The Hokianga Coastguard rescue boat was called out when a man, a woman and a dog found themselves in trouble off the Hokianga Harbour bar on Friday.

The couple had been fishing in a 4m open boat, anchoring between the bar and Northwest Reef, and, with conditions becoming rough with the falling tide, were unable to start the engine.

Coastguard spokesman Jeff Cramp, who is also Rawene's senior police constable, said by the time the rescue boat arrived the swell was running at 2m, with 3m breakers over the bar. It took three attempts to get a line to the fishermen, who were then towed directly towards the bar, landing at Opononi. Going the other way would have taken them over the reef.

"She was a pretty spooky half-hour towing them out of trouble," Mr Cramp said, adding that he had been pleased to see all three were wearing lifejackets. They should not have gone out of the harbour in choppy conditions in a small open boat, however.

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Earlier in the week five people, from their early 20s to mid-60s, were rescued when their 7m boat capsized near the entrance to Whangape Harbour in a combined effort by local residents, the Ahipara Fire Brigade and Far North Surf Rescue. The family had had lifejackets aboard but had not been wearing them.