Lifeguards at three Bay beaches have already performed more than twice as many rescues this season as they did all of last summer.
Surf Life Saving statistics released to the Bay of Plenty Times show a combined 171 rescues from Mount Maunganui's Main Beach, Omanu and Papamoa this season (from Labour Weekend to January 11), compared with 74 rescues from Mount Main Beach through and including Papamoa during 2013-2014.
Mount Main Beach lifeguards have performed 65 rescues so far this year, compared with 54 rescues during last summer. The Omanu club this year has handled 72 rescues; Papamoa, 34. Last year, Omanu conducted 17 rescues and Papamoa 3.
Eastern Region lifesaving and education manager Leigh Sefton said a combination of good weather, large volumes of people, plus beach and sea conditions have contributed to an increase in rescues in a region including the roughly four-kilometre coastline between the Mount Main Beach and Omanu.
"This year it was ferocious at times," he said.
"I've patrolled and guarded for 15 years and this year's been one out of the blue."
Mr Sefton said a big trough or gutter running the length of the coast has fed into rips and currents.
"People walk into the water and go into a trough ... one minute, they're waist deep; the next, they're in over their head."
Numbers don't include a cluster of rescues from Mount Main Beach last Tuesday evening.
Head lifeguard Callum Knox said his crew brought six people to shore near Leisure Island after surfers and boogie boarders drifted from the coast.
"People paddled out and tried to catch waves and found they were struggling to get back in," he said.
Mr Knox said it was after 6pm when guards had already packed away gear.
"We were just about to drop the flags. We set the gear back up."
The Eastern Region's busiest beach for rescues last season was Hot Water Beach, with 101.
Mr Sefton said the beach attracted lots of tourists and out-of-towners who come for the experience of digging in the sand at low tide to sit in warm water, then cool off in the sea.
People walk into the water and go into a trough ... one minute, they're waist deep; the next, they're in over their head.
"Where the hot rock is situated, more often than not there's a bit of a rip. Guards can have 400 to 500 people at one time. It's very difficult to manage."
Another popular holiday destination, Whangamata, ranked number two on the rescue list last year with 63. Mount Main Beach ranked number three, with 54 rescues.
Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service general manager Glenn Bradley said guards had doubled their efforts travelling the beach looking for swimmers.
"If they think people should move, they'll move them to a more favourable area."
Mr Bradley said a drowning was prevented recently when a member of the public and off-duty lifeguards taking part in the Eastern Region Championships (where the Mount team defended its overall ERC title) were called out to a swimmer.
"We had really good quality lifeguards at the club at the time we got the call."
The Eastern Region, which spans 19 clubs from Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, to Midway in Gisborne, had a total of 367 lifeguard rescues during the 2013/14 season, according to Surf Life Saving figures.
So far this season, lifeguards in the Eastern Region have rescued 267 people.
Officials say beachgoers should check conditions before heading out and swim at a patrolled beach, such as the one at the Mount.
Mr Bradley said: "We believe we have the fittest and fastest lifeguards in the country. They're the ones you want coming after you if you get in trouble."
Mr Sefton said paid lifeguards finish for the season at Bay of Plenty beaches (Mount Main, Omanu and Papamoa) on Waitangi Day, February 6.
Mr Sefton said without an understanding of coastal conditions, the sea is hard to read. "More often than not, the calmest spot is where the rip is." And at low tide, he said, sand banks under the water activate the sea.
"It doesn't suck out at high tide like low tide. Low tide is a dangerous time at a lot of beaches around the country."