A search and rescue training scenario turned into a real life situation for police officers called to rescue a family of six from their launch which was engulfed in flames.

Mako, a 16-metre launch, was destroyed by fire at the entrance to Marsden Cove Marina about midday on Saturday, after its owner noticed smoke coming from the engine room.

A family of two adults and four children, from Waipu, was on board the launch which had just left Marsden Cove Marina.

Smoke could be seen for nearly an hour by boaties and beach-goers before the launch burst into flames.

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Sergeant Craig Burrows, from the police search and rescue squad, said four officers and a team of 15 and 16-year-olds were preparing for a youth emergency services training session at the Marsden Cove Marina when the 111 call was received.

"We spoke to a boatie who was on his way fishing for the day and he kindly agreed to help us. A police search and rescue member jumped on board and headed out to the smoking vessel.

"The occupants were brought back and we made a second trip to collect the sole male occupant on board and he too was safely rescued," Mr Burrows said.

Mr Burrows said the man told police, after his rescue, he had noticed smoke coming from the engine room shortly after departure when they were about 500 metres offshore.

It is not known whether there were fire extinguishers on board or what the cause of the fire was.

Flames engulfed the launch and black clouds of smoke billowed from the hull that burned to the waterline and sank.

"We just happened to be at the right place at the right time. They were rescued within 15 minutes of the 111 call coming through," Mr Burrows said.

A fire boat from the New Zealand Refinery with firefighters from Ruakaka and Coastguard personnel went to the vessel.

Ruakaka station officer Colin Turner said the heat in the cabin was too intense and there was too much unburnt flammable material that would have put firefighters at risk when more oxygen entered the cabin.

He said there were no lives at risk and it was too dangerous to put firefighters onboard with extinguishers.

Recreational fisherman Salendra Chetty was fishing with friends close to McLeod Bay when they saw smoke coming out of the Mako. "The smoke persisted for nearly an hour and I think, if the firefighters had acted quickly, the launch could have been saved."

Northland Regional Council harbourmaster Jim Lyle said the launch owner had agreed to remove the sunken hull today.

"The usual concern in such a situation is fuel but most of it is burnt in a big fire like this. We've assessed the situation and put a marker on a buoy as a warning for other boaties until the hull is removed."