Northland's coastguards are among the best in the country with the Tutukaka unit named as the top one in the Northern Region and the Bay of Islands Coastguard earning the rescue of the year award for two dramatic rescues in 10 days.

As well, Tutukaka Coastguard's Phil Hopkins was named Unit Support Volunteer of the Year at the AGM of Coastguard Northern Region Excellence Awards.

The Bay's award recognises the success of two high profile rescues in the Bay of Islands that both occurred within 10 days of each other early this year, including one that was helped by the missing man's wife who helped track him down with an iPhone app.

On January 11 multiple Search and Rescue (SAR) agencies were involved in the first rescue of three people from a sunken trawler. Russ Devin from the BOI Coastguard said four volunteers were involved and at first were not sure where the trawler crew was.

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"They were somewhere near Howe Rock and eventually when we found them they were in a cave by the Hole in the Rock. Two people were asleep and had put the boat on autopilot. The person on watch was asleep too but we found them in two-and-a-half hours."

After the survivors were brought ashore the rescuers went back to the cave to make sure any pollution had been contained.

The second rescue 10 days later generated significant media attention because of an innovative use of an iPhone. It involved a man on his own in a small power-boat who had gone fishing off-shore from Russell.

"He rang his wife to say that water was up to his feet and that's the last she heard from him," said Mr Devin.

"She phoned the police and then the Marine Rescue Centre contacted us. It was a foggy night and very patchy so we started a sweep from Tapeka Pt to the Black Rocks to try to locate him.

"The man's wife found his position using an iPhone App called Find My Phone and the co-ordinates were given to the coastguard volunteers. They found him in the early hours of the morning, sitting on the bow of his boat within half a mile of the position given to them.

The award citation read "Coastguard Bay of Islands for their quick response, outstanding search techniques and innovation in attending two night-time rescues which results in the team saving the lives of four people".

The Tutukaka award citation says the unit exemplifies the benchmark of a coastguard unit, and coastguard values regionally and nationally.

"It's a small unit but is excellently run and well organised. The team have challenged and improved safety, dedicating over 1200 hours of training in the last year with their 23 active crew. They've also been active on recruitment, signing on 10 new volunteers in the last year to effectively double CRV crew resources."