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Just one of five believed wearing lifejacket

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 08:20 30/01/2013
searchboat
Bruce Mercer/FAIRFAX NZ

Bar entrance: The view of the ocean between at the entrance of the Waihi bar. The younger family members swam to shore on Matakana Island, in the distance, but their father, Tim Mair, was still missing last night.

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A Waihi Beach fisherman who came across those who escaped a capsized boat near Matakana Island says he hopes lessons can be learned from the incident.

Police spent yesterday searching for a 52-year-old man, understood to be Katikati avocado grower Tim Mair, after his 6-metre boat overturned crossing the bar between Bowentown and Matakana Island about 5.30pm on Monday.

Police have revealed that lifejackets were on board the boat, but just one of the five people on board was wearing one. While vessels must carry enough lifejackets for all on board it is not mandatory to wear them at all times.

Mr Mair's grandchild, aged 7, was wearing a lifejacket while his two other children, aged 23 and 15, were not. A family friend, aged 14, was also not wearing a life jacket. The group managed to swim to nearby Matakana Island where they flagged down a passing boat about 7.30pm.

Fisherman Warren Coffey said he and a friend were heading out fishing about 7.30pm when they came across the upside-down boat not too far from the harbour.

"So we thought we better stop and have a look," he said. "We were just about to ring the Coastguard about the boat when we saw some people on the shore [of a nearby island] waving. So we went over and picked them up. There was a young adult and three kids. We put them in the boat, wrapped them up and took them back to shore. That's when we rang the police and Coastguard."

Mr Coffey said the group looked to be in shock as they were pretty calm. "They'd been in the water quite a while I think before they got to shore."

As a father himself, Mr Coffey said he felt for the family.

"I just feel really sad that it's happened in this small community and that someone has lost a father, uncle, brother. I just hope that this story helps get the message out there.

"It's normally a pretty safe place, but the Bowentown bar can be a pretty dangerous place . . . you just have to wear your lifejacket all the time."

Sergeant Warren Shaw, of Waikato police search and rescue, said the missing skipper was an experienced boatie having lived in the area for more than 40 years.

Conditions at the time were said to be moderate to rough, according to Coastguard radio control operator and duty officer Brian Grimwood. "Conditions at the time were an easterly swell of 1-1.5 metres, the wind was 10-15 knots. The bar can get quite dangerous but basically the sea conditions were moderate to rough at the time."

But other boaties spoken to by Waikato Times said they would not have considered crossing the bar given conditions at the time.

An experienced boatie with more than 35 years' experience, who did not wish to be named, said he would not have entertained the idea of crossing the bar.

"It was bloody rough out there, the easterly was strong and I kept away - but I really feel for the family involved," he said.

Harbour Warden Noel Haszard patrols the inner Tauranga Harbour on behalf of the Harbour Master and said he was encouraged at the amount of people heeding advice and wearing lifejackets, but he said the latest incident had left him with a "heavy heart".

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"In conditions like that it is too late to put a lifejacket on when you are already in trouble. Those waves hit hard and wham the boat is over - there is little that can be done," he said.

"It is frustrating, particularly when there are lifejackets on board, and when that bar is notoriously rough in conditions like that."

Mr Haszard patrols the harbour and approaches boats where people are not wearing lifejackets.

"It's good to see that more people are getting the message, but every day I find people not wearing lifejackets, particularly in kayaks."

- Waikato

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