Four people - including a 10-year-old child - were forced to spend the night on top of their capsized boat 7km out to sea before being rescued this morning.
The father, 36, mother, 45, and son, 10, went out fishing from Waverley Beach north-west of Wanganui yesterday with a family friend, a man aged 42, on a 16-foot aluminium pontoon boat. Police said it appeared the boat capsized around 3.30 p.m. yesterday, shortly after they last made contact with another boat.
The alarm was raised when their car and empty boat trailer were spotted in the carpark around 7am today by the people they had last spoken to.
A search and rescue operation was launched with coastguard boats from Wanganui, South Taranaki and Manawatu as well as an RZNAF Iroquois and Helipro helicopter from Palmerston North.
The stricken fishermen were found about 9.30 a.m. by the Wanganui Coastguard, around 7.5km south of Wai-Inu Beach.
All four are currently at Wanganui Hospital where they are being treated for their exposure to the elements and are described as stable.
Police said the sea conditions were good yesterday but deteriorated this morning.
Search and Rescue Incident Co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Darcy Forrester said:
"These people are very lucky to be alive considering their ordeal; choosing a pontoon boat probably saved them as it is almost impossible to sink this type of boat."
He said the fact they were wearing life jackets had also potentially saved them
However, Mr Forrester criticised the group for failing to lodge a trip report with the Coastguard which would have seen them found earlier.
"If these precautions had been taken, the alarm would have been triggered last night and their ordeal would have been a lot shorter. A small amount of time can be the difference between life and death in these situations."