epic rescue in South Wairarapa

January 9, 2024

EPIRB rescue kayak
Kayaker returns to shore with assistance from Police launch Lady Elizabeth IV and RHIB. (Source: NZ Police)

A kayaker says he “owes his life” to a maritime rescue crew after he capsized and drifted out to sea in Palliser Bay, Wairarapa early this morning.

Around 500m offshore from the beach south of Lake Ferry, the man said the kayak capsized and he was lying on top of it when he activated his Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

The man said the EPIRB saved his life as it’s signal pinpointed his location, alerting the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) at Maritime New Zealand.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was tasked with locating him and issued a mayday call to any nearby vessels.

“Shortly after 8am, [the] police maritime unit deployed from Wellington Harbour in Lady Elizabeth IV,” a police spokesperson said.

At around that time, the Westpac helicopter arrived at the man’s location but gale-force winds averaging 50-60 knots made it unsafe for the helicopter crew to attempt a winch recovery.

He was pulled aboard the Lady Elizabeth IV police launch and assessed for injuries, following which the kayak was recovered. The man was taken closer to shore and was able to paddle to the beach under his own steam.

At one point, he admitted he “really thought this could be it”.

“The bay is huge and I didn’t know where or when I was going to be washed ashore. At one stage, I thought I might end up in Ngawi, or it might be the South Island,” he said.

The man said he spent a lot of time in the outdoors, with police staff noting he was “well-prepared” for kayaking including wearing a full-length wetsuit, wetsuit boots and a lifejacket.

His paddle was tethered to his kayak, and he was carrying a waterproof mobile phone and an EPIRB.

“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,” the man said.

“I encourage everyone who’s going out on the water to get a locator beacon. It saved my life.”

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