Surf lifesavers have a new way to patrol Tauranga's busiest surf beaches this summer.

In a Bay of Plenty first, two Seadoo-branded "rescue watercraft" - commonly known as jet skis - have been added to the fleet based in Mount Maunganui.

Chase Cahalane, eastern region lifesaving manager for Surf Life Saving New Zealand, said the new vessels had been used in patrols since just before Christmas.

They had already been put to use in the search for a missing swimmer (found safe) and the "critical" rescue of a swimmer struggling to stay afloat after finding themselves out of their depth.

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The main rescue water craft has been up-specced for surf conditions and with a selection of first aid and rescue equipment. Photo / George Novak
The main rescue water craft has been up-specced for surf conditions and with a selection of first aid and rescue equipment. Photo / George Novak

Cahalane said the larger of the two new vessels, a Seadoo GTi130 Pro, had been painted and specially kitted out for surf conditions and with an assortment of rescue and first aid gear. The other, a Seadoo Spark, was a secondary vessel and just had the essentials.

They would mainly be used during the hottest part of busy days for roaming patrols between flagged swimming areas along Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa beaches.

He said the main advantages of the craft were their speed - 90km/h in open water compared to an Inflatable Rescue Boat's 55km/h - easy manoeuvrability and being able to be operated by one person.

While they were "fantastic assets" the goal was to enhance the service rather than replace other equipment.

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service stalwart Kent Jarman is one of six experienced lifeguards trained and qualified to operate the new vessels.

The new rescue water craft have a top open water speed of about 90km/h. Photo / George Novak
The new rescue water craft have a top open water speed of about 90km/h. Photo / George Novak

He said he had been involved in a trial of them at Mount Maunganui in the 1980s, so it was good to see them finally deployed.

Jarman said they were particularly good for preventative work, as lifeguards could easily approach people in the water for a chat.

"The other day there were a couple of kids on boogie boards who didn't realise how far they had drifted. I was able to pull up alongside them and say 'hey guys, you're getting a long way out, I'll stay with you for a bit while you paddle a bit harder and get in'."

"I would prefer to do 100 preventions a day and zero rescues," Jarman said.

Cahalane said the new vessels were a lot "easier on the body" than driving an IRB, and hoped they might "extend my years of being a lifeguard".

He said the two craft were the first of their kind to be formally rolled out under Surf Life Saving New Zealand's new rescue watercraft national programme, established following successful trials up north.

If you see one of these coming towards you in the water, don't panic - the lifeguard probably just wants a chat. Photo / George Novak
If you see one of these coming towards you in the water, don't panic - the lifeguard probably just wants a chat. Photo / George Novak

The vessels have previously been deployed at Bethells Beach, Orewa, Rodney and the East Coast Bays in Auckland, Ruakaka in Northland and Hot Water Beach in Coromandel.

The programme would continue to be expanded throughout New Zealand in the coming years, Cahalane said.

Funding dependent, by next summer he hoped to there would be three operating in the Mount as well as additions at Whangamata and Waihi Beach.

He thanked Action Sports Direct for giving them a good deal on the Mount Maunganui craft that had allowed them to get out on the ocean this summer.

Kent Jarman of the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifesaving Service demonstrates the new rescue water craft. Photo / George Novak
Kent Jarman of the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifesaving Service demonstrates the new rescue water craft. Photo / George Novak