An 8-year-old caught in a rip at a beach near Dunedin had to be saved by emergency services, after his mother got into difficulty trying to save him.

Police, the Fire Service and Ambulance attended the incident at Westwood beach near Ocean View, Dunedin at 3.20pm today.

When they arrived, the mother and son had managed to get back to shore unaided after initially being dragged out about 200 metres.

The alarm was raised by a horse trainer working on the beach who spotted the pair in trouble and promptly called 111.

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The boy was transported to Dunedin Public Hospital by ambulance as a precaution after swallowing water and suffering from exhaustion.

"Police would like to remind the public that due to the change of season Dunedin beaches are no longer patrolled by life guards, and to use extreme caution if entering the water due to very strong and changeable rips, which are prevalent on many of Otago's beaches," Sergeant Jared Kirk of Dunedin Police said.