More than $400,000 will be given to Bay of Plenty surf life saving clubs as part of a new partnership with Zespri.
The kiwifruit giant announced it would become the primary regional partner for Surf Life Saving New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Gisborne, collectively known as the eastern region.
The money will be used for training, which will include inflatable rescue boat training and intermediate lifeguard courses. Western Bay clubs such as Waihi Beach, Mount Maunganui, Omanu, Papamoa, Maketu and Pukehina are among those to reap the benefits.
Eastern Region Life Saving manager Leigh Sefton said some lifeguards paid hundreds of dollars to attend training.
Read more: Teen lifeguard saves terrified kids from rip
The extra funding would help remove the financial hurdle and make the courses more accessible, creating a higher skilled unit guarding the Bay's shores.
"At a grass roots level it's fantastic because lifeguards give so much of their time volunteering already. To be able to see them upskill and attend these courses that would normally cost them, for free as a result of sponsorship from Zespri is fantastic," Mr Sefton said. "This is certainly going to be huge."
Zespri chief operating officer Simon Limmer said about 85 per cent of Zespri kiwifruit was grown in the region so it made sense to give back to the community.
"We are a coastal region. A lot of people in Zespri and the kiwifruit industry spend a lot of their time with families on the coast and a lot of people here are involved with Surf Life Saving New Zealand.
Scholarships will also be available for Surf Life Saving's National Lifeguard School and BP Leaders for Life development programmes.
Winners of the Zespri Club of the Year will also receive additional equipment.
Surf Life Saving NZ eastern region manager Chris Emmett said that with 1200 lifeguards from the region's 19 clubs, offering training at no cost would make a huge difference to beach safety.
"We rely on the support of our partners to do what we do. In a typical season, lifeguards rescue 1200 people nationwide and prevent thousands more from getting to the point of needing rescue ... so this support will literally help us save lives."
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
This summer around 4000 Surf Life Saving NZ volunteer lifeguards will spend more than 200,000 hours watching over 80-plus beaches, helping to make them a safer place for Kiwis and their families to enjoy.
During an average season, more than 1200 people are rescued from life-threatening situations.