The Rescue Coordination Centre says it could have rescued three men whose boat capsized off Wellington's south coast within an hour if they'd had a distress beacon.
The men, in their early 30s, were taken to Wellington Hospital where one is in a critical condition on Friday, another is in a serious condition and the third is being observed.
A hospital spokesperson says the man who is in a critical condition has a combination of problems from being in the water so long.
A large search operation was launched on Thursday after another boatie reported seeing the men's four-metre runabout struggling in heavy seas off Sinclair Head before it capsized about 6pm.
One of the men managed to get to shore unaided at 3.30am on Friday, but told rescuers he thought at least one of his companions had died.
A second man, who had been in the water for over 14 hours, was found by the police launch about two-and-a-half nautical miles south of Sinclair Head at 10am and was able to point rescuers in the direction of the third survivor.
That man was picked up shortly afterwards by the Westpac rescue helicopter and is in a serious but stable condition.
The search involved helicopters, maritime police, the Coastguard and other vessels.
Communication equipment needed
Though all the men were wearing lifejackets, an officer from the Rescue Coordination Centre Mike Roberts says the men had no communication equipment.
He says if the group had had a distress beacon a rescue effort would have been launched within an hour.
Mr Roberts says it's extraordinary that people spend thousands of dollars on boats but are not prepared to spend a few hundred dollars on a distress beacon.
He says the men would have been rescued sooner even if they had had just a cellphone.