Three young lifeguards were in the right place at the right time yesterday, reviving a man who had shown no signs of life for 20 minutes at an unpatrolled beach.

The trio were at Karioitahi Beach with a group of 100 South Auckland schoolchildren on a beach education and safety programme when disaster struck.

"One of the teachers grabbed us when we were on a tour of the club and said there was somebody out in the water that needed our help," Fiona Whyte, 20, told the Herald yesterday.

"There was a boat that had flipped over and there were some people in the water."

Phil Jenkins, 19, and Taylor Abernathy-Newman, 16, moved quickly into the water, leaving Miss Whyte to control the incident from the surf club.

A couple from Waiuku and a man from Christchurch were in the water about 600m north of the club. They had been fishing when their tin dinghy flipped. Only the woman wore a lifejacket.

"Taylor and Phil grabbed the inflatable rescue boat (IRB) and shot down the beach. A surfer pulled one of the men to shore and started CPR," Miss Whyte said.

"He was completely unconscious, not breathing and he had no pulse. He was status zero."

Status zero is one of five graduated codes ambulance officers use to categorise patients based on their vital signs. It is used when the patient shows none.

"The boys took over CPR and after about 10 minutes the man was still status zero. Ten minutes later he started breathing really weakly on his own. So they got him on oxygen and got him in the recovery position and monitored him until the ambulance and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived.

"It was absolutely amazing. He came back from absolutely nowhere."

Miss Whyte said the beach was not usually patrolled on weekdays and there would have been at least one fatality had they not been there with the school group.

"The guy was extremely lucky. It was essential that we had that CPR started straight away, otherwise he would have been a goner.

"I feel like we just knew what we had to do. We had really specific things that we had to do and we've trained as life guards for years, so we just followed protocol. It's part of the job."

The revived man was transported to hospital and was still being treated last night.

"He actually got a bit agitated when he came around and tried to pull the oxygen mask off. The boys and his friend were just reassuring him. His friends were still a bit shocked over what happened."

The trio have all been lifeguards for a number of years and this was not their first rescue. But last night Mr Jenkins and Mr Abernathy-Newman were "absolutely stoked" with the outcome.

"They were just buzzing when they came back to the clubhouse. They were so happy it had gone that way.

"They handled it really, really well, I'm so proud of them," Miss Whyte said.

Lifesaving manager Andy Kent said had the lifeguards not been at the beach, the outcome would have been grim. "There would have absolutely been a fatality. They were just lucky there was a ... class on when this happened. Otherwise it might have had a very bad outcome," he said.

"He's a pretty lucky man. In terms of lifeguard response it was very, very good."

Mr Kent said the incident proved how important boat safety was.

"The lifejackets were floating in the water next to the boat. It just goes to show if they were all wearing life- jackets it might have been just a basic rescue."