Mangawhai Heads lifeguards and local surfers responded to two separate boat capsizing incidents on the infamous Mangawhai sandbar over a 48-hour period at the start of the month.
Around midday on Friday, May 3, a vessel flipped on its bow as it was returning from fishing, throwing both passengers into a two-metre swell.
“We lost power on the way over the bar and as the wave behind caught up, the inevitable happened.
It’s a terrifying experience surfing down a wave in an 18-foot boat and watching the bow sink before flipping and throwing you under the boat,” boatie Nigel Burrows said.
Off-duty lifeguards Tony Baker and Hamish Judson responded along with Auckland surfer Shane Murrell, pulling the two men onto their boards and alerting a passing fishing vessel, which came to the rescue.
Less than 48 hours later, boat with three passengers flipped while heading out in similar conditions.
A surfer who witnessed the incident from the beach called 111, activating the after-hours surf lifesaving squad, which quickly responded. An inflatable rescue boat was deployed, and the passengers were returned safely to shore. Volunteer lifeguard Tony Baker says both rescues highlight the ongoing danger that bar crossings present to boaties, and the importance of being prepared and wearing a lifejacket.
“Crossing the bar is about timing and observing the frequency between breaks,” Tony says.
“You have to hug the rocks because that’s the deepest part of the channel even if it seems counter-intuitive.”
He says that the surf lifesaving service usually attends around six major boat rescues a season. He adds that although there has been talk of dredging the Mangawhai bar over the years, the responsibility is on boat owners.
“There’s no need to rush out there for the fishing – check it out on the beach first, always wear a lifejacket and if you’re unsure about conditions, don’t go out.”
Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society secretary Jerry Pilmer says that routine dredging does take place to deepen channels and ensure continued boat access inside the harbour.
“But the bar is too dangerous for the dredge used by the Department of Conservation. The current is too swift and would break the anchors and we would be swept away.”
He said the dredge isn’t likely to be replaced for at least another two years.