A BOAT thief is "lucky to be alive" after being swept a mile out to sea of the Bray coast.
The man was within minutes of drowning when coastguard volunteers rescued him.
Greystones Coastguard members pulled him from the sea as he struggled to stay afloat in the freezing water.
Supt Pat Ward of Bray Garda Station said, "He is lucky to be alive. It was a cold night, he was exposed to the elements and he was lucky to be rescued when he was."
Gardai in Bray added that they were investigating the theft of a boat relating to the incident.
The rescue operation also involved Rescue helicopter 116 and Dun Laoghaire RNLI.
The young man had taken a small plastic punt with no oars in the harbour at Bray and was swept a mile out to sea by a strong current.
A fisherman spotted him from the shore and alerted the emergency services.
The coastguard received a call at 12.15am to say that an intoxicated male was in trouble.
The Coastguard helicopter located the youth and kept their searchlight trained on him until the Greystones team got to him.
He had fallen into the sea and had let go of the dingy by the time rescuers reached him and was fighting to stay afloat.
Dermot Macaulay led the local rescue team on the night.
"If it had been a few minutes later, he may not have survived, He didn't have hypothermia but he was very close," he said.
Local Councillor Grainne McLoughlin congratulated the Coastguard on the operation.
"The work of the Coastguard goes by hardly noticed but the important role they play can never be understated."