A man with 30 years' experience on the water and affectionately known as "Fish" to his family has died in front of his fiancee at Port Stephens.
Mark Hunkin, 46, was camping with his fiancee at Snapper Island, Tanilba Bay, on Saturday when the tide came in and swept his 4.8-metre fishing boat away from the shore, The Newcastle Herald reports.
It is believed Mr Hunkin, of Bundabah in Port Stephens, tried to swim out to the boat but was swept too far out by the tide.
Mr Hunkin's sister-in-law, Simone Hunkin, described him as a "smart, beautiful and lovely" man who lived for fishing.
"He'd been fishing in that area almost every day for over 20 years and knew everything about the tides and currents," Mrs Hunkin said.
"This is a tragedy, the entire family is in shock."
Mrs Hunkin said Mr Hunkin had two sons, aged 19 and 21, and ran a fencing business.
She said he and his fiancee, Jane, loved to camp at Snapper Island and thought of it as their "special place".
His fiancee was blaming herself for staying behind and now had to live with the image of Mr Hunkin drowning in front of her, Mrs Hunkin said.
"We just can't believe something so silly, like the boat getting away, could take the life of a man as smart and experienced on the water as Mark," she said.
Mrs Hunkin, whose own son and husband are keen fishermen, would like to remind people how deadly the water could be.
"Don't take silly risks please, if it can happen to Mark it can happen to anyone," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Ambulance Service of NSW said the distress call came at 4.49pm and Water Police immediately began a search after picking up Jane from Snapper Island.
His body was found about 10 kilometres away soon after.
It is believed the boat was only 500 metres from the shore when Mr Hunkin tried to swim to it but the tides would have been particularly strong at that time of the day.