Three men had to leap from their fishing boat after it caught fire on near the Bathurst Harbour on Saturday night. 

Lt. Marc Robichaud of the Bathurst Fire Department said a call came in at 9:33 p.m. saying the small water craft was on fire.

A second call came in moments later saying the three men onboard, aged 33, 55, and 71, had been forced to jump into the water as the fire was spreading.

"They were out fishing mackerel and there was something that happened with the fuel," Robichaud said on Sunday.

"They tried to start it, they heard some kind of a small explosion, and a fire just started right away."

Call to his wife

He said they didn't even have time to use the fire extinguisher before being forced to abandon ship.   

The youngest man made his way to the tip of the boat where he used his cell phone to call his wife. He told her to call 911 because 'the boat's on fire, we're at the farewell buoy and we're jumping in the water,' said Robichaud.

Moments later, Robichaud said the man jumped into the water. 

Bathurst and Beresford departments both responded, as well as a local boat from the Coast Guard.

bay-chaleur-bathurst-harbour

The approximate area where the Bathurst Harbour meets the Chaleur Bay near New Bandon-Salmon Beach shoreline. (Google Maps)

When rescuers arrived, the small vessel was well past the Farewell Buoy, which is at least a kilometre offshore near New Bandon-Salmon Beach, Robichaud said. It's the final marker in the Bathurst Harbour before the Bay of Chaleur.

"We noticed that there was a little light flashing from the water and it was still far away from the burning boat, so they had drifted a good distance already," he said.

Light saved their lives

Finally, at 10:35 p.m., crews were able to reach and rescue the three men as the boat continued to burn.

The youngest had light hypothermia and another had small burn marks on his face, but there were no life-threatening injuries.

They were brought to shore to meet paramedics, who had already arrived.

"They stuck together, and that little light on his forehead, it saved their lives," Robichaud said.

With files from Blair Sanderson