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Water rescue in Palliser Bay, Wairarapa

A kayaker is safe after a frightening incident in Palliser Bay, Wairarapa earlier today.

At around 7.30am today Police received a call from a person in need of assistance at Palliser Bay, off the South Wairarapa coast. The phone line was bad and the calltaker could only make out that the man was struggling and couldn’t get back to shore.

The call had come from a kayaker who’d set-off from the beach south of Lake Ferry at about 6am. A strong offshore breeze had carried the man further out to sea than he had expected.

The kayak had capsized and the man was lying on top of it. At that time, he estimated he was around 500 metres offshore and being pushed further out by the wind and one-metre high waves.

After the call to Police 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.

The EPIRB signal pinpointed the man’s location and the RCCNZ tasked the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to locate him. Wellington Maritime Radio issued a mayday call requesting that any vessels in the area provide assistance. A commercial fishing boat responded but it was 90 minutes away.

Shortly after 8am Police Maritime Unit deployed from Wellington Harbour in Lady Elizabeth IV, with an estimated travel time of 40 minutes to Palliser Bay.

At around that time 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 arrived.

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At around 8.45am the Lady Elizabeth IV was with the kayaker. He was pulled aboard the 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, accompanied by a Police rigid inflatable boat.

Police Maritime Unit staff note 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. Being aware of the weather should always play a big part in planning any venture onto the water.

The man (who has requested privacy) wishes to express his gratitude to all involved in the rescue. “I owe my life to them.”

“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.

“I’ve been surfing and kayaking and in the outdoors a lot, but this time I really thought this could be it. The key for me was keeping calm and that was helped by the reassurance that help was on the 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.

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

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