Northland has had an "unprecedented" number of search and rescue callouts over the summer with about 80 per cent preventable and a senior officer is urging those who use the outdoors to be prepared and use common sense.

The Northland police and volunteer search and rescue teams were called to 70 jobs over 42 days from December 18, including 60 water-related jobs, six drownings, five land rescues and three reported plane crashes.

There were days when there were multiple rescues happening with two or more teams working. On Christmas Day alone there was one drowning and five other water related rescues. Reports of crashed aircraft on three different occasions also required immediate investigation. Only one aircraft had crashed into Whananaki Estuary and fortunately the two men onboard were not injured.

Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe, who has been part of the Northland Police search and rescue for nearly 20 years, said between December 18 and yesterday there an been an unprecedented number of callouts for the summer season. Normally in the peak period there would on average be about 30 callouts, he said.


Great summer weather had seen an influx of visitors to the region and more people were taking advantage of the coast and the opportunity to experience the outdoors. "We have had a tough winter so at the first opportunity to get out on the water people are taking it. For the great majority of people that's fine but some people tend to take risks and are not water fit or lack an understanding of the sea environment," Mr Metcalfe said.

"However, there's a huge difference between swimming in a pool, where you can touch the bottom, to the ocean where you can be swept off your feet in the blink of an eye. The ocean is a totally different beast."

He said resources were stretched especially when there were multiple jobs at once.

"Sometimes there's are genuine emergencies that are unfortunate but up to 80 per cent of the jobs so far this season were avoidable."

He urged parents with children swimming in the water to be on the water's edge supervising, not in the sand dunes watching and for swimmers to swim between the flags on patrolled beaches.

He said to avoid alcohol as it was a deadly mix when near or on the ocean. On Thursday a man was found in the water about 150m off Long Beach at Russell. It's believed he was drunk and luckily a boatie in the area heard his cries for help.

Three men were lucky to survive late last month when the trio of "ill-prepared" boaties who spent a night on rocks after their boat capsized in rough water. They were plucked from a small island south of Motoroa Island, 4km off the coast of the Karikari Peninsula by the Northland Electricity rescue helicopter and Coastguard. They had no life jackets and very little clothing.

"They were told not to go to sea because of the rough conditions. They did everything wrong and were lucky to be alive."


Another incident that highlighted lack of preparation was when three Aucklanders set out to walk the Cape Brett track at midday, thinking it would take just two hours, but by 9pm raised the alarm when one of them became injured and could not continue.

Police, Coastguard and a rescue helicopter were all involved in the search and rescue of two men, aged 25 and 33. The third man tramped to a DoC hut for shelter, taking the group's only torch with him. Up to $10,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on the rescue.

"They were unprepared, unfit and ignorant of the type of terrain they were going into." Mr Metcalfe said.

"With a little bit of common sense like watching the weather, checking where they were going and telling someone of their destination, things would have been a whole lot easier."

He said while there were incidents police were notified about, there had been hundreds more cases over the summer where people in trouble had been rescued by lifeguards or boaties who happened to be on the scene.

The Northland Electricity rescue helicopter service also reported a record number of flights for December with 101 being completed.


"We promote a healthy lifestyle in the North with sport and outdoor activities but I guess this is the price we pay," Chief Pilot Pete Turnbull.