A beacon alert from a fishing vessel was picked up 50 nautical miles (92 kilometres) north-east off the coast of Tauranga at midday today by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand.
The beacon is registered to an 18m long liner, the Rebecca May.
The Rescue Coordination Centre issued broadcasts to vessels in the area, tasked a fixed-wing aircraft to investigate, and organised a Whitianga based helicopter to follow.
The aircraft identified a large amount of smoke, along with a liferaft and buoys but could not see the crew of the vessel.
A nearby fishing vessel Lady Columbo responded to the broadcast and arrived on the scene shortly after the fixed-wing and picked up all three crew from the liferaft at around 1.30pm.
Maritime New Zealand is making preliminary inquiries into the incident, at this stage there is no indication of the cause.