An elderly Mount Maunganui man who got into difficulties while swimming at Arataki beach had a narrow escape after being pulled from the water by a member of the public.

A St John Ambulance spokeswoman earlier said the man was taken to Tauranga Hospital in serious condition after the near-drowning on Wednesday.

Chase Cahalane, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand's regional lifeguard services manager, said the emergency unfolded near the Yale St beach access off Oceanbeach Rd about 3.40pm.

"I understand a bystander pulled the elderly man, who is believed to be in his 80s, from the water and a St John Ambulance and the regional lifeguards also attended," he said

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George Hudson, patrol captain for the regional lifeguard service based at Omanu Surf Club, said he received a call about 3.45pm about a near-drowning and investigated.

"By the time we got there the elderly bloke was already out of the water and being assisted by ambulance staff."

Hudson said he was told a friend of the man or a bystander had pulled the man from the surf after he got into difficulties while swimming.

"We regularly patrol this area which was about 2.5km from the Omanu Surf Club base and were due to patrol the area within five minutes or so of this incident," he said.

"The man was badly shaken and coughing up a lot of water, and we helped transport him down the beach to our Omanu clubhouse and St John Ambulance staff met us there."

Hudson said the sea was quite choppy with about half-metre swell and the swimmer was "very lucky" as this was "definitely a near-drowning situation".

He urged people to take extreme care when heading into the surf and always swim between the flags wherever possible.

Nearby residents told the Bay of Plenty Times that apart from seeing or hearing an ambulance they were totally unaware of the incident.

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A Tauranga Hospital spokesman said the 83-year-old man from Mount Maunganui was in a stable condition in a hospital ward last night.