Heidi Warren has patrolled Hawkes Bay's Waimarama Beach for four years but only saved her first life outside a Napier pub at 3 o'clock yesterday morning.
Police praised the 18-year-old volunteer lifeguard and a handful of others for averting a tragedy at the popular West Quay nightspot.
Ms Warren had been out drinking with friends when, just as bars were emptying, a taxi driver shouted he had seen someone fall from a nearby wharf.
A young man, who had been out drinking with a rugby team, stumbled over the side and struck his head on a berthed fishing boat before hitting the water.
"As soon as I heard the commotion, it was a huge adrenalin rush," Ms Warren said yesterday.
The Havelock North teen raced to the aid of a man in the fishing boat, Aidan Carruthers, who pulled off his shirt and leaped into the water after the reveller, who was floating face-down and bleeding from his head.
She said Mr Carruthers was holding the man's head above water but wasn't sure what to do next. She checked for a pulse. "He [the reveller] wasn't reacting or breathing."
With help from her friend Sam Grapes and another man, Chris Sparkes, the rescuers managed to haul the man into the back of the boat.
Ms Warren then did a series of compressions on him, managing to force the water he'd swallowed out of his lungs.
The rescuers then shifted the man into the recovery position, from where he was able to force himself to breathe.
"I said to him, 'Look, if you can hear me, we just need you to start breathing' ... He squeezed my hand a little, so I knew he could hear what me and his friends were saying."
A crowd of onlookers climbed on to the boat, some taking pictures with their phones, but were soon ordered away. "With the number of people standing around screaming, it was hard to [communicate with] the ambulance people," Mr Sparkes said.
"He was making noises and grunts, there was foam coming out of his mouth, and he had quite a big gash on his head ... There were actually a few moments when we thought he'd gone."
When emergency services arrived, the man was quickly loaded on to a stretcher and rushed to hospital in a critical condition.
Some time later, Ms Warren received a message that the man had regained consciousness. "That was the first time I've saved someone who has drowned ... and I'm at the beach on patrol all the time," she said with a laugh.
"But ... I knew what I had to do, and there's nothing more I feel we could have done to help him."
Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club chairman Kim Nilsson didn't seem surprised at his young lifeguard's actions.
"She has obviously stood up and said, I can do something - and the confidence she got to do that came from her lifeguarding training."
Senior Sergeant Dan Foley of Napier police said Ms Warren's presence would have made a big difference.
"We are really pleased there were people there who had expertise in first aid. It would appear the outcome was much better as a result of it."