Nearby boaties had to break into a yacht that was taking on water and sinking fast at its mooring at Whangarei's Town Basin Marina today.

The attempt to stop the yacht going under is still underway, with the Fire Service now pumping water from the vessel after nearby boat owners initially worked frantically to prevent it sinking.

Passers-by and neighbouring boat owners noticed the boat was sitting low in the water at about 5.30pm today and even as they began a rescue attempt, the yacht steadily sunk lower.

It took about 15 minutes for the first helpers to break in to the locked yacht and start bucketing out water which was already high in the cabin.

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A Whangarei Fire Brigade appliance arrived and firefighters with pump equipment were ferried in small tenders to the stricken yacht.

A small crowd gathered on Whangarei's Canopy Bridge to watch the drama.

One passer-by said he heard the helpers call out that the water was coming in through the yacht's sink and it could have been a long-term, unseen problem. The man said he estimated the boat to be worth about $80,000 to $100,000.