A man and a woman have been airlifted to hospital after being winched off a yacht which hit rocks after battling rough sea conditions for more than a day.

Northland Rescue Helicopter pilot Steve Couchman said they were called to rescue the pair about 5.30am today.

Couchman said a team of two pilots and medics from St John headed out to the mouth of the Taiharuru Esturary where the yacht had hit a small rocky island called Ipurau.

"We put a medic down to them with the winch in the dark and he assessed which person was to come up first, and winched them up. We actually put them and one of the medics on the land which was only a couple hundred meters away and went in and got the second by which time it was light. They're both extremely exhausted," Couchman said.

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Couchman said the pair did not appear to be seriously injured but were taken to Whangarei Hospital on the advice of St John.

A Whangarei Hospital spokeswoman said the couple were still being seen to by staff in the emergency department.

Couchman said the man and woman, who are husband and wife aged 77 and 70, had got out of the yacht and were on the island when they were rescued. He said the rescue operation took about 50 minutes and during that time the yacht had sunk another 1.5m.

"It's obviously taken on a lot of water and I don't think it will be going anywhere anytime soon."

The couple were rescued this morning off the yacht that had hit the rocky island called Ipurau. Photo / Supplied
The couple were rescued this morning off the yacht that had hit the rocky island called Ipurau. Photo / Supplied

The pair had battled gale force winds, rain, and waves of up to six metres since reporting trouble with their steering on Saturday night.

The two were rescued by the Coastguard helicopter from this yacht off the Northland coast. Photo / Supplied
The two were rescued by the Coastguard helicopter from this yacht off the Northland coast. Photo / Supplied

They'd been sailing their 12 metre yacht from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei.

Previous rescue attempts by boats and a chopper had to be abandoned because of bad weather.

Couchman said there were 15 knot winds and 1.5m swells at the time of the rescue.

Northland Regional Council harbourmaster Jim Lyle said NRC had only recently been advised about the yacht on the rocks. He said the next steps would be contacting the owners to determine if they have insurance. He had not yet seen the yacht so could not say what the salvage operation would involve.

- additional reporting Newstalk ZB